Introduction to the Clocks & Watches Exhibition at The Palace Museum of Beijing
The Clocks & Watches Museum is located in the Inner Court section of the Palace Museum. It is housed inside the Former Ancestral Temple, the Hall of Worshipping the Ancestors. In Ancient Times, here the Imperial Family Worshipped their Ancestors through their ritual tablets.
This Hall is not to be mistaken for the much larger Imperial Ancestral Shrine (Tai Miao) of the Ming Dynasty. At the much larger Tai Miao Shrine, located to the south-east of Wu Men - Meridian Gate and outside the Palace Walls, the Ritual Ancestral Tablets of the Ming Dynasty Imperial Clan were kept for safety at their very own shrine.
Currently, the Palace and Chapel of Serving
The Imperial Palace Museum
- Inner Court (Nei Ting) -
Palace of Serving the Ancestors (Feng Xian Dian)
tors is home to the Clocks and Watches Collection of the Palace Museum. On display inside the spacious Hall are a multitude of large clocks, mainly based of western origin and donated to the court, or based upon an earlier design of these. Grandfather clocks and chiming clocks make up the bulk of the exhibition. Smaller pieces of the exhibition are exquisitely bejeweled watches, pocket-clockery and the like.
Clocks and Watches Museum at The Forbidden City, the Ticket.
Official Guide with site-map of Clocks and Watches Museum at The Forbidden City.
The Official schematic Map of The Forbidden City, by The Palace Museum.
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Frontal View of the High and Spacious Hall of Worshipping the Ancestors from it's entrance Gate.
History of the Hall of Worshipping Ancestors
The Hall of Worshipping the Ancestors is was not an original part of the Palace of the Ming Dynasty, constructed around 1420 AD. Instead, the Hall of worshipping the Ancestors is a Palace Hall added during reconstructions and partial redesign of the Palace grounds in the 17Th Century, in the beginning years of the new Ching Dynasty.
The Hall also known as Chapel of Serving the Ancestors consist of two main sections, the front hall and the rear hall. Both halls are
two stories in height and connected by a spacious Lobby.
It was first constructed in 1656 AD but was destroyed by a Fire that swept the Inner Court in 1679 AD already. Thereafter it was immediately reconstructed.
In 1737 AD, it was once more repaired. During the Ching Dynasty the Hall of Worshipping the Ancestors was a highly important and sacred Hall of The Palace. It was the depository for the spirit-tablets of the Imperial Ancestors, tablets bearing the immortal spirits and mystical powers of the powerful founders of the Manchu Imperial Clan. On the dates of the three great festivals of the year (Lunar Calendar!) and during grand celebrations special ceremonies were held at the Hall. These were the Regular Manchu Lamaist memorial rites for the ancestors which would be held in the Front Hall of the Feng Xian Dian.
Special Salutes would be given to the individual deceased Imperial Ancestor on his (former) Birthday as well as the anniversary of their death. Furthermore there were special salutes during the Grand Festivals.
The special Salute rites of Manchu Lamaism would be performed in the rear hall only.
The Phoenix, apart from being the a symol of recreation was the main symbol for the Empress.
Phoenix design in Iron - detail from the Doors of the Hall of Worshipping Ancestors.
Clocks & Watches Exhibition at the Hall of Worshipping Ancestors
The Shrine survived relatively undamaged through the historic events of the pillaging of the Imperial Palace by foreign armies in 1900 AD, as well as the following chaotic and desperate war lord years, the japanese invasion and occupation and the Civil War.
However, after the establishment of the Peoples Republic of China the Hall became the unfortunate target of political actions. In 1966, during the turbulent and politically overzealous Cultural Revolution years (1960 AD - 1976 AD) groups of red guards, entered the building in a rage and smashed many of the remaining historic statues and tablets. An exhibition of revolutionary mud sculptures replaced the ancient holy relics. However, further destruction was prevented when Premier Zhou Enlai intervened by sending an army batallion to guard the city. After this incident the Palace Museum remained sealed until the year 1971 AD.
Rare 4 color cloisonne inlaid and gold guilded egg-shaped table watch with a crafted crowned-phoenix head.
Other interesting items of the collection include rare clocks of Chinese origins, designed and created during the later Qing Dynasty. There are 51 Chinese Clocks in the Collection.
One of the many foreign Chime Clocks given as diplomatic gifts to the Ching Court by western envoys of the 18Th Century.
British and Western Clocks at the Hall of Worshipping Ancestors
As Britain was the main Colonial Power of the 18Th Century, and
of gift clocks from Foreign Envoys to the Ching Dynasty Court, the exhibition has far more than that.
In fact, the old grandfather clocks and chiming clocks in the collection are the least interesting items on display. If you are interested in such clocks, a good tourist trip to Palais de Versailles near Paris in France, or Windsor Castle in the UK would be a better alternative.
The finally crafted interiors of the two story tall Hall of Worshipping Ancestors makes it one of the more interesting Palace Halls to visit.
their greater acuracy as well as superior practical use these soon replaced the ancient methods of Chinese Timekeeping.
By the time of the 18Th Century a choice of western as well as Chinese produced clocks filled the Imperial Palace Halls and Pavilions. As Britain was the main invading and colonial power, most clocks on display are made in Britain. Others were produced in France, Zwitserland - a country famous for clocks, and other western countries. The exhibit further includes some clocks from Japan.
All clocks were purchased by Guandong Customs officers and presented as gifts to the Chinese Court. Other clocks on display are Chinese produced clocks originating in Suzhou or in Guandong Province. These finest of craftsmen appear in their signatures on the products.
A Guilt copper pavilion-shaped Watch carried by a Crane. From the hand of James Cox, 1756 AD, London, England.
Watch on a guilt copper box, inlaid with agate and glass. Britain, 18Th Century. From the Palace Museum Collection.
therefor the main international relation of the Ching Court, many of the clocks on exhibition are of British origin. Among these, most were created in the workshops of James Cox and Joseph Williamson, famous British Clock-makers of the 18Th Century. The names of the makers appear in signature on the items on display.
Apperently the clock is still in working order, keeping the time and telling hours and quarters. Accoring to the Palace Museum Staff it is still able to run for 72 hours continiously, eventhough it is now over 200 years old !
Suzhou Clocks at the Hall of Worshipping Ancestors
The clock making industry of China originated in Suzhou (Jiangsu Province) during the 18Th Century. During the course of the 18Th and following 19Th Century the Chinese techniques were perfected in Suzhou, resulting in a choice of night watches, pendulum clocks, table plaque clocks and even tri-functional clocks.
Chinese clocks of the time could not only accurately tell the time, but could also track and display the course of heavenly bodies, and the replacement of the solar terms of the four seasons.
Chinese Time pices have a long history. In early chinese history the sundial and the clepsydra (water-clock) had been invented and used extensively. During the late Ming Dynasty (1368 AD - 1644 AD) and during the Qing Dynasty the european colonial powers began importing western designed mechanical time-pieces into China. Due to
In the period of 1783 AD to 1792 AD, James Cox even
aim of producing fine clockery for distribution to the chinese market. Later a descendant, one Timoth Williamsons, would continue the family tradition in the clock-making business.
What became of the venture is unknown to our Staff, however, the Williamsons clocks on display at the Hall are impressive guilded works of art. All of the James Cox clocks in the exhibition near his name signature on their faces, and some even carry the dates of production on their body or spring adjusting key.
The older british clocks in the Exhibition are by the hand of James Williamson. Williamson was a british clockmaker of the Princes Anne period (1702 AD - 1714 AD), a descendant of a famous clock making family. His greatest inventions include the most acurate astronomical
clock of the time, and more notably, the first calendar clock marked with the day and the week. Some of Williamsons calendar clocks are in the Hall of Worshipping Ancestors Exhibition.
Other british clocks and names in the exhibition are Barbot, George Higginson, John Bennett, John Girarde (of London), John Taylor and Robert Philip. All were prime producers of a-grade and sometimes outrageous clockery of the 18Th Century. As was customary, certainly for such an important assignment, the signatures of the famous clockworkers apear on the clocks.
A miniature time-piece set inside a colorful broche.
Exquisitely crafted and carved exteriors and frolicking decorations give testimony of the high level of artisanship in the City of Suzhou of the time. For their distinct flowery decorations, melodious bells and high craftsmanship, as well as their proud Chinese origin, the Suzhou Clocks had a special place at the lavishly furnished Qing Dynasty Court.
John Bennet was another son of a watch and clockmaker who came to great heights. Not only was he a famous London watchmaker for which his clocks appear at the Famous Palace Museum of Beijing, Bennett also set up the British horological Institute for the manifacture of clocks and watches and served as a local member of Parliament as well as the Sheriff of London City for a while. In 1872 AD he was knighted for his various achievements by Queen Victoria of England.
In arduous efforts to export as many clocks as possible and meet the demands of China's huge and promising market, many british and other clocks were imported through the Guangdong Customs Office in the 18Th Century. Guangdong, at the time, was the only point where the foreigners were allowed to import their goods, than trade directly with the Imperial Officials on Site.
Many of the clocks in the exhibition have guilt copper casings inlaid with colorful pastes to brighten the effects. The use of sculpted animals to decorate the supports is frequent as are carved rockeries with animals, painted lacquer lanscapes, enameled faces or even portraits. The
In more recent years the Lobby of the building has been expanded to make room for the (growing!) Clocks and Watches Exhibition of the Palace Museum. The Hall is now very spacious and near square in size. However, both front and rear bays are still clearly distinguishable.
range of subjects of inspiration includes ancient greek mythology, natural scenery, European culture and customs, and traditional Chinese auspicious signs. Besides for their accuracy, the European clocks are distinguished by their gadgetry involving moving figurines such singing birds, rotating flowers and the like. There are clocks that make music and even a clock with flowing water in a River ! All clock figurines are remarkably life like.
Western clocks at the exhibition date from the 18Th and 19Th Century.
A star shaped desk or table watch from the collection.
The portrait of an imperial concubine on a pocket-watch.
Chinese Clocks on display originate either in the Palace's own workshops, the City of Suzhou, or the City of Guanzhou.
One of the most notable pieces of the collection can be viewed immediatly upon entering the Hall of Worshipping Ancestors. On the left across from the doorway is a huge solid wooden Clock of at least 2 persons tall. This is the masterpiece
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The Clocks and Watches Exhibition at the Palace Museum is surprisingly spectacular. Although advertised merely as a collection
chiming clock constructed in 1797 AD by the Imperial Workshop of the Qing Dynasty Imperial Palace. It is a staggering 5.85 meters high and measures 2 meters at it's base.
Jewelry clocks at the Collection
Literally more jewels of history can
be found in and around the Hall where a multitude of fine intricately crafted and bejeweled clocks and watches are on display.
More information + new photos on the Hall of Worshipping Ancestors and the Clocks & Watches Exhibition due Soon on this Page !
More spectacular jewelry watches on display at the Hall of Worshipping Ancestors at the Palace Museum. These are wathes from France.
The Palace Museum has one of the largest collections of mechanical time-pieces of the 18th and 19th centuries in the world, with more than 1000 pieces in all.
A British Clock with an Indian Colonial Theme, including moving snake-charmers and below a guilded cobra-pit.
A British produced gold guilded copper clock with a golden boy gardener with spade.
Other most notable pieces in the collection include a clock with an attached automaton which is able to write with a miniature writing brush on inserted paper, creating an auspicious couplet in perfect Chinese calligraphy. There are many other worthy timepieces, as mentioned, including one from France with a flowing river and another standing clock with a moving little train inside. Another one is a clock in the shape of a seven storied pagoda. Each pagoda tier's gates open mechanically, while the clock rings out the hours and plays a musical tune. Go visit and find out more !
Across from this humongous clock, stands a second even taller one. This is the second pride of the many in the collection, a Chinese produced waterclock constructed in the year 1799 AD. This waterclock is no less than 6 meters high, making it impossible to miss at the exhibition. The waterclock is the largest waterclock in China.
The water-time mechanism can be inspected and involves the use of 4 copper pots assembled vertically in a row above eachother. After each drop takes its time to pass through and fall into the 4th and bottom pot, it ads to the water-level. The bottom pot contains a floating device that makes it possible to tell the time using the floating device and a scale.