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The trip to Smithsonian Institution


The headquarter of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C. of the USA

Early summer arrives in Washington in late May, and the silvery flickering of waves scuttles across the surface of the Potomac River in the intoxicating warm breeze. Instead of seeing the busyness you’re familiar with in New York or the fashionable style you may find in Chicago, you are greeted by the views of spacious boulevard, lofty and splendid Capitol Hill, tall and straight Washington Monument, as well as star-studded parks and grass belts. All are so solemn and quiet, making everyone who has ever come here feel strongly that it is the very place where the capital of the U.S.A. And the longer you stay here, the intenser your feelings will be.

East of Washington Monument is a straight boulevard, which is the famous National Mall, a place where the Capitol Hill and White House stood. On both sides of the National Mall lies the museum complex that the Americans take pride in, which is the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C. of the USA, the so-called “World's Largest Museum Complex”, and the only state museum in the U.S.A.

The Smithsonian Institution, composed of 16 museums and art galleries, is headquartered in an ancient castle built in 1855 called “Smithsonian Castle”. Just as the Capitol Hill and White House, the brick red architecture with a pointed roof is also a symbol of Washington. Over the past century since the Smithsonian Institution was inaugurated following the donation of a British man named James Smithson in 1846, a number of Americans have followed suit to financially contribute to many museums such as Freer Gallery, Arthur M, Sackler Gallery and Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, which are all located in the National Mall together with another nine museums including National Museum of Natural History of the U.S.A. and National Air and Space Museum. The other Smithsonian museums and the National Zoo are built in other parts of Washington.

Among the museums, Arthur M. Sackler Gallery is the only state Asian art museum in the U.S.A., and is also one of the major museums collecting Chinese works of art outside China. It presently boasts a collection consisting of 14,500 pieces of Chinese works of art, including bronzes, jade wares, early Buddha images as well as paintings, calligraphy, ceramics and lacquers in Song, Yuan, Ming and Qing Dynasties.

The red sandalwood model of the Ten Thousand Springtimes Pavilion

On May 30, 2007, Sackler Gallery of the Smithsonian Institution greeted the arrival of its latest collection: a large-sized red sandalwood model of the Ten Thousand Springtimes Pavilion, which was donated by Chan Laiwa, Curator of China Red Sandalwood Museum, to Smithsonian Institution. The precious red sandalwood piece of art elaborately carved with Chinese traditional handicrafts flied across the Pacific Ocean, connecting the American continent with the ancient Asian. The precious work offered an art dialogue between the East and the West, making thousands of years of Chinese culture further grow in the heart of the western civilization, making the people of the United States on the other side of the Pacific get a deeper understanding of China, an ancient while modern nation at a closer distance, as well as the nation’s profound cultural tradition and magic art.

The lion dance show commences the handover ceremony.

The donation ceremony started at 6:30 p.m on May 30, 2007. The international gallery on B1 of the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, instead of showing simple and serious style as usual, appeared extraordinarily lively with large patches of red typical of China. To welcome the distinguished guests from a distant nation, the international gallery of British style was filled with Chinese elements. A red scenery line was apparently arranged on both sides of the gallery. At the entrance, a heavy, red curtain revealing a sense of mystery and solemnness was the place that the photomural of “the Ten Thousand Springtimes Pavilion of the Palace Museum” was glued on. Entering the gallery, one will feel as if he has walked into Beijing Forbidden City with red high walls, and an illusion of time and space reversal suddenly came to him. Walking along the red corridor, one will find the red sandalwood model of the Ten Thousand Springtimes Pavilion, which gave out a gentle shine, was placed on the wooden square table painted in brown in the middle of the hall. In this tall, simple and single colored Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, the red sandalwood model of the Ten Thousand Springtimes Pavilion, with its unique color, appeared special, natural and graceful.

The donation ceremony kicked off with the lion dance accompanied by deafening Gongs and drums noise, making one feel as if they were celebrating a Chinese festival.

A scene of the handover ceremony

The United States Deputy Secretary of State Negroponte and his wife, Chinese ambassador to the United States Zhou Wenzhong and his wife, Christian Samper, Acting Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, and over 200 celebrities in various fields of the United States like finance, education, press, culture & art as well as enterprises attended the ceremony, jointly witnessing the arrival of the historic event.

After the lion dance, Christian Samper, Acting Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, delivered a passionate speech, saying the precious red sandalwood piece of art was conducive to development of relations between the two nations and opening up new prospects for bilateral cooperation in cultural fields. China Red Sandalwood Museum’s donation of the red sandalwood model of the Ten Thousand Springtimes Pavilion to Smithsonian Institution, and the exhibition of the Ten Thousand Springtimes Pavilion model in Washington, were fruits of bilateral cooperation in art. Samper particularly stressed, “It is a great honor for us to accept the great gift coming from China, which is donated by Dr. Chan Laiwa. It is not only exquisite beyond compare, but also represents a kind of culture and spirit. More than a gift given to the museum, it is given to the people throughout the United States. By launching a U.S. tour for the gift, we will let more Americans appreciate it and get to know the extensive and profound traditional Chinese culture through the gift.”

It was the second time for Ambassador Zhou Wenzhong to participate in the cultural exchange activities that China Red Sandalwood Museum involved in the U.S.A., and last time he attended the Traditional Furniture Exhibition in Chinese Ming & Qing Dynasties titled “Mystique of Red Sandalwood” sponsored by U.S. National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington in September 2005. He made a special trip today to take part in the grand gathering again, saying in his speech that the piece of art goes far beyond time and space, bringing the most unique architecture in the Palace Museum in Beijing, China to Washington. Exhibition of the red sandalwood model of the Ten Thousand Springtimes Pavilion offered the people of the United States an opportunity to know Chinese culture and art. Mutual understanding of each other’s culture and art between the Chinese and Americans will help boost more friendly relations between the two nations.

Meanwhile, Zhou Wenzhong praised Dr. Chan Laiwa for her generous donation, saying, “Dr. Chan Laiwa has given the U.S.A. the red sandalwood model of the Ten Thousand Springtimes Pavilion, a special gift that has far exceeded the value of an artwork, which will surely provide a wonderful platform to the Americans to appreciate ancient Chinese architectures and further understand the traditional Chinese culture and art. The cultural exchange between Dr. Chan and Smithsonian Institution has contributed a lot to civil culture and art communication between the Chinese and Americans.”

John D. Negroponte, Deputy Secretary of State made a special trip to Washington D.C.  to attend the handover ceremony. He said in an interview:  “It is not only a gift donated to Smithsonian Institution, but also a special gift given to all the Americans. It is so exquisite that I hope one day I may go to Beijing to visit China Red Sandalwood Museum myself.”

Dr. Chan makes an address at the handover ceremony.

A thousand emotions swirled in Chan Laiwa’s mind when Dr. Samper awarded her a certificate of collection. She said the red sandalwood is a sort of rare wood called “King of the Wood”, and the “the Ten Thousand Springtimes Pavilion” carved with red sandalwood is even more rare and precious. However, she hoped that the gift would go far beyond a piece of artwork and become a carrier for communication between the two museums, as well as a carrier connecting friendship between the two peoples from generation to generation.

It is noteworthy that before the delegation left for the U.S.A., Smithsonian specially wrote to Chi Chungsui, Deputy Director of China Red Sandalwood Museum and a well-known performing artist, expressing their wish that Mr. Chi could sing a Chinese song at the donation ceremony. As Mr. Koestler, who, on behalf of Smithsonian Institution, has taken part in the ceremony celebrating the 80th anniversary of the Palace Museum in Beijing on September 14, 2005, where he has heard the beautiful voice of Mr. Chi Chungsui, he specially proposed that Mr. Chi’s wonderful performance may be arranged at the handover ceremony. At the handover ceremony, the songs sung by Mr. Chi Chungsui including Night Of The Grassland, and Where is the Way, the theme song of the television serials Journey to the West played by himself, have pushed the ceremony to a climax. In spite of different races and languages, the beautiful melody, lively rhythm and passionate singing made every present guests deeply intoxicated in it. All the guests said the beautiful voice one again made them feel the great charm of culture and art that is capable of surpassing time and space.

On hearing the news, many ordinary people rushes to the ceremony. Mr. Wang, who came from Taiwan and has lived in America for nearly three decades teaching Chinese calligraphy in University of Washington. He said, “Technicians from China Red Sandalwood Museum came to assemble the Ten Thousand Springtimes Pavilion model the other day, and the scene shocked every present American, who thought it was so unconceivable: they didn’t use a single nail and assemble such a large pavilion with several containers of parts and components! They feel that the Chinese handcraft was so magic.”

Robert Koestler, Director of the Museum Conservation Institute in Smithsonian Institution said when interviewed, “Arrival of the red sandalwood model of  the Ten Thousand Springtimes Pavilion makes Arthur M. Sacker Gallery more lively. The faint scent of red sandalwood seemingly makes air in the gallery fresher. We think that the mysterious red sandalwood may absorb foul air. Arrival of the gift brings us luck and is an auspicious sign for us.”

A primary school teacher who has come to see the red sandalwood model said the exquisiteness and beauty of the magic gift is beyond human words. Americans shall feel lucky, as a relatively small number of Americans have the chance to visit China, and the red sandalwood artwork may let more Americans know Chinese history. The artwork will also help enhance cultural exchange and friendship between both nations. For instance, curious primary school students who are thirsty for knowledge will have greater interest in knowing China upon visit, which will be a good source for friendship between the Chinese and Americans from generation to generation.

Such remarks may be the plainest comments on Dr. Chan Laiwa’s overseas trip with the red sandalwood. Dr. Chan thinks the cultural trip of red sandalwood, which she has invested a lot both mentally and financially, is actually intended to improve the world’s understanding of Chinese culture. Wherever she is, she hopes that red sandalwood artworks she has donated may become a carrier capable of making the world know China better, and hopes that Chinese red sandalwood culture may continue to grow and be carried forward. She thinks that more than a sort of recognition of Chinese art by the Americans, Smithsonian Institution’s collection of her artwork is interaction and communication of cultures between the East and West. People of different cultural backgrounds appreciate each other based on mutual understanding, which is the way for communication. Only art and great culture can make humans, separated by national boundaries and ages, appreciate each other.

Red sandalwood model of the Ten Thousand Springtimes Pavilion (1:5)

The original appearance of the Ten Thousand Springtimes Pavilion

The Ten Thousand Springtimes Pavilion is located in the Imperial Garden in the Forbidden City. The Imperial Garden, situated at the most north end of the central axis of the Palace Museum, was called “Back Palace Garden” in the Ming Dynasty and called “Imperial Garden” in the Qing Dynasty. It was first built in the 18th year of Emperor Yongle’s reign (1420 A.D.), and was built to a larger scale in following years. The basic layout in primary construction has been preserved till now. There are many pavilions, trees and stones in the garden, which have been left over since Ming Dynasty in the 15th century. The garden was previously constructed as a place for emperors, empresses and imperial concubines to have a rest, play and relax, with four pavilions in it: Fubi Pavilion and Chengrui Pavilion in the north of the garden, and Ten-thousand Spring Pavilion and Thousand Autumn Pavilion in the south. The pavilions well echo hills, stones and trees in the garden, making the Imperial Garden much more lively and beautiful.

The piece of artwork is made of precious red sandalwood and the traditional mortise and tenon structure is adopted. Based on the original architecture, it was carved on a scale of 1 to 5.

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