HK’s Liang Yi Museum recently played host to two outstanding PhD students of art history from Beijing’s Tsinghua University — paving the way for industry-academia ties between the SAR and Chinese mainland. Mike Lau reports.
Tsinghua University researcher Wang Mengyao inspects an antique Chinese table screen during her residency at Liang Yi Museum. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)
When it comes to promoting the achievements of China’s civilization and culture, few educational institutions can match Beijing’s Tsinghua University in terms of effort and resources. Not many universities can boast of having their own museum, let alone one that houses a 13,000-piece collection covering all the major craft forms that China is renowned for, such as calligraphy and porcelain. When a university so rich in resource chooses a Hong Kong museum to aid the research of their PhD students through a residency program, it’s an affirmation of Hong Kong’s growing significance as a center for the cultivation of the arts.
Recently Hong Kong’s Liang Yi Museum was chosen by Tsinghua’s Academy of Arts and Design to host a “practicum program”, or part-time internship for two of the university’s PhD students.
After making it through an application process that lasted more than a year, Liang Yi is the university’s first practice base in Hong Kong, said Wang Xiaomo, assistant professor of Tsinghua’s Department of Art History at the Academy of Arts and Design.
Established in 2014, Liang Yi has played host to high-profile academics before. However, this is their first student-exchange collaboration with a university from the Chinese mainland. “To be able to start it off with a university of Tsinghua’s caliber is something that we are extremely happy about,” says Lynn Fung, director of Liang Yi Museum.
The Tsinghua students on a six-week residency with Liang Yi in Hong Kong had the opportunity to study rare artifacts of high historical value in an environment of like-minded individuals. Participants in the pilot edition of the program studied furniture from the Ming and Qing dynasties and 19th-century British silverware as the basis of their doctoral essays.
Tsinghua University professor Wang Xiaomo and Liang Yi Museum director Lynn Fung are flanked by researchers Wang Mengyao and Fu Shaoxiong who attended a six-week residency at the museum. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)
“The Museum has a rich collection of Ming and Qing furniture, involving a wide variety of objects of excellent quality,” says doctoral student Wang Mengyao. “It is a rare chance for researchers to get first-hand information, see more details and reach in-depth conclusions about these treasures.”
Her academic colleague Fu Shaoxiong was equally enthused about the chance to spend quality time observing the museum’s collection of antiquities, particularly its European silverware. “This has given us an opportunity to understand the characteristics of these objects, the ages they came from and the folk customs they represented,” he said. “Through researching these collections, we are able to understand the impacts of East-West cultural influences on the arts and crafts.”
In addition to the prestige of establishing close ties with one of Asia’s leading universities, Liang Yi is hoping that the collaboration will help it find out more about the usage of various treasures held at the museum, such as table screens from the Ming and Qing dynasties which were once prized ornaments in palatial interiors. “One of the aims of this program was to facilitate more research into the area of classical Chinese furniture,” says Fung.
While the exchange program ended in August, the museum will continue its engagement with local educational institutions. Every Wednesday, students aged 12 and above can visit the museum free of charge to see one of the world’s largest collections of Chinese antique furnitures under one roof — currently more than 400 pieces. Students from the Chinese University of Hong Kong and Christie’s Education are among those who have previously been invited to study the finely curated displays of Ming and Qing dynasty artifacts made with luxurious materials such as huanghuali and zitan.
For Tsinghua University, the partnership with Liang Yi Museum is the latest in a string of exchanges with historical institutions that help students get a feel of working in a professional set-up.
“For graduate students wishing to become curators, internships at museums are very important and indispensable for learning,” says Wang Xiaomo. “They can find out how a museum works, how to curate an exhibition, how to collect artworks, etc.”
A 19th-century Warwick vase in Liang Yi’s European silverware collection. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)
An academia-industry exchange such as the Tsinghua-Liang Yi partnership provides an ideal environment for future curators to get an idea of what makes an exhibition both culturally enriching and also engaging on a human and personal level, she adds.
The two institutions are discussing plans for future collaborations on collection research, exhibition planning, academic lectures and education platform-building.
From silver to screens
Doctoral students taking part in the Tsinghua University Postgraduate Research Training Programme at Liang Yi Museum focused on two broad areas of study: Classical Chinese furniture and European silverware, including the following examples:
Ming and Qing table screens
These table-top ornaments featuring beautifully depicted scenes, often in vivid colors, were found in the most exclusive homes. They were used to brighten up rooms and also acted as wind-blockers for printers and scholars working at their desks. The screens were made from a variety of materials, including porcelain, jade and ivory, and then mounted on elaborately carved stands made from hard wood such as huanghuali and zitan.
A Warwick vase
This silver vase was made by the Victorian-era silversmith Charles Boyton in London in 1889. It features entwined vine handles, egg-and-dart rim, and a square base raised on four-winged griffin monopods.
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