Ronnie Chan: We Shouldn't Let History 'Lie in Ruins'

Asia Society co-Chair helps unveil two major restoration projects

HONG KONG, October 10, 2012 — Closed to the public to this day, Beijing's Palace of Established Happiness and the Hall of Rectitude Prayer Compound — located in the northwest precinct of the Forbidden City — were razed to the ground by fire in 1923. They have now been completely reconstructed, and their cultural legacies restored, through collaboration between the Palace Museum and the ongoing heritage preservation efforts of the China Heritage Fund founded by Asia Society co-Chair Ronnie C. Chan.

Chan and Happy Harun, the Fund's project director, explicated the history of these two buildings and offered a detailed account, with illustrations, of their painstaking reconstruction here at Asia Society Hong Kong Center.

Built originally in 1742 by Emperor Qianlong, the Palace of Established Happiness was the Emperor's favorite retreat "to rest his heart." The Hall of Rectitude Prayer Compound, lying south of the Palace, was inaugurated in 1697 as a site dedicated to Tibetan Buddhist worship.

Reconstruction of the Palace and its exquisite garden began in May 2000 using traditional tools, techniques and processes. Special care was taken to expose the structural details of the Garden's two main buildings, enabling them to stand as testament to the ingenuity of Chinese craftsmen.

Harun told the audience, "The wow factor is outside, which is ancient, while the interiors are contemporary, open, and reversible." The reconstruction was completed in 2005 and now the two buildings of the Palace of Established Happiness are fitted with world-class facilities for receptions, conferences and special exhibitions.

The Fund embarked on its second collaboration with the Palace Museum in 2006, offering to sponsor a full reconstruction of the Hall of Rectitude Prayer Compound. Upon its completion this month, the hall complex will house the Palace Museum's Research Center for Tibetan Buddhist Heritage anda  state-of-the-art exhibition space to showcase the Chinese emperors' private collection of Tibetan Buddhist art objects, many of which have never been publicly displayed.

Chan and Harun explained that what they had been working on was not just the end product, but the "complete hardware and software" to demonstrate to China's heritage preservation authorities what it takes to retain an original construction's heritage value and to extend its physical and cultural life.

Reported by Neha Subramanian and Elsa Lo

Video: Watch the complete program (1 hr., 29 min.)