Sun, Jan 05, 2003 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: Put Taiwan in the Palace Museum

Last week, the Director of the Beijing National Palace Museum (NPM, 故宮博物院) Zheng Xinmiao (鄭欣淼) made a visit to Taiwan during which he, of course, toured the Taipei National Palace Museum. He must have had mixed feelings during the tour, because all the national treasures he saw rightfully belong in the Beijing museum but ended up in Taiwan. The Beijing museum has had to completely rebuild, and yet it still has pitifully few artifacts.

Five decades ago, the KMT painstakingly shipped the Beijing NPM's artifacts to Taiwan. For this reason, the Chinese communists accused Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) of being not only a war criminal, but also a "thief" of national treasures.

Irrespective of what Chiang's initial motives may have been, the arrival of national treasures from Beijing had a high level of political significance. The collection symbolizes the KMT's legitimacy, not only to inherit the legacy of Chinese culture, but also to rule Taiwan as an alien regime. Chiang tried to mislead the international community into believing that the fact that "Chinese culture" was brought over to Taiwan proved that the "Republic of China" was rightfully in Taiwan.

Because the KMT had no roots in Taiwan, it had to use historical artifacts as proof of the legitimacy of its rule. Chinese culture is thereby misused and even highly politicized in Taiwan, creating a situation in which today's Taiwanese do not know their own history and culture. In fact, they feel their culture is inferior to the culture of China.

The Taipei NPM has become a symbol of the "politicization of Chinese culture." Therefore, all former directors of the museum necessarily had to have important ties with the KMT and the government. Because of the museum's political significance, it became a mysterious place that seemed very out of place with Taiwan society. It was as though the cultural artifacts of China looked down at Taiwan's own native cultures from its sanctuary at the foot of Yangming Mountain. There are even rumors that some of the national treasures housed that were supposed to be in museum storage were taken home by high-ranking KMT officials and used to decorate their residences.

On Friday, the Executive Yuan decided to pick Taipao City of Chiayi County as the home of the NPM's new branch. The decision was made because of the need to balance the development of North and South Taiwan, to boost the native cultures and arts of Taiwan, to attract foreign tourists and to raise the quality of other museums in the region, etc.

The Director of the parent NPM, Tu Cheng-sheng (杜正勝) indicated that the new branch won't follow the model of its parent museum. He plans to make it a museum of Asian arts focusing primarily on Far East Asian cultural artifacts, thus making a less sinocentric statement than the NPM in Taipei.

The NPM long ago should have taken on more indigenous colors and should have grown with Taiwan's society and culture. This is the only way that the people here can identify with it. In the future, the main thrust should be to blend in with the native culture and characteristics, thus breathing life into the ancient artifacts.

Making the branch an Asian museum is no better than making it a Taiwan history museum in terms of meeting practical demands. At the same time, the items exhibited should also relate to the local history and culture, so as to invite the attention and interests of the local people. Otherwise, if the items exhibited continued to be primarily alien, the museum will forever be meaningless to the people of Taiwan.

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