First lady Wu Shu-chen (
Despite pressure from Beijing, Wu will also boost Taiwan's image as an independent country with outstanding achievements in developing democracy and meet with both German and Italian parliamentarians.
Wu, leading a delegation of around 30 government officials and 28 reporters, departed from CKS airport at 11:30pm on China Airlines flight CI061.
The first lady and her entourage are scheduled to arrive in Berlin today and will visit the National Gallery, the remains of the Berlin Wall and other sightseeing spots in the German capital.
The main purpose of Wu's stay in Germany is to preside over the opening ceremony of the "Treasures of the Sons of Heaven" -- a collection from Taipei's National Palace Museum -- on Friday.
"After lengthy negotiations over the past decade between Taiwan's National Palace Museum and Germany's Kunst-und Ausstellungshalle, the exhibition was arranged last year," said Deputy Secretary General of the Presidential Office Joseph Wu (吳釗燮), who is in charge of the arrangements for the first lady's European trip.
"The key to realizing the exhibition was the German parliament passing an amendment in 1998 to ensure the protection of all foreign cultural or historical relics -- an assurance that all collections from the National Palace Museum will return to Taiwan despite China's claims of ownership," Wu said.
According to palace museum curator Tu Cheng-sheng (
Commenting on reports in the German media, which said the treasures had been plundered from China, Joseph Wu said that he expected the international media to value Taiwan's efforts and contributions in preserving the collection, which should be regarded as the heritage of all humanity.
"It is the world's consensus to protect all humanity's cultural heritage. It has clearly been shown to the world that, in contrast to China's destruction of historical artifacts during the Cultural Revolution, the collection has been better protected in Taiwan's National Palace Museum over the past few decades," he said.
"Furthermore, while the German media describes the National Palace Museum's collection as `loot,' they should look at the collections in major European museums first, and see whether those are the result of robbery," Wu said. "The legitimacy of the collection at the National Palace Museum is not in doubt, and the issue of returning artifacts should be more of a problem for European museums with their Asian, African and Middle Eastern collections."
The first lady will fly to Rome on Saturday, where she will attend an event celebrating the 25th anniversary of Pope John Paul II's assumption of the papacy, and meet with the pontiff.
Wu, who was paralyzed and confined to a wheelchair in a KMT-backed hit-and-run at a DPP campaign event in 1980s, is scheduled to receive medals from human-rights groups and political organizations to honor her contribution to democracy and human rights.
The first lady also plans to meet Guiliana Urbani, the widow of Dr. Carlo Urbani -- a medical expert with the World Health Organization in Vietnam who was the first doctor to warn the world of SARS in early March but then fell victim to the disease on March 29.