On a recent visit to Taiwan I visited the National Palace Museum where many of China’s great art treasures are housed. I was told “Don’t miss the jade cabbage - it’s the Mona Lisa of Chinese art.” And whilst it doesn’t quite stalk you around the room, it certainly is a masterpiece. Here is a picture of it about actual size and here is a page from the museum complete with praise that verges on fulsome (in the correct sense of the word).
What puzzled me is that in the same glass case as this great work of art is another piece. Also jade, it looks like a piece of barbeque pork. Here is someone’s photo of the two of them together (scroll down). It struck me at the time that if the jade cabbage is the Mona Lisa of Chinese art, then the other one is, well, a lump of rock that looks like a piece of pork. Why the hell would they be in the same case?
I did try asking the guide at the museum, but was unable to phrase the question in a way that made sense to her. After about five minutes of me saying, I know they’re both made of jade (they have a whole floor of the stuff) and I know pork and cabbage go pretty well together, but why would you put a mere curiosity in with a masterwork? - she looked at me patiently and said “It looks just like a piece of pork”.
A minor question, but it’s starting to get to me. Any ideas?
[sub]It’s always the same for me in Taiwan. As an intellectually curious 8 year old in the rare books room of the National University I asked our guide “So, how many Chinese characters are there?” and she said gravely “I’ll show you” and led me down a very long corridor to where I supposed the great masterlist of characters was but turned out to be the toilet.[/sub]