Decoding the Palais de Chine horses

Travelling, made possible with the domestication of horses thousands of years ago, has served to broaden and enrich the human horizon. It is not surprising, therefore, that horses and horse-related décor abound in the Palais de Chine: they hint at the wealth of travellers’ tales collected throughout the ages.

Within the rooms on the Executive Floors of the Palais de Chine hangs a series of horse montages created with original paintings handpicked by Mr. Nelson Chang, Inn Keeper of the Palais de Chine, from Taipei’s National Palace Museum. Mr. Chang solicited the copyrights to seven paintings from the archives of the Museum and had them re-invented by computer graphics.

An avid horseman himself, Mr. Chang opted for the bearings of the horses over hundreds of antiquity pieces and chose the seven paintings. With “the East meets the West” concept in mind, he played the horses against Napoleon’s manuscripts and other obviously Baroque elements and came up with seven utterly new and modern montages. This seamless merge of the Oriental and Occidental elements echoes the Palais de Chine slogan of finding and enjoying Paris in Taipei.

Le Code du Palais de Chine

Montages. Collages. Call them what you will. The fun lies in detecting the different layers and in trying to figure out why the artist has assembled the bits and pieces in a certain particular way.

Take, for example, the piece of artwork in Room 1608. It is based on a painting by Han Gan, an artist of the Tang Dynasty. Entitled “Herding Horses,” Han’s original depicts two handsome horses, one black, one white; sitting astride the white horse is a herder. The horses, described as “well-fleshed, with rounded haunches” by the famed poet Su Dong-Po, faithfully reflect the aesthetics of the Tang people.

In the new montage, the horses are repositioned to the upper left-hand corner, commanding over Napoleon’s manuscript in the lower left-hand corner. What appears at first to be a white Roman column on the right half of the montage, upon closer examination, is really an uppercase “I.”

The secret is out. Each of the seven montages contains a letter of the English alphabet: I, C, D, H, N, and two E’s. Unscramble them and they spell “de Chine.” So part of the hotel name is actually hidden in the montages. Fun, eh?

The artwork hanging in Room 1609 also deserves a special mention. It is based on an original done by South Song Dynasty artist Chan Ju-Zhong. Entitled ‘Wen-Ji Homeward Bound for Han,” it portrays the gifted Cai Wen-Ji returning home to China proper (East Han Dynasty) after years of marriage to the nomadic king of the Hun (Xiong-Nu). On account of the temporal and spatial differences between the East Han and the South Song Dynasties, Chan’s horses actually bear a closer resemblance to the war horses of the Khitan (Qi-Dan) nomads than to the horses of the Hun nomads.

Khitan or Liao is the ruling power sandwiched in time between the East Han and the South Song Dynasties. What is so special about the Khitan war horses? First of all, they sport a slit in their ears. The snipping allows the horses to hear and obey commands even while they are running against the wind. Next, a hole is punched through the horses’ left and right nostrils to forestall exhaled carbon dioxide from being drawn back into the lungs. The horses, less prone to fatigue, will have better stamina. The montage artist has elected to use an indigo color to reflect the uninhibited spirits of the Hun nomads. He has also coded the piece with the letter “C.”

The remaining five montages are all based on original works from the Tang, the Song, and the Yuan Dynasties. Guests of the Palais de Chine are treated to these wondrous works of classical Chinese art imbued with a nouveau twist. It Would hardly be surprising if they should have this sudden urge to mount a horse and go gallop in the wind.

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