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Wed, Mar 21, 2001 - Page 4 News List

Debate rages on breadth of nation's cultural gap

DISPARITIES Opinions are still evenly split on the merits of opening a branch of the National Palace Museum in the south of the country to address the apparent lack of cultural facilities outside of Taipei

By Lin Mei-chun  /  STAFF REPORTER

Following years of inconclusive discussions, the heated debate on whether the National Palace Museum (故宮博物院) should set up a branch in southern Taiwan surfaced in the legislature again yesterday.

While proponents of the idea claim that the establishment of a branch in the south would help equalize the unbalanced cultural landscape in the northern and southern parts of of the country, those against the proposal remain skeptical.

They said the goal -- bridging the cultural rift between the two ends of the country -- would better be achieved by setting up museums on a smaller scale which would concentrate on displaying and preserving the local culture of those areas.

"The desire of people in the south -- to minimize the cultural gap between urban and rural districts -- is understandable. But I doubt the aim can be attained by setting up a branch of the National Palace Museum in the south," said DPP lawmaker Lin Cho-shui (林濁水).

"With a limited budget [earmarked for the promotion of cultural affairs], a better way of elevating the country's cultural standards is to clarify the purpose and role of existing museums, through which local culture and history can be better displayed, not to add more concrete buildings where nothing substantial is on display," Lin added.

Another DPP lawmaker, Chen Chin-jun (陳景峻), endorsed Lin's view, saying the nation's museum policy was chaotic.

"There are already 23 museums in the south of the country. The issue that the government needs to face is how to improve museums that already exist with the limited funding available, not to waste money on the construction of yet more museums," Chen said.

However, art scholars and lawmakers from the south viewed the issue differently.

DPP lawmaker William Lai (賴清德), independent lawmaker Josephine Chu (朱惠良), and Chang Yu-teng (張譽騰), an art professor at the Tainan National College of Arts, shared the notion that people from the south had long been treated unfairly by the government's biased policies on public buildings.

"Museum exhibits are national treasures, which should be admired equally by everybody," Chu said.

With regard to the complaint that people in the south are deprived of the convenience of visiting museums, Lin argued that the problem could be solved if the National Palace Museum was willing to lend its expositions to museums in the south.

The idea of setting up a branch of the museum in the south was first raised several years ago, when museum authorities said the 15,000 square meters facility in Taipei was insufficient for its 650,000 piece collection.

In contrast with the 70,000 square meters Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and the 60,000 square meters Musee du Louvre in Paris, the museum's deputy director, Shih Shou-chien (石守謙), said there was simply no room to display every piece, and that as a consequence 97 percent of its collection was kept in storage permanently.

Since Tu Cheng-sheng (杜正勝), the museum's director, took office last May, he has been lobbying the government to set up a branch in the south, primarily as a way of alleviating space constraints, and also to deflect criticism that the government has neglected the cultural needs of people in the south.

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