Taiwan is considering sending its ancient Chinese treasures on exhibit in China, but first it is seeking assurances that the artworks will be returned.
The concern surrounding their return is so high that Taiwan, which holds the bulk of the imperial art collection of China after spiriting most of it to the island at the end of the Chinese Civil War, is demanding that China sign a promise called the Law of Guaranteed Return to send the items back to Taiwan at the end of the exhibition.
“Our top principle is the safe return of the artifacts,” Premier Liu Chao-shiuan (劉兆玄) said earlier this month. “China must sign the Law of Guaranteed Return before we can send the treasures on exhibition in China.”
Chou Kung-hsin (周功鑫), director of Taipei’s National Palace Museum, flew to Beijing yesterday to discuss cultural exchanges with Beijing’s Palace Museum.
She said she would ask for the loan of 29 artifacts from the Beijing institution for display at an exhibition from October to January in Taipei of artworks from the era of Emperor Yongzheng (雍正,1678-1735) of the Qing Dynasty.
The show was expected to kickstart the holding of joint exhibitions by the two palace museums after China has been eager to hold talks on exhibiting the Taipei artifacts in China.
Ahead of Chou’s departure, the Mainland Affairs Council said on Friday that China must sign the Law of Guaranteed Return with Taiwan on a government-to-government level, not just between the palace museums.
“China has always stated that the treasures in the National Palace Museum in Taipei were stolen from China by the Chinese Nationalists, so we demand that China’s parliament, the National People’s Congress, sign the Law of Guaranteed Return,” council spokesman Liu Teh-shun (劉德勳) said.
“China must promise the artifacts will not be impounded and that China does not claim ownership over these artifacts,” Liu said.
When the Chinese Nationalist government lost the Chinese Civil War to the Communists in 1949, it took the best artifacts — totaling 650,000 pieces — from the Palace Museum in Beijing and a museum in Nanjing and brought them to Taipei.
Since then, these artifacts have been preserved and displayed at the National Palace Museum, which has become one of Taipei’s premier tourist attractions. Last year, 2.2 million people visited the institution.
Since 1949, it has sent some of its artworks abroad a few times, but only after their host countries signed the Law of Guaranteed Return.
Taiwan has reason to fear the seizure of the artifacts while they are on overseas exhibition because only 23 countries recognize Taiwan while more than 170 countries recognize China.
China still considers the artifacts at the National Palace Museum as treasures that were looted from China.
Liu Guoshen, a researcher from the Taiwan Research Academy at Xiamen University, dismissed fears that Taiwan’s artifacts might be confiscated by China.
“It is impossible for Beijing to confiscate the exhibits,” he said. “History is the past. The two sides have good relations now. Interaction across the Taiwan Strait is very good. Personally, I don’t think there is any problem for these artifacts to be exhibited in China.”
At this stage, it was still not clear whether China, or Beijing’s Palace Museum, would be willing to sign the Law of Guaranteed Return.