Arguably China’s most famous painting, the Qingming Shanghetu (清明上河圖) or “Along the River during the Qingming Festival” is on display at the Forbidden City until October 12. Over five meters long and nearly nine centuries old, the scroll painting depicts life along the streets and waterways of the Northern Song capital of Bianjing (now known as Kaifeng).
The original was painted by Zhang Zheduan (1085-1145) and is an incredible window into the society of the Northern Song capital. The scroll features over 800 human figures involved in a riot of activities, from shopkeepers to drinkers to a group of laborers frantically trying to save a boat about to crash into a bridge pylon.
Several copies exist, including a famous version painted in the Qing Dynasty. The Song-era original is incredibly fragile, and is displayed infrequently. Most recently, it was loaned to a Japanese museum in 2012.
For a few weeks, however, visitors will be able to view the painting at the Forbidden City’s “Hall of Martial Valor” as part of an exhibit of 283 of the Palace Museum’s most famous works of art. It’s an incredible opportunity to see one of the world’s greatest art treasures, but prepared to share that experience with A LOT of people. Tourists are reportedly flocking to Beijing from all over China just to see the painting, and the lines and crowds at the Forbidden City, already set to reach annual peak levels during the October holidays, are likely to be epic. YJ waited in line for nearly four hours this past weekend and waits of up to six hours are being reported. With the new policy, as of this summer, restricting the total number of visitors each day to 80,000, ordinary travelers looking to visit the Forbidden City or to see the painting exhibition over the next few weeks, are strongly advised to reserve online or head to the ticket office right when it opens at 8:30.