Ancient Chinese art has modern symbolism

An ancient Chinese masterpiece has long been kept in two separate pieces, one in China and one in Taiwan, but a Taiwanese museum has brought them together for the first time.

Zhang Zongliang/Newscom
Museum workers in Shengzhou, China, display the brocade scroll ‘Dwelling in the Fuchun Mountains.’

• A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent.

On the surface, it’s a simple remastering of a masterpiece: The Chinese landscape scroll “Dwelling in the Fuchun Mountains,” normally kept in two pieces, has been brought together for the first time in 360 years at Taiwan’s National Palace Museum.

Some critics call the nearly 23-foot-long painting one of the Top 10 works of Chinese art, and this month, museumgoers can finally see why. “It’s a model of the landscape paintings done since the Song Dynasty using simple, pure strokes to express an artist’s idea or feeling,” says curator He Chuan-hsin.

More than 90,000 people have already braved lines to see the scroll, made in 1350 by Huang Gongwang. Back then, an adoring collector ordered that the scroll be burned at his death. The fire claimed 7 percent before the rest was saved – in two pieces. A nearly 21-foot-long segment landed in the Qing Dynasty’s imperial collection and was taken to Taiwan after the Chinese civil war in 1949. The smaller piece stayed in China. “I should think it wouldn’t be easy at all to keep both parts separate for so long,” said museum visitor and high school teacher Yao Lifang, from China.

Mr. Yao’s government sees the scroll as a metaphor for China and Taiwan after more than 60 years of political separation. Beijing claims the self-ruled island as its own. The museum near Shanghai, China, that houses the smaller piece suggested uniting the pieces in 2008 following the election of a conciliatory president in Taiwan. The small piece returns to China in September, however, and Taiwanese are not keen to reconcile.

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