In ancient times, only emperors and members of their families had furniture made from red sandalwood.
Now, if you step into the Beijing Olympic Tower, the headquarters of the Beijing Organizing Committee for the Games of the XXIX Olympiad (BOCOG), you will have a chance to take a close look at the priceless timber, as an example has been placed in the eastern part of the lobby.
The wood sculpture, 3.21 metres long, 1.37 metres wide and 1.16 metres tall, weighs 365.5 tons. A miniature of the typical Chinese imperial palace gate in the Forbidden City, it is named "National Gate."
It has been donated by Chan Lai Wa, curator of China Red Sandalwood Museum, which claims to be the world's largest private museum specializing in red sandalwood collections.
It took more than 100 veteran artisans more than 700 days to complete the work, which consists of five compartments plus movable windows and doors, along with different decorations such as immortals, birds and beasts on its roof ridges.
"The National Gate symbolizes China's opening-up to welcome athletes and guests from all over the world to be here for the Olympic Games," Chan said. She is also a member of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, the country's top advisory body. Chan has been listed as the wealthiest woman in China by Forbes, estimating her personal wealth at US$494 million last year.
Chan said work began on the gate in 1999 and on July 13, 2001, the day Beijing won the bid to host the 2008 Olympic Games, she expressed her will to donate it to BOCOG. "Five years later, my dream came true," Chan said. On July 12, the wood sculpture was moved to the Beijing Olympic Tower, and Jiang Xiaoyu, executive vice-president of BOCOG, spoke highly of Chen's involvement in the Olympics and said the red sandalwood sculpture was a showcase of the essence of Chinese culture.
According to Chan, who was born to a noble Manchu family of the Yellow Banner Clan, red sandalwood is among the most precious of woods in the world. It is hard, but elastic, and emits a delicate, floral fragrance. The dark purple and black colour is said to represent the solemnity and magnificence of imperial rule and the fine and variable texture proclaims its imposing manner. After being waxed and polished, it looks like silk.
Chan said that red sandalwood trees need to grow for hundreds of years before being felled and made into furniture. Furthermore, most trees are hollow inside and are not suitable to be furniture materials. So, there is an old saying that "red sandalwood has the same price as gold."
"I have built the sandalwood museum to protect the heritage and the country's traditional culture, as well as to reintroduce the magnificence of Chinese traditional furniture. I want to get back lost treasures and keep them forever in China," Chan said.
Source: China Daily