The Hong Kong outpost of Beijing’s Palace Museum is a joy to explore, with plenty of glittering exhibits and interactive displays to keep the whole family engaged. Asia Family Traveller took a tour.
Hong Kong Palace Museum dominates the city's West Kowloon waterfront.
Hong Kong’s Palace Museum is a triumph. Despite initial controversy over its construction, the towering, angular building that now dominates the harbour front in the city’s recently regenerated West Kowloon Cultural District is a worthy addition to Hong Kong’s expanding cultural scene.
The proposed museum got off to a shaky start when the project was presented as a fait accompli by then-chief executive Carrie Lam to the Hong Kong people in 2016, with the public merely invited retrospectively to provide views on the museum’s design. Grumblings about excessive costs, undue influence from Beijing and lack of public consultation abounded, but by then, a cooperation agreement had already been signed with the Palace Museum in Beijing, and Hong Kong Jockey Club Charities Trust had agreed to cover the US$450 million construction costs.
Six years later, the result is a spectacular treasure-trove spanning 5,000 years of Chinese culture. Most of the exhibits have never before been seen in Hong Kong and a handful are on display to the public for the first time.
Hong Kong-based Rocco Design Architects have created a stunning space; as you enter through the huge entrance doors, soaring white walls draw the eye upwards to the fluted gold ceilings. On the upper levels, open-air terraces take advantage of the museum’s waterside location.
Floor-to-ceiling windows feature throughout the building; the south atrium terrace looks towards the harbour while the west atrium on the fourth floor takes in westerly views to Lantau island.
The building is a treasure trove of 5,000 years of Chinese history.
At the opening ceremony earlier this summer, the government underlined that the museum aims to advance Chinese arts and culture in Hong Kong, elevating the city’s status as an ‘east-meets-west’ melting pot and reinforcing its position as a platform for cultural exchange between China and the rest of the world.
But this is no fusty old institution. The displays are well thought out and imaginatively presented. According to museum director, Dr Louis Ng, the museum wanted to adopt an innovative curatorial approach, using new technology and media to present the treasures. While the museum wouldn’t hold the attention of young children, there are enough superlatives, priceless shiny objects and engaging multimedia displays to engage older children.
The loans have been divided into digestible themes in nine galleries, using interactive and mixed media to create imaginative presentations of the relics.
Escalators carry visitors from the vast atrium to five floors of galleries and exhibition spaces. More than 900 exhibits on loan from the Palace Museum are on display, from clocks, paintings, ceramics and jade, to jewellery, clothing, instruments, calligraphy and other priceless Chinese artefacts. The objects have been selected from the more than one-and-a-half million pieces that make up the Palace Museum’s collection. Around 150 pieces that have been plucked from the vaults for Hong Kong are classified as national treasures.
The pieces have been shared with Hong Kong on a rotating basis. According to conservation requirements, some objects will be displayed for a limited time of just a few weeks before being returned to Beijing for a ‘rest period’. The museum cites the ancient Chinese paintings and calligraphy works as an example; these pieces are highly sensitive to light and humidity fluctuations and so will only be exhibited for one to three months before being rested for several years. There are ceramics that date to neolithic times and paintings and calligraphy from the Jin Dynasty (265-316CE).
Exhibits have been selected from the million-odd pieces in the Palace Museum collection.
Galleries one and two introduce the Forbidden City in the Ming and Qing dynasties. A huge animated video presentation on one wall takes visitors through daily life in the palace. It’s entirely absorbing.
Galleries three, four and five feature Chinese ceramics, Qing imperial portraits and crafts and galleries eight and nine display early paintings and calligraphic works. A dazzling digital interpretation of the veneration of the Emperor’s portraits swoops viewers over a snow-enveloped Qing Dynasty Forbidden City and into the palace.
As an example of east-west cultural collaborations, one of the opening exhibitions, Grand Gallop: Art and Culture of the Horse displays 13 works on loan from Paris’ Musée du Louvre.
Hong Kong Palace Museum has welcomed more than 500,000 visitors since it opened its doors in June, although due to the city’s strict Covid entry restrictions tickets have largely been taken up by the domestic market. Now travel rules have loosened, the museum is beginning to enjoy a more international audience.
Hong Kong Palace Museum, 8 Museum Drive West Kowloon, Tsim Sha Tsui, Hong Kong; Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday, 10am to 6pm; Friday, Saturday and public holidays, 10am to 8pm; closed on Tuesdays (except public holidays) and the first two days of Lunar New Year; closed at 6pm on December 24 and 31. It’s recommended to pre-book tickets online.
Plan your visit
If you’re visiting with young children, family-friendly facilities include baby care rooms on LG/F and 4/F. Baby strollers can be borrowed free of charge on a first-come, first-served basis at Information on G/F.
There is a museum car park, or take the MTR to Kowloon Station and follow the signs through Elements shopping mall to Artist Square Bridge on 2/F, Metal Zone. Cross the bridge to reach the West Kowloon Cultural District; Hong Kong Palace Museum is around a fifteen minute walk along the harbour front path. There are lawns along the pathway for sitting out or picnicking as well as a handful of casual dining spaces.
There are three indoor-outdoor casual dining restaurants outside of the museum and Shanghainese Jin Ya Ju Noodle Bar can be accessed from inside the museum - just let museum staff know if you wish to return to the museum after lunch. The two more dining spaces include the Cupping Room for coffees and teas and western-style eatery Crepes & Bakes.