March 2, 2010 / 4:21 AM / in 8 years

Imperial Chinese treasures worth their salt

TAIPEI (Reuters Life!) - The imperial Chinese animal heads and jade-colored cabbages look like they should be in a museum, but the artworks on display in Taiwan actually have very humble origins: they’re made entirely of salt.

The exhibit at Taipei’s main railway station comprises more than 40 pieces that include replicas of the fabled jade cabbage sculptures from the Forbidden City in Beijing and the heads of 12 sacred animals once housed at the Old Summer Palace.

Mounted, cased in glass or back-lit, some radiate a glaze-like shine that makes them look like the real deal.

Taiyen Biotech, a partly state-owned salt production firm, commissioned the artworks in July to spice up its image.

“It raises our profile, letting the public know we’re an artistic company,” said Chang Shu-yun, a Taiyen employee who showed the sculptures to passers-by during the week-long exhibit.

“We don’t just make salt and health products and earn money.”

The green and white cabbages on display were carved intricately enough and weigh enough to appear made of jade. Large glass cases also house the heads of tigers, rats, and oxen, which are among the 12 animals that make up the traditional Chinese lunar year zodiac.

All pieces are coated to resist water and humidity.

“Is that cabbage made from salt? I can’t tell by looking,” said an astonished passer-by, 48-year-old artist Lee Chun-cheng.

Taiwan Salt is selling the sculptures for as little as T$6,000 ($187) and as much as T$240,000 in the crowded railway station ticketing hall. Offers have been made on the more expensive items, Chang said.

The company plans to exhibit more salt replicas of Chinese imperial art later this year in China, she said.

Editing by Miral Fahmy

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