Decoding Royal Traditional Arts: Youth Summer Camp


The first week of the two-week programme, Decoding Royal Traditional Arts: Youth Summer Camp, opened at Yuan Centre, Suzhou on August 5th.

This summer programme for Chinese youth marks the first collaboration between The Prince’s Foundation School of Traditional Arts China Centre and The Forbidden City Gallery of The Palace Museum.

Week one, August 5 – 10, Yuan Centre, Suzhou

The opening ceremony of the Summer Camp was held at the historical Peng Family Mansion in the old town of Suzhou. A traditional Confucius Rite for the Start of School was conducted by China Centre board director Mr Ye Fang, with all 14 students and staff of the Summer Camp participating. The representative of Forbidden City Gallery, Ms Wang Yifan, delivered a brief speech, followed by the Summer Programme tutor Mr William Riding of the School of Traditional Arts. 

Students were first introduced to the fundamental principles of traditional geometric and biomorphic design. They also learnt how to draw with a compass. In the practice of geometry, students learnt methods for dividing a circle with a compass and ruler to create regular polygons, proportional rectangles and tessellating sub-grids. Also during this week, students visited several classical Chinese gardens and discovered traditional geometrical patterns in the gardens. In small group studies they also explored 3D geometry.

Classical gardens visited this week included the world heritage sites of the Lingering Garden and the Pavilion of Surging Waves. William Riding and teaching assistant Li Ran taught methods of field studies. Students made drawings of traditional patterns found in the gardens, and their homework focused on the floral patterns of lattice windows, geometric patterns of the brick flooring, diverse biomorphic patterns found in the architecture, and the analyses of the relation of these patterns to the natural environment.

Additionally, students analysed floral motifs by applying techniques based on 4-fold, 6-fold and 8-fold principles. Finally, students created their own designs based on their field studies at the two gardens. 

The second half of this two-week summer course ended at The Forbidden City Gallery of The Palace Museum in Beijing on August 17.

Week 2, August 10 – 17, The Forbidden City Gallery, Palace Museum, Beijing

Inside the compounds of China’s most important world cultural heritage site, The Palace Museum, students did field studies under the guidance and instructions of the Forbidden City’s top expert in ancient architecture, Mr Wang Shiwei, and senior engineers Ms Lyu Xiaohong and Mr Cao Zhenwei. The field studies covered different areas of the Palace Museum, as follows: the four major gardens, including the Imperial Garden and the garden of the Palace of Compassion and Tranquility, Palace of Heavenly Purity, Arrow Pavilion Square, Northeast Watchtower, and East Prosperity Gate Museum of Ancient Architecture. Palace Museum experts and tutors explained the features of lattice windows, beams and other architectural details to the students, along with the history, structure and principles behind these historical heritage sites. The students also did field drawings in the garden of the Palace of Compassion and Tranquility.

The protected cultural heritage building of the Temple of Wisdom (Zhizhu si) served as the students’ third study site during this period. Here students were able to examine the colourful paintings and decorations of this important example of royal architecture. The three experts from the Palace Museum provided a basic introduction to the underlying meanings of Chinese architectural design patterns as well as a comparative review of Eastern and Western patterns.

For the final stage of the course, students were divided into groups to work on individual study sheets and final projects. Tutors taking part in the final projects included: Tutor William Riding, Teaching Assistant Li Ran, Representative of China Centre Li Pai, Representatives of The Forbidden City Gallery of The Palace Museum He Shanlian and Wang Yifan, and intern Ye Hanzhi (who previously completed a one-year course at the School of Traditional Arts in London).

The Summer Camp ended on August 17 with an exhibition and graduate ceremony held inside the Forbidden City Gallery. The students were each awarded a Certificate jointly by Mr Johnson Chang, Board Director of The China Centre and He Shanlian of the Forbidden City Gallery. Mr Chang then gave a graduation talk. All students participated in the ceremony and closing exhibition, and some parents and staff from both Suzhou and Beijing also attended. Twenty works were presented in the exhibition, including 13 large panels, 6 small paintings and one set of 3D geometry construction. Apart from their individual works, all the students collaborated on a three-panel painting of Pattern Design for Beam Decoration. Before the closure of the exhibition and the summer camp, every student made a presentation explaining his or her own work and summarised what they had learnt from the two-week course. Teaching Assistant Li Ran then concluded the presentation by commenting and congratulating each student on his or her achievement.

The summer camp closed on a high note with expressions of praise and satisfaction from both students and parents.