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Heritage Museum showcases variety of ancient Chinese leisure activities (with photos)

    Leisure and entertainment are important components of the intellectual and cultural life. As heirs to an ancient civilisation of thousands of years, the ancient Chinese enjoyed a rich variety of leisure pastimes and forms of entertainment, and had a unique understanding of these activities.

     To introduce the rich variety and historical development of Chinese entertainment culture, "Enlightening Trivialities -- Ancient Chinese Pastimes" exhibition will be held from tomorrow (March 22) until June 26 at the Hong Kong Heritage Museum.

     Jointly presented by the Leisure and Cultural Services Department and National Museum of China, the exhibition features 115 relics and exhibits, including ancient musical instruments, figures of musicians and dancers, tile paintings, board sets, painting scrolls and other valuable objects, which date back to Neolithic Age (c.7000 íV c.21st c. BC) onwards up to Qing dynasty (1644-1911). It will offer visitors an opportunity to trace the development of ancient music and dance, acrobatics and drama, while learning the characteristics of early competitive games, ball games, hunting, the pursuits of the literati and urban and rural festivities.

     The exhibition was opened today (March 21) by Leisure and Cultural Services Department Director Ms Anissa Wong Sean-yee; Director of National Museum of China, Mr Lu Zhangshen; Associate Pro-Vice-Chancellor and Registrar of The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Professor So Kee-long; Director of the Chinese Civilisation Centre of The City University of Hong Kong, Professor Cheng Pei-kai; and Chief Curator of the Heritage Museum, Mr Tom Ming Kay-chuen.

     Speaking at the ceremony, Ms Wong said visitors would find the exhibition interesting as it was closely related to our everyday life. The exhibits show that the ancient Chinese enjoyed different kinds of games and entertainment while pursuing self-discipline and managing the family and the nation. Some of the games also reflected the richness of Chinese culture.

     "Exhibitions on relics sometimes give people an impression of seriousness and remoteness. In fact, they are traces of the past, and the origins of modern life. I hope the 'Enlightening Trivialities' exhibition will give visitors a new experience in viewing relics," Ms Wong said.

     The exhibition is divided into four topics - Performing Arts, Board Games and Drinking Games, Sports Activities and Folk Entertainment.

     Performing arts originated from ancient ceremonial rituals, which served the dual purposes of entertaining both the deities and mortals. Music, dance, acrobatics, drama and puppet plays were popular performances enjoyed by the ancient Chinese. They stemmed from daily life, but were enhanced to become enjoyable activities.

     Primitive musical instruments such as bone flutes and pottery xuns marked an early beginning of Chinese musical life. String and bamboo (woodwind) ensembles took on prominence during the Qin (221íV207 BC) and Han dynasties (206 BC- AD 220). A conglomeration of musical and dance styles reached its peak in the Sui (581-618) and Tang (618-907) dynasties. Dance, music and acrobatic performances were referred to as Baixi (a hundred shows) in the Han dynasty. The emergence of the washe, a kind of music hall and theatre, during the Song (960-1279) and Yuan (1271íV1368) dynasties provided the urbanite of the time more permanent sites for entertainment. The musical drama performed in these washe encompassed singing, recitation, dance and martial art in a single performance, foreshadowing the various types of folk operas. Shadow puppet plays were also performed as a variant form of folk opera.

     Highlight exhibits featured under this topic include a bone flute with seven holes made in the Neolithic Age, pottery xuns made ca. from the 16th to 11th century BC, Chang Xin chime bells made ca. from 1027 to 771 BC, and pictorial brick with high wire chariots, figure of storyteller and a pottery stage of Han dynasty.

     Board and drinking games were prominent ancient Chinese pastimes as entertainments involving intelligence and strategy. The game of liubo was popular from the Spring and Autumn period (770íV476 BC) to the Qin and Han dynasties, and had become an indispensable item in the daily life of the time. Shuanglu originated from Central Asia, and became a well-liked board game from the Three Kingdoms period (220íV265) to the Song and Yuan dynasties. Touhu, being the less cerebral in nature, was commonly played as a drinking game among ancient nobles and scholars during banquets. The game was developed from the Archery rituals of Western Zhou dynasty (c.11th century íV 771 BC). Weiqi (go) and xiangqi are considered the epitome of the Chinese will and wisdom, embodying mathematic, stratagem and philosophy.

     Visitors to the exhibition will see some spectacular relics of ancient board games like a pottery dice of Warring States period (475íV221 BC), a bone dice of Tang dynasty, pictorial stone of touhu of Han dynasty, bronze xiangqi pieces of Song dynasty and Shuanglu chess of Qing dynasty.

     Sports in ancient China were closely related to the economy and the military developments through the passage of time. They represented the coming together of physical training, competition and entertainment, and were culturally significant as exercising for body as well as the mind.

     Sport originated from the prehistoric scavenging and hunting activities in which throwing spears, shooting arrows, climbing and running became part of the daily life. From the Jin dynasty (265íV420) up to the Sui and Tang dynasties, thriving economic activities and foreign influences brought about new and varied forms of sports. Polo, for example, became a popular game among the nobles and the upper classes. War fares during the Song and the Yuan dynasties led to proliferations of sports such as archery and wrestling. On the other hand, less aggressive games like football took the fancy of the royals and the nobles in the Tang as well as the Song dynasties.

     Highlight exhibits illustrating the development of sport games in ancient China include a painting on the Emperor Ming Huang's polo game, a painting which depicts the football game in Ming dynasty (1368íV1644) and a painting on the Autumn banquet of Ming dynasty which vividly illustrates the chess games and chuiwan (similar to the modern day golf) popular with the upper classes of that time.

     There were many kinds of folk entertainment in ancient China. Calligraphy and painting have been considered the national art in China. Engaging in these artistic disciplines cultivates taste, heightens the mind, and to a certain extent soothes the spirit. Exquisite stationeries therefore become part of such creative pursuits; the choice of materials, the forms and the designs in the making of stationeries in turn, become indicators of the taste and fads of the scholars in a specified historic period.

     Many ancient Chinese entertainments related to folk festivals, such as the Spring Festival, the Lantern Festival, Qing Ming and the Dragon Boat Festival, provided the ancients with chances for gatherings of religious and ceremonial rituals.

     Visitors will learn more about the Chinese folk entertainment through an array of exhibits, including a coloured tribute ink sticks and a vase with playing children in famille rose enamels in Qing dynasty.

     In addition to the relics, there are numerous replicas featured in the exhibition, including chime bells, stone chimes, guqin (a musical instrument), touhu (a board game where players have to throw slips into a pot) and chuiwan, which will give visitors an experience of what people in the past did at their leisure.

     A series of lectures and workshops in relation to the exhibition will also be organised. For details, visit the Heritage MuseumíŽs website or call 2180 8260.

     Located at 1 Man Lam Road, Sha Tin, the Heritage Museum opens from 10am to 6pm from Monday to Saturday, and from 10am to 7pm on Sundays and public holidays. It is closed on Tuesdays (except public holidays). Admission is $10, with a half-price concession for senior citizens aged 60 or above, people with disabilities and full-time students. Admission is free on Wednesdays.

     Car parking is available at the Heritage Museum. Those who prefer to use public transport may take the KCR Ma On Shan line to the Che Kung Temple station, which is within five minutesíŽ walk to the museum.

     For enquiries, call 2180 8188. For details of the exhibition, visit the Heritage Museum's website at

Ends/Tuesday, March 21, 2006
Issued at HKT 18:16


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