Rare Chinese Art Abounds at Beijing’s Red Sandalwood Museum
What do Beijing’s Red Sandalwood Museum, Regent Beijing and Time magazine’s annual list of the 100 most influential people in the world have in common? The answer is Chen Lihua. Owner of both the museum and hotel, she made it onto the prestigious Time magazine list in 2012. She also happens to be China’s second richest woman and the 6th richest self-made female billionaire in the world. Writing on the Time magazine website, Chinese acting superstar, Jackie Chan, described her as a “cherished friend” and stated that “"her success comes from her genuine understanding of people, her steadfast dedication to education and the arts, and her profound commitment to philanthropy". Born in Beijing, she started a furniture collecting and production business in 1976, before expanding into real estate, which is where she made her considerable fortune. Today, she is one of Beijing’s biggest property developers, having developed Jin Bao Street, a historic avenue dotted with luxury hotels, shops and private clubs. She is also a passionate patron of the arts, especially traditional Chinese furniture and wood carvings. In order to share her profound love of art with the public, she spent 200 million RMB of her own money to build Beijing’s Red Sandalwood Museum, the only red sandalwood museum in the world and the first and largest private museum to open in China.
Opened in 1999, the Red Sandalwood Museum boasts the most extensive red sandalwood furniture collection in the world. One of the rarest and most precious hardwoods on earth, red sandalwood has long been considered the “king of wood” in China. In fact, during the Ming and Qing dynasties only the Emperor and his family were allowed to own furniture and ornaments made of red sandalwood – a true testament to its value and prestige. The museum’s collection includes over 2000 items, with over 1000 pieces on display, including more than 200 genuine antiques from the Ming and Qing dynasties.
The museum offers 10,000 square metres and 5 floors of beautifully hand-crafted traditional Chinese furniture and wood-carvings made of red sandalwood and other rare and precious woods, including ebony, Huanghuail wood, phoebe shearer, etc. On entering, visitors are met with a stunning full scale replica of the Emperor’s throne found in the Forbidden City. Some of the furniture highlights include a 400 year old canopied bed from the Ming dynasty with 100 birds carved into it, and a cabinet inlaid with 1000 incredibly ornate Chinese characters made from mother of pearl inlay. There’s also an area of the museum that explains how furniture is assembled using traditional techniques, which is extremely fascinating.
The most impressive exhibits by far, however, are the numerous large scale architectural models of traditional Chinese landmarks, including the Corner Tower of the Forbidden City, which weighs over six tonnes and is made entirely of red sandalwood. A brilliant work of art and traditional Chinese craftsmanship, it took over 100 artists more than 3 years to complete it - the roof alone is made of 4600 interlocking pieces of red sandalwood without no nails or glue. Even more impressive is a scale model of the Temple of Heaven on the top floor, which is the largest piece in the museum at 10 tonnes. The Red Sandalwood Museum is truly one of the most spectacular and important reservoirs of traditional Chinese art and culture in all of China!
A cultural experience that is definitely not to be missed, guests of the Regent Beijing are privileged to free guided tours and transport to and from China’s one and only Red Sandalwood Museum during their stay.
Art and Culture at Regent Beijing
With its sleek and elegant contemporary interior design, on first glance the Regent Beijing appears similar to many standard luxury hotels in the West. When one begins to explore the hotel, however, one discovers a treasure trove of traditional Chinese cultural and aesthetic details. For instance, sitting on either side of the entrance to the hotel in the lobby are two imposing 3 metre high traditional Chinese style cabinets painted in gold. While striking in colour and design, few who view them know that the cabinets are actually made of red sandalwood. In fact, red sandalwood furniture and traditional Chinese wood-carvings feature prominently at the Regent Beijing. Both the Regent Beijing’s Presidential and Wangfujing suites boast exquisite handmade traditional Chinese furniture made from red sandalwood.
The hotel boasts other fine specimens of traditional Chinese artistic craftsmanship as well, including a six meter high hand-carved wooden mural in the lobby, which depicts an idyllic shan shui “mountain and water” scene from southern China. On the second floor, there is a small gallery-like display of traditional Chinese wood carvings, including a “Ruyi” sculpture featuring nine dragons and nice phoenixes carved with incredible detail and intricacy, as well as a striking dragon sculpture carved from the root of a tree, among other items.
One of only six exclusive and ultra-luxurious Regent properties in the world, the Regent Beijing lies on Jin Bao Street, one of the most prestigious and historic avenues in the heart of the Chinese capital. Indeed, in terms of both cultural history and prestige, the hotel’s location holds special significance. A short walk from the hotel along Jin Bao Street leads directly to the east gate of the Forbidden City and the area surrounding it was once home to the capital’s political and scholarly elite. Today, Jin Bao Street is home to the showrooms of the world’s top luxury automotive brands, including both Rolls Royce and Bentley, which have showrooms on the ground floor of the Regent Beijing.
Of course, it is what lies within the Regent Beijing that will most impress guests during their stay. On entering the hotel, guests are immediately struck by the profound beauty of a giant crystal chandelier in the shape of a coiled leaf that hangs in the centre of the lobby. Directly beneath it lies a granite fountain with water bubbling out of holes in the top. Sunk into the lobby floor, this fountain sits as the center piece of an elaborate feng shui design that extends from the outside entrance of the hotel, through the lobby and into the hotel’s courtyard. Designed according to ancient Chinese feng shui principles to bring prosperity and good fortune to guests, an elaborate system brings water cascading down a striated wall outside the entrance of the hotel, from where it flows underground to the lobby and emerges from the granite fountain, before continuing on again underground and draining into a serene pool in the hotel courtyard, which can be seen from the lobby. The courtyard is also decorated with a large installation of Chinese calligraphy made of bronze outside Crescent Lounge.
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