Located on the eastern and western extremes of the Eurasian landmass, China and France led the development of Eastern and Western cultural-artistic trends in the latter half of the 17th and the early 18th centuries. At this time China was ruled by Emperor Kangxi of the Qing dynasty, while the Sun King Louis XIV was the reigning monarch in France.
The courses of these two monarchs' lives were startlingly similar. They both ascended the throne at a tender age. One was raised under the regency of his grandmother, the other by the empress dowager. Their royal education ensured that the two monarchs were versed in the literary and military arts, observant of the principle of universal benevolence, and fond of the fine arts. They both had a government run by powerful ministers, prior to taking charge of state affairs. Yet, once assuming government duties after coming of age, both exhibited extraordinary industry and diligence in ruling, daring not relax day and night. Further, each personally consolidated his family's rule, the Manchu Aisin Gioro clan in China and the royal house of Bourbon in France.
Living at opposite ends of the world, the two monarchs were indirectly connected by an intangible bridge formed by the French Jesuits. Through the introduction of these missionaries, Louis XIV came to know about Kangxi, and there was a flourishing of interest in and emulation of Chinese culture and arts at all levels of French society. Under the guidance of the Jesuit missionaries, on the other hand, Emperor Kangxi learned of Western science, arts, and culture, and was known for their promotion. His patronage led to the emergence of many a devoted student of Western studies among the officials and subjects of the Qing.
The exhibition is organized to celebrate the centennial of the founding of the Republic of China. On view is a fine selection of 83 artifacts from the National Palace Museum, as well as 33 sets of works from the Palace Museum of Beijing, the Shanghai Museum, the Shenyang Palace Museum, and a private collection in Hong Kong. Also highlighted in the presentation are 74 sets of objects on loan from the Bibliothèque nationale de France and 12 French museums. In addition, the French Ministère des Affaires étrangères et européennes has been most generous in producing for this exhibition an exact replica of a letter from Louis XIV to Kangxi, as the original cannot be shown for purpose of preservation since its last appearance in another exposition in 2010.
To allow the artifacts to tell the story, the exhibition is grouped into four sections. The first section gives a comprehensive account of Emperor Kangxi and the Sun King Louis XIV, as well as their families and achievements. The second reveals the intangible bridge between the two monarchs that the French Jesuits engineered. The third addresses Sino-Franco connections and mutual emulation in arts and culture prompted by missionaries and traveling merchants. The fourth then illustrates the resulting innovations in China and France in the wake of the encounters.
It is hoped that the exhibition will offer the audiences an opportunity to better understand how the two monarchs had come to learn about each other and how Sino-Franco encounters in arts and culture came about by way of French Jesuit missions between the latter half of the 17th and the early 18th centuries, as well as the sparkling splendors resulting from such encounters.