Doors open on a hidden corner of Forbidden City

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When restorers opened the door on the Qianlong Emperor's favourite studio in the Forbidden City, dust three inches thick on the exquisitely carved surfaces bore testament to decades of abandonment. "It felt like the last emperor had just turned the key in the door and left," was the verdict of one expert.

Yesterday, after a multimillion-dollar effort, Juanqinzhai, the "Studio of Exhaustion from Diligent Service", was revealed in all its dazzling glory. It is the first time the Chinese have collaborated with Western experts on such an elaborate interior project, with the work carried out by the Palace Museum in Beijing and the World Monuments Fund.

The studio was built in the late 18th century as part of a bigger retirement retreat by the Qianlong Emperor. He died in 1795 before the building was completed but Juanqinzhai was finished exactly as he wanted – a mini-palace within a palace, including a private theatre, with seating for one (a throne, naturally). Double-sided embroidery was all the rage in those days, and there was plenty of that. And only the best materials would do for the carved inner bamboo marquetry and white jade cartouches that decorate the Reception Hall.

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