I’m not sure what to think as I examine the cabbage in front of me. It’s so small it could fit neatly into the palm of my hand. A milk white stalk unfurls into dark green leaves; a locust rests atop, its legs poised to take leap. I’m seized by a sudden madness to smash the glass and hold the cabbage in my hand, to feel the weight of it in my palm, and to feel its glossy smoothness against my skin.
Someone squeezes past me and the spell is broken. The cabbage will remain in its case, gleaming and glistening in the darkened chamber where it perches; a beacon that draws visitors far and wide to the National Palace Museum of Taiwan.
The National Palace Museum houses thousands of rare treasures from the Chinese imperial court, treasures beloved by emperors through the dynasties. But it is the Jadeite Cabbage that has won the hearts and minds of visitors, its perfection belying its imperfect origin. The story goes that an anonymous sculptor chanced upon a piece of jadeite marred by cracks and uneven colors – worthless at a time where jade carvings were only made from the most perfect pieces of jade. He alone saw beauty in that imperfect stone and through sheer skill and craftsmanship, transformed the jadeite’s flaws into a masterpiece. Cracks in the jadeite formed ridges for the cabbage leaves while the blotchy white patches were worked into the cabbage stalk.
Indeed, it’s little wonder that this cabbage has become the thing to see at the National Palace Museum. Everyday, busloads of tourists are released into the museum and like moths to a flame, they swarm the Jadeite Cabbage exhibition, resulting in queues of up to 30 minutes to view the cabbage.
If queues like the one above fill you with dread, skip the mornings and go on Friday evenings instead when the museum stays open till 9 pm. The museum is less crowded then and you get the luxury of viewing the exhibits without jostling for elbow space.
One cannot understand Chinese culture without understanding the significance of jade. Art in Quest of Heaven and Truth, showcases jade and its myriad uses through the ages. From jade tools to screen doors to wine pitchers, jade was part of life for the ancient Chinese.
Apart from jade, porcelain was also important to the Chinese and porcelain wares constituted the bulk of its trade with foreign nations.
Porcelain pillows might seem uncomfortable to heads accustomed to the soft fluffiness of feather pillows, but they were very much in vogue centuries ago.
I saw many other remarkable treasures at the National Palace Museum and it’s strange to ponder how the humble cabbage came to be the museum’s crown jewel. Replicas of the cabbage are sold in most souvenirs shops and I’ve even seen it printed on a t-shirt! Perhaps a cabbage costume for Halloween would be up next?
Alight at Shilin Station and walk to the bus stop 5 minutes away. Take the R30 bus to the National Palace Museum