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big draws to palace museum
China Palace Museum Taiwan
Jadite cabbage
Ju ware bowl
Mao kung ting


By Heide Brandes

After more than a half hour waiting in a line with what seemed to be hundreds of Chinese tourists, I stared at a cabbage.

The cabbage was unassuming at first – a bok choy looking thing in shades of white and green. It wasn’t much bigger than the length of my forearm, and besides being cold stone, it looked like a fresh vegetable treat from one of Taiwan’s famous night markets.

I was looking at, however, one of the most popular treasures of Chinese art. The Jadite Cabbage, a realistic carving of stone topped with a patient grasshopper and a jolly little katydid, is among the thousands of priceless Chinese art located at

The Taipei National Palace Museum in Taipei, Taiwan.

This museum with its four floors of exhibitions of centuries’ old artifacts and artwork from Chinese history is the star in Taiwan’s art world eye.

It’s also packed with thousands of Chinese mainland tourists anxious to see the little cabbage with its katydids. On the day I visited, the museum had logged more than 18,000 visitors by noon.

For those passionate for the Middle Kingdom and its history and treasures, China is not the place to visit. If you want to see true Chinese history and art, you’ll have to visit Taipei.

On the Island of Formosa

The Taipei National Palace Museum in Taiwan was born from the Chinese Civil War. The Chinese Civil War resumed following the surrender of the Japanese, ultimately resulting in Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek’s decision to evacuate the arts to Taiwan.

When the fighting worsened in 1948 between the Communist and Nationalist armies, the Palace Museum and other five institutions decided to send some its most prized items to Taiwan.
Construction of the stunning museum began in 1962 and was inaugurated on November 12, 1965, the 100th anniversary of the birth of Sun Yat-sen (1866-1925), the great Chinese revolutionary and founder of the Republic of China – Taiwan.

The museum is modeled on the Forbidden City in Beijing and houses the largest collection of priceless Chinese artifacts and artwork in the world, including ancient bronze castings, calligraphy, scroll paintings, porcelain, jade and rare books, many of which were possessions of the former imperial family.

The full collection boasts of 650,000 pieces of art and history spanning multiple Chinese dynasties, though only about 1,700 pieces are on display at any given time.

The Taipei National Palace Museum is also home to the Chih-shan Garden, which incorporates the delicate traditional Chinese gardening art with Chinese-inspired pavilions, bridges, flowing water, greenery, waving trees and winding paths that create a haven of simplicity and serenity.

But the true delights of the museum – the delights worth fighting through tidal waves of tourists – are the art and the history. The museum’s four floors incorporate pottery, ceramics, ancient and rare texts and literature, bronze sculpture, stone sculpture, painting and more.

The Jadite Cabbage

When the Taipei National Palace Museum asked its tourists and visitors what the most important piece in the collection was, the masses said “cabbage.”

The Jadite Cabbage, which was part of the dowry of Concubine Jin in the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) is carved from a single piece of jade that is half grey and half emerald green.

The two katydids posed on the cabbage are so realistic you expect them to hop from the leaves of the exquisite piece while you watch.

Jadite is usually considered a second-rate material because of the impurities, but the unknown artists incorporated the ugly rifts and cracks into the veins of the remarkable leaves.

Most historians agree that the jade cabbage was the dowry of Concubine Zhen, but it was found in the room of Concubine Jin. Concubine Jin and Concubine Zhen were sisters, and when Emperor Guangxu chose them as concubines, their father prepared munificent dowries for them. Concubine Zhen was gifted the priceless jade cabbage, but when her sister Jin discovered that there was no jade cabbage for her, she cried

To comfort her distress, Zhen gave her Jadite Cabbage to Jin, and the sister kept it since.

For such a small item of art, expect big lines. It’s the one item that most Chinese want to see when they visit the museum, and the crowds aren’t shy about pushing forward for a glimpse. In the sprawling gift store at the museum, you can buy Jadite Cabbage jewelry, magnets, posters, bottle openers, tea sets and more.

Mao-Kung Ting

Another big draw for tourists and historians alike is the Mao-kung ting, a 2,800-year-old ritual bronze vessel used at the temple of the court.

What makes this particular item so special are the 500 characters cast on its inside surface – the longest inscription found on the thousands of bronzes remaining from the Shang and Chou periods.

Based on the inscription, historians guess the Mao-kung ting was made in 827 B.C. during the reign of King Hsuan of Chou. Because this vessel contains the longest inscription ever found, predating any other inscriptions discovered from the past dynasties, the Mao-kung ting is among the world’s most invaluable treasures and contributes to the study of Chinese etymology and calligraphy.

Ju Ware

The ceramics collection at the Taipei National Palace Museum has no rival in its collection.
Ju ware ceramics from the Northern Sung period (960-1127) are incredibly rare. Of the 70 pieces surviving, the National Palace Museum houses about 21 pieces

Ju ware celadon, with its sky-blue glaze color, is world-renowned and among the most famous pottery in the world. According to legend, Ju Ware and its signature color were created to please the Chou period (951-960) ruler Ch’ai-jung.

According to Ch’ai-jung, the perfect color of glaze was “the color of the sky after the rain stops and the clouds have broken through.”

When inspecting Ju ware celadon from the side, it is possible to see from the surface of the glaze, faintly appearing around the lip and corners of the stoneware, a soft pink glow. This faint pink color gives Ju ware its tranquility, while adding to the enigmatic quality of its beauty.

At the museum, that perfect color is on display at the museum’s extensive pottery collection. Besides Ju Ware, the museum also houses the rotating lamps and other pieces so rare from Chinese history.

Getting there

The Taiwan National Palace Museum is an easy trip from Taipei, the northern most city in the island Republic of China. Hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily with extended hours every Saturday.

As Taiwan fights to become a global player in the areas of international commerce and trade, it also promotes itself as a tourist destination worldwide. Millions of Chinese mainlanders visit the island, but with its inclusion in the World Trade Organization and countless other international pacts, more and more countries are taking notice.

The ROC still cannot participate in key international organizations or establish formal diplomatic ties with many nations, but with new programs like the Free Economic Pilot Zones, that may change.

In March, the Taiwan cabinet outlined its FEPZ program aimed at liberalizing trade through regulatory easing of flows of capital, goods, information and talent. The goal is to leverage Taiwan’s advantages in human resources and to develop economic ties with mainland China, Asia and the United States.

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