Sun, Jul 27, 2003 - Page 17 News List

Fighting over cultural treasures

An exhibition in Germany featuring works in the collection of the National Palace Museum highlights the politics at the heart of art

By Vico Lee  /  STAFF REPORTER

"It was the first such settlement in Taiwan. As there's no existing law to regulate these matters, we have to judge on a case-by-case basis. We evaluated the financial impact of returning [the item], its cultural and historical value and also the meaning of the tablet for the Yeis. With the tablet back, the family can now worship their ancestors," said Hsu Mei-rong (許美蓉), of the research and exhibition department of the museum.

"From our point of view, however, we still hoped that it would remain at the museum, so that many more people can view this work of ancient culture," Hsu said.

"We also need legislation on the issue to provide museums with some guidelines in handling such problems."

The museum's decision was in part influenced by the example set up by the US Native American Grave Protection and Repatriation Act, which states that artifacts should be returned to native Americans and the museum may get them on loan when arranging them for exhibitions.

The Pan family properties, which were obtained by the Japanese government in 1933 by unclear means, are now part of the the National Taiwan Museum collection. They are now the subject of an argument between the museum and Pan Hsi-chi (潘稀祺), who asked for its return last month. The museum agreed to work on a settlement with the family.

"On the international level, there is the 1954 Hague Convention to govern the return of cultural properties," said Chen Kuo-nin (陳國寧), vice professor at the Nanhua University Graduate school of Aesthetics and Art Management.

As for the Palace Museum collection, Chen said that any doubt of its legitimacy is unjustified, as it belongs to the ROC.

"If they are illegitimate, then most of the collection in the British Museum and other big museums in Europe and the US are also illegitimate," Chen said.

However, the political reality, or "Taiwan's diplomatic situation," as Shih called it, still makes the legal protection of the exhibits necessary.

"If there ever are claims on exhibits, people will miss the chance to see important cultural treasures Whatever the outcome of any dispute, no one comes out a winner."

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