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One of the museum's side entrances. (CF)  <img src='http://www.guidegecko.com/images/spyglass1.png' align='texttop' /> Click for full image
Travel Guide > Asia > Taiwan > Sights & Attractions

National Palace Museum

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Often described as one of the world's four greatest museums, the National Palace Museum (國立故宮博物院, NPM) is for many visitors the highlight of their time in Taipei.

Based on private collections accumulated by emperors and bequeathed to their successors since the Song Dynasty (AD960—1279), the museum holds 682,061 items. Among them are 380,000 documents and almost 200,000 books, yet the greatest treasures displayed in the 15 permanent exhibitions fall into other categories, most notably ceramics, bronzes, jades and paintings. At any given time, less than one percent of the collection is on public display.

How this magnificent selection came to end up in Taipei is well known to students of Asian history: In 1925, the year after the last Qing emperor was expelled from his palace in Beijing, the museum was established inside the Forbidden City. However, because the Japanese were threatening north China, many of the most valuable artifacts were packed up and moved away during the 1930s. Due to World War II and the subsequent Chinese Civil War, these treasures were shifted from place to place, finally being shipped to Taiwan in early 1949.

Few of the items on display were actually purchased by the emperors who cherished them. Many were tributes from vassal states such as Tibet and the Kingdom of Korea. Others were presented by local officials hoping to win the emperor's favor, while some were gifts from Western diplomats. A few were forfeited to the imperial household after their owners were accused of treason. One of the best-known pieces, the 19cm-long Jadeite Cabbage (look closely for the katydid and the locust and read the information panel to discover the meaning of these symbols) is thought to have arrived in the imperial household as part of a concubine's dowry.

Don't be surprised if you have to queue for a few minutes to see popular exhibits such as the Jadeite Cabbage on the third floor. Also, you're advised to arrive soon after opening and sign up for one of the free English-language tours (10am and 3pm). You'll have to hand over your passport or a NT$1,000 deposit; in return you'll get a radio receiver and headphones through which your guide will address members of the group. Tours usually last around two hours; feel free to ask questions. When the tour has finished you can explore on your own.

Many of the oldest pieces in the NPM collection are jade. In prehistoric and ancient China, this semi-precious stone was thought to have magical properties, and was often shaped into disks (to be worn around the neck) or icons that were worshiped. Some of the bronze pieces are almost as ancient. The Fu Ping Chiao, a three-legged bovine-shaped drinking vessel, dates from at least 1100BC. But that's not to say more recent pieces are any less breathtaking. During the Qing Dynasty, one craftsman succeeded in turning a single piece of ivory into 21 richly-carved concentric spheres that can be rotated in any direction. Another shaped a stone smaller than a chicken's egg into a boat with windows that can be closed and eight human figures.

The opening of the NPM Southern Branch is set for the end of 2015.


From Taipei Main Railway Station, take the MRT's Red Line northward to Shilin MRT Station. Buses nos. 255, 304 and Red 30 reach the museum about 15 minutes after leaving Shilin MRT Station.

Type: Museum
Costs: NT$250, Children NT$150
Location: Taiwan
Street address: 221, Zhishan Road Section 2, Shilin District, Taipei City
Nearest public transport: National Palace Museum bus stop
Opening hours: Daily 9am-6:30pm, Friday & Saturday until 9pm
Telephone: +886228812021
Email: service@npm.gov.tw

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