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Why are Chinese so fanatically interested in ‘China’s Mona Lisa’?

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An hour before the Forbidden City opened to visitors one recent morning, the stone courtyard just south of the ancient imperial palace was abuzz. Within the vermilion walls, the usual mix of uniformed palace workers, tour guides and tourists milled about beneath a pale blue sky. Loudspeakers blared a recording about ticketing policies.

前不久的一个早晨,在故宫开门前一小时,这座古老宫廷南侧的一个红墙石头庭院里已经人声鼎沸。穿制服的故宫工作人员、导游和游客们在淡蓝色的天空下挤来挤去。扬声器里响亮地传出关于售票规定的录音。

 

But at the center of it all was an atypical sight: a phalanx of more than 1,000 people, flanked by palace workers whose job was to keep the ranks in line. Unlike most visitors, this small army had come with only one goal: to see "Along the River During the Qingming Festival," an early 12th-century painted scroll considered so iconic that it is often called "China's Mona Lisa."

不过,人群中央的情景不同寻常:那是一个由1000多人组成的方阵,方阵两侧是故宫的工作人员,他们的任务是督促人们保持队形。不像大部分游客,这一小队人来这里只有一个目标:观看《清明上河图》。这幅创作于12世纪初的画轴极具代表性,被称为中国的《蒙娜丽莎》(Mona Lisa)。

 

Since an exhibition celebrating the 90th anniversary of the Palace Museum opened in early September, people have been waiting for up to 10 hours to see this 17-foot-long masterpiece attributed to the painter Zhang Zeduan, an intricate ink-on-silk tableau of life in the Northern Song dynasty capital, Kaifeng. The best-known painting in the museum's vast collection, it has been shown in public only a few times, in Beijing most recently in 2005 for the museum's 80th anniversary.

从9月初故宫博物院开始举办这场庆祝成立90周年的展览时起,人们就等待长达十个小时观看张择端的这幅长17英尺(约5.28米)的绘画杰作。这幅绢本设色画轴复杂精细,生动描绘了北宋都城开封的生活。它是故宫博物院众多藏品中最著名的一幅画,仅公开展示过几次,最近一次在北京展出是2005年该博物院成立80周年之时。

 

The fanatical interest in the work coincides with a concerted push by the Chinese government to encourage interest in traditional culture and values, as a way of emphasizing its links to a history that goes back thousands of years.

人们对这件作品产生狂热兴趣之时,正是中国政府部门协力激发人们对传统文化和价值观的兴趣之际。后者的目的在于突显中国几千年的历史。

 

And the crowds lining up have been widely covered both in the news media and on social media, particularly after photos began circulating of people frantically racing from the Meridian Gate entrance of the palace toward the exhibition hall. (Chinese news outlets were quick to label the phenomenon the gugong pao, or "Imperial Palace run.")

新闻和社交媒体纷纷报道人们争相排队参观的事,特别是在观众从午门狂奔至展厅的照片在网上传开之后(中国媒体很快称之为"故宫跑")。

 

"There's been so much hype about this painting, so I decided to come early to check it out myself," said Jacqueline Zhang, 25, who works at a bank in Beijing and came at 5 a.m. to secure a place at the head of the line. She added, "This just shows how easily excited Chinese people can get."

"这幅画被炒得很热,所以我决定早点过来,亲眼看看,"25岁的杰奎琳·张(Jacqueline Zhang)说。她在北京的一家银行工作,为了能排在队伍前面,她早上5点就来了。她补充说:"这表明,中国人多么容易激动。"

 

Past exhibitions of the scroll have attracted huge crowds, but the heightened fervor these days comes as the term "wenhua," or culture, and the desire to appear cultured have become increasingly prominent in China.

这幅画轴过去展览时也吸引了很多观众,但是如今的狂热是因为中国人越来越想有文化或者显得有文化。

 

"Now that people have money and social status, they want to show other people that they understand culture," said Chen Yimo, an expert in Chinese calligraphy and painting.

"人们有钱有地位了,就想向别人表明自己懂文化,"中国书画家陈一墨说。

 

"Chinese people have a lot of respect for the term 'culture.' No matter how much money you have, if you don't have culture, then you're just a tuhao," said Mr. Chen, using a popular term for the crass nouveaux riches.

"中国人十分尊重文化。不管你多有钱,要是没文化,你就只是个土豪,"陈一墨说。

 

The growing emphasis on culture, however, stems partly from the government's efforts. In recent years, education officials have made a number of proposals, including revising elementary and middle school textbooks to increase the proportion of guoxue, or the study of Chinese culture, and reducing the importance of English on some versions of the gaokao, or university entrance examination, in favor of a greater emphasis on the Chinese language.

不过,民众对文化越来越多的重视部分源于政府的努力。近些年,中国教育部进行了一些改革,包括修改中小学课本,增加国学比例,并且减少英语在高考中的比重,增强中文的地位。

 

The commitment to promoting Mandarin has even extended abroad, as evidenced by the announcement last week by PresidentXi Jinping and President Obama of the "One Million Strong" initiative, which aims to have a million American students learning the language by 2020.

中国政府推广中文的决心已经发展到国外,其中一个例证就是习近平主席和奥巴马总统上周宣布的"百万强"计划,该计划争取到2020年有100万名美国学生学习中文。

 

In a speech last year, Mr. Xi called traditional Chinese culture the lifeblood of the nation as well as a "foundation for China to compete in the world."

在去年的一次讲话中,习近平称,中国传统文化是国家的精神命脉,"也是我们在世界文化激荡中站稳脚跟的坚实根基"。

 

"People and the government talk about culture a lot more now, so it's become a kind of social trend," said Ma Weidu, a prominent antiques collector and the former host of several popular television programs on China Central Television about Chinese antiques.

著名古董收藏家、中国中央电视台几个热门古董节目的前主持人马未都说:"如今,民众和政府对文化的讨论多了很多,所以成了一种社会潮流"。

 

"But I think for many people, it's a very surface-level interest. A lot of people want to see 'Along the River During the Qingming Festival' because it's very famous, not because they are actually interested in art. It stems from the Chinese tendency to follow the masses."

"但是我觉得,对很多人来说,这只是非常浅层次的兴趣。很多人想看《清明上河图》是因为它很出名,而不是因为他们真的对艺术感兴趣。这源自中国人的从众心理。"

 

The public fascination with traditional culture, some experts say, has another element, too: the realization that many ancient objects would fetch millions in the marketplace.

有些专家说,公众对传统文化的迷恋还有一个因素:他们意识到,很多文物能在市场上卖到数百万元。

 

"Taking pride in cultural heritage is an important factor, but there's also a huge interest in the monetary value of classical Chinese paintings," said Freda Murck, a scholar of Chinese art who worked at the Palace Museum for nine years. "Now when I talk to my Chinese friends, a lot of people ask me, 'How much would this be worth at auction?' "

中国艺术学者姜菲德(Freda Murck)在故宫工作了九年。她说,"以文化遗产为豪是个重要因素,但另一个因素是人们对中国传统绘画金钱价值的强烈兴趣。现在中国朋友跟我聊天时,经常问我,'这个要是拍卖的话能卖多少钱?'"

 

Most, however, would not dare to ask that of "Qingming Festival," a national treasure that has "taken on a mythic quality because it's shown so little and is so widely available in publications," Ms. Murck said.

姜菲德说,但是大部分人不敢询问《清明上河图》的估价,因为它是国家宝物,"极少展示,很神秘,却得到广泛传播"。

 

As the day that began in the already crowded courtyard wore on, a steady stream of visitors ignored signs estimating the length of the wait — as well as a worker with a bullhorn warning people to "please make a careful decision about getting in line."

随着时间流逝,依然不断有游客来到从大清早就挤满了人的庭院。指示牌上提示说预计等待时间会很长,还有一名工作人员拿着喇叭不断提醒游客"请谨慎选择是否排队",但是游客们全然不理会这些。

 

They instead made their way to the back of the line that snaked around the mostly tree-lined path leading to the Hall of Martial Valor, where the exhibition is being held. Many, having seen the reports online, had brought folding stools and snacks.

他们还是跑到队尾,队伍绕着两侧有树的小道蜿蜒延伸到展览所在的武英殿。很多人看了网上的报道,带了折叠椅和小吃。

 

Museum officials estimate that the exhibition has about 3,000 visitors a day — a small number compared with the tens of thousands who flow through the sprawling palace complex each day. But the line moved slowly "because viewers in the exhibition hall move too slowly," the museum said in a statement.

故宫博物院的官员们估计,每天观看展览的游客有大约3000人,与每天穿过这个庞大建筑群的数万游客相比,这是个小数目。但是,博物院在一项声明中说,参观队伍移动得很慢,"因为展厅的观众走得太慢"。

 

"So why exactly is 'Qingming Festival' so famous?" asked Audrey Cao, 40, who had arrived late to meet her friends, a group of fellow mothers, and was in line by herself.

"《清明上河图》到底为什么这么出名呢?"40岁的奥德丽·曹(Audrey Cao)问道。她独自排队,因为她来晚了,没赶上朋友们,那些朋友也都是妈咪族。

 

"Because it captures what life was like during the Song dynasty, the peak of Chinese civilization," said Yin Yi, 61, the director of an art research center in Beijing standing in front of her.

"因为它展示了宋朝时的生活是什么样的,那可是中华文明的鼎盛时期,"站在她前面的尹毅说。61岁的尹毅是中国艺术科技研究所艺术品科研中心的前主任。

 

"Oh, so it's like an iPhone panorama!" Ms. Cao exclaimed.

"哦,就是说,它像iPhone全景照片!"曹女士惊呼道。

 

Viewers can spend only a few minutes looking at the scroll. They are repeatedly urged to move along by palace workers speaking in stern voices, but almost everyone left the exhibition beaming.

观众只有几分钟时间观看画轴。故宫的工作人员不断用严厉的语气催促观众往前走,但是几乎所有人看完展览都兴高采烈。

 

When Mr. Yin, the director of the art research center, finally reached the painting, the Forbidden City had closed for the day and the sun had disappeared. After his several minutes were up, he lingered to look at some of the calligraphy on display. Asked whether seeing the scroll for the first time, after spending so much time poring over reproductions online and in books, was worth the nearly nine-hour wait, he replied softly but without hesitation. "Yes. It was completely worth it."

当中国艺术科技研究所的尹毅最终来到那幅画轴前时,故宫已经关门,太阳已经下山。他也只有几分钟时间观看,之后他留下来观看展览中的书法作品。他曾在网上和书上无数次注视《清明上河图》的复制品,这是他第一次见到真作。当被问及它是否值得近九小时的等待时,他温和而坚定地回答说,"值得。完全值得。"

2016-06-23

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