Kaohsiung Mayor Han Kuo-yu (韓國瑜) on Sunday last week exposed his dearth of understanding in yet another area when he proposed putting all of the National Palace Museum’s nearly 700,000 artifacts on display at one time to “cause a global sensation.”
The museum issued a statement two days later calling Han’s proposal “difficult to execute” and pointing out that not every artifact is fit for display and that time is required for maintenance and restoration.
Although the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) presidential candidate’s policy team scrambled to defend the idea, saying that Han was talking about digitizing the collection for online exhibition, his original statement gives reason to question the effect a Han presidency might have on Taiwan’s museums and national treasures.
Cultural policy has always been sensitive and highly politicized, as different groups vie to impose their own understanding of Taiwanese identity and culture. Taking visual arts as an example, the Japanese colonial government emphasized education in Western and Japanese painting, culminating in the Taiwanese Art Exhibition held in 1927.
After the KMT took charge of Taiwan, Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) was quick to shift the focus to “national painting” as part of his “Chinese cultural renaissance.” This ideological struggle has continued as cultural policy swings in tandem with the political climate.
Former museum director Chen Chi-nan (陳其南), after he was appointed in July last year, vowed to pursue “Taiwanization” by curating exhibitions from a Taiwanese perspective rather than as a “Chinese enclave.”
This was in contrast to one of his predecessors, Feng Ming-chu (馮明珠), who in 2013 oversaw a joint exhibition in Taipei with Beijing’s Palace Museum.
As the National Palace Museum’s directors are appointed by the government, it is worth considering what kinds of policies a Han appointee might pursue.
Even while promoting exchanges with China and accepting 37 works on loan from the Beijing museum, Feng avoided sending any artifacts across the Taiwan Strait amid concerns that they would not be returned. Would a new director be just as careful?
Aside from this extreme example, consider Han’s penchant for chasing perceived economic benefit above all else. It is very possible that Han appointees would make decisions from an economic viewpoint without considering the good of the collection or of the public.
If an inexperienced person were named director, internal chaos might unfold, while the best-case scenario would see directors scrap plans made under their predecessors, likely in favor of a more China-centric version of history, as Han’s policy team has already promised to implement at the National Palace Museum’s Southern Branch in Chiayi County.
Speculation aside, Han’s suggestion is just one of many similarly thoughtless comments that should be enough to ring alarm bells about his potential presidency. If he indeed meant to propose exhibiting all 700,000 artifacts at once, it shows a shocking ignorance of or consideration for logistics.
If his policy team is correct that he was talking about digitizing the collection, neither he nor his team appear to have done their homework, as the museum has been digitizing its collection for several years and is about 70 to 80 percent complete.
Time and again, Han has made statements that reveal either a lack of understanding or disregard for the subjects he is asking the nation to put him in charge of.
This suggestion is further proof that Han’s policy of speaking first and doing damage control later could have widespread consequences if he speaks from the Presidential Office Building, no matter what the issue.
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