In honor of the 40th anniversary of normalization of Japan-China ties in 2012, Chinese authorities are loaning some of their country's most cherished artworks to the Tokyo National Museum for a special exhibition from Jan. 2 through Feb. 19.
Many of these national treasures of paintings and calligraphic works have never left China because of their priceless significance to Chinese art.
Nobuyuki Matsumoto, director of curatorial planning at the Tokyo National Museum, said the exhibition is unprecedented for the display of 41 artworks from the Song Dynasty (960-1279) and the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368) from the collection of the Palace Museum in Beijing.
"There were a number of shows on works on loan from the Palace Museum, but only a couple of works were shown from the Song and Yuan dynasties on each occasion," Matsumoto said.
Thirty-nine of them will be shown for the first time in Japan.
The exhibition, "Two Hundred Selected Masterpieces from the Palace Museum, Beijing," will be held in the Heiseikan Special Exhibition Galleries at the Tokyo National Museum in Ueno district.
The works are among the crown jewels of a collection of more than 1.8 million pieces at the Palace Museum, the former home of China's 24 emperors.
The artistic style and traditions formed in the Song and Yuan dynasties developed into an influential movement in Chinese art and had tremendous impact on Japanese art.
The centerpiece of the exhibition is "Qing Ming Shang He Tu" (Life along the Bian River at the Qingming Festival) by Zhang Zeduan, a painter from the Northern Song Dynasty (960-1127). It will be shown through Jan. 24.
Approval from the Chinese authorities to allow the display of the silk scroll, arguably China's most renowned national treasure, came only in December.
This will be the first time that the picture scroll, 24.8 centimeters in height and 5.28 meters long, has left China. Scholars believe it to be a depiction of Bianjing, the capital of Northern Song (today's Kaifeng in Henan province), in early April under the solar calendar, when Chinese visit family graves.
The scroll depicts about 800 characters, along with horses and carriages on the streets of Bianjing, ships on the river and small and large shops.
Zheng Xinmiao, director of the Palace Museum, said the State Administration of Cultural Heritage had decided to allow its first showing overseas, given the long history of exchanges between Japan and China.
"We believe people in Japan, a country very familiar with Chinese art, will be able to appreciate the true splendor of 'Qing Ming Shang He Tu,' " he said. "We hope the Japanese will enjoy the essence of Chinese culture."
Masaaki Itakura, associate professor of Chinese art history at the Institute for Advanced Studies on Asia at the University of Tokyo, echoed Matsumoto's view that the exhibition is one of the finest ever to be held abroad on Asia from the Palace Museum.
One of the must-see works, he said, is "Water Village," by Zhao Mengfu, a painter from the Yuan Dynasty. It is a portrayal of a village in Jiangnan, a region to the south of the lower reaches of the Yangtze River in south China.
"With dry brush strokes and ink wash, it depicts the soft curves of a mountain and wet atmosphere," Itakura said. "Lines are so lively that viewers will be able to have a feeling of texture and sensation to touch and even imagine the painter at work."
Zhao is also known for his acclaimed calligraphy. His brush strokes should prove fascinating to fans of calligraphy.
"Portrait of Yang Zhuxi," the portrayal of an intellectual in the late Yuan Dynasty, was executed jointly by Wang Yi and Ni Zan.
Wang drew the character and Ni the pine tree and rocks in the background.
Although it is a small piece, the character's true-to-life expression is striking.
"While his face is depicted in a manner that could not be more detailed, his clothes are finished with a minimum of detail," Itakura said. "That way, visitors' attention will inevitably turn to the character's face."
The pine tree, an evergreen, symbolizes the intellectual's never failing lofty ideals.
"Visitors should pay close attention to the minute details of the works," Itakura said. "The more they examine them carefully, the more they will be struck by the delicate expression presented in the works."
The special exhibition is sponsored by The Asahi Shimbun and other organizations.
Qing Ming Shang He Tu by Zhang Zeduan, Northern Song Dynasty (Collection of the Palace Museum, Beijing)Huang with Openwork Double-headed Dragon Design, Southern Song Dynasty (Collection of the Palace Museum, Beijing)Portrait of Yang Zhuxi by Wang Yi and Ni Zan, late Yuan Dynasty (Collection of the Palace Museum, Beijing)Cloisonne Vase with Dragon-shaped Pierced Handles and Interlocking Lotus Design, Yuan-Ming Dynasty (Collection of the Palace Museum, Beijing)Water Village, by Zhao Mengfu, Yuan Dynasty (Collection of the Palace Museum, Beijing)