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Palace of Compassion and Tranquility:
A concentrated but unabridged Chinese history of sculpture

Updated: Oct 08, 2018 Print


Bodhisattva sculpture displayed in the Palace of Compassion and Tranquility  [Photo/Official Weibo account of the Palace Museum]

The Palace of Compassion and Tranquility (Cining gong) was the living quarters of imperial wives and consorts who outlived their emperor husband. The compound was first dedicated to this purpose in 1653, when the Shunzhi Emperor (r. 1644-1661) commissioned rebuilding of the architectural complex. The current magnitude of the main hall - the Palace of Compassion and Tranquility - dates to 1769 when the Qianlong Emperor (r. 1736-1795) promoted the rank of the building by replacing the single-eaved roof with a double-eaved roof. Instead of lions, which are typically placed in front of key halls or palaces in the Forbidden City, a pair of bronze qilin guards the gate of the compound; according to Chinese mythology they are auspicious animals of mild temper and long life. They convey the reigning emperor's good wishes to the elder generation of palace women. Converted into the Sculpture Gallery, the area showcases the Museum's permanent sculpture collection. In the two main halls as well as the corridor rooms you will see religious (primarily Buddhist) figures, pottery figurines, and pictorial tomb bricks and slabs made of a variety of materials and covering a wide span of history from the 6th century BC to the early 20th century. Walking through the galleries is like reading a concentrated but unabridged history of Chinese sculpture.



The neighboring compound in the west - the Palace of Longevity and Health (Shoukang gong) - was also the living quarters of the empresses dowager and the great consorts of the Qing dynasty. The major hall is an 18th-century period hall; its interior decor and furnishings are restored according to historical archives of the Qianlong reign. You are free to walk in and stroll around the room. Across the external corridor opposite to the living quarters is a miniature garden built for the senior palace women, designed with a pond, plants and trees, and architecture of different styles. It is a good place to rest after an intensive walk around the Museum.

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