The NT$32 billion (US$1.07 billion) Grand National Palace Museum Project only seeks to flatter China and could put the area at risk of mudslides, said academics, retired National Palace Museum staff and residents of Linxi Borough (臨溪) in Taipei’s Shilin District (士林) on Thursday last week at a public hearing.
Initiated by the legislature’s Education and Culture Committee, a public hearing inviting several concerned parties was held last week at the museum to discuss its expansion project, which, despite having yet to be approved by the Council for Economic Planning and Development and the Taipei City Government, has been seeking a substantial budget in the legislature.
During a project presentation, National Palace Museum Deputy Director Chou Chu-kun (周筑昆) cited a feasibility report to reassure concerned participants that the project would not raise the risk of landslides in the area, as showed by a geological exploration.
Museum authorities also presented photographs of exhibition halls overcrowded with visitors, mostly Chinese tourists, to highlight the need for the museum’s expansion.
The project includes the approximately five-fold expansion of the museum to display its giant collection of more than 680,000 items and the construction of a cultural park around the museum.
However, most attendees shrugged off the museum’s justifications of the plan and voiced their concerns over what they said were more troubling matters.
National Taiwan University professor Liu Ko-fei (劉格非), who conducted a geological assessment of the area for the museum, said he highlighted in his report that the mountains behind the museum were susceptible to landslides that could swallow the museum’s employee dormitory in the event of heavy rains.
“This must be the museum’s first priority,” Liu added.
Lin Feng-sung (林豐松), a retired museum staff member, said there were scores of giant rocks in the mountains behind the museum, which may help retain moisture, but were of little help in preventing landslides, adding that the unstable geological situation was the main reason the museum had refused to dig out a basement for its main building in the past.
Lin said he had narrowly escaped a landslide near the museum in 1975 after a dozen days of light rain.
“The rocks were still dry, but they buried three of my colleagues alive,” Lin said, adding that he started studying the geological structure of the areas around the museum after his narrow escape.
“Whoever on the stage dares to guarantee that no such [landslide] accident will ever occur, please raise your hand,” Lin asked, receiving no response.
A retired teacher, who requested anonymity, said the issue of overcrowded exhibition halls had little to do with insufficient space, and more to do with the museum’s poor management.
“While the most appealing artifacts at the museum are small-sized national treasures, such as the jadeite cabbage, gift shops, coffee houses and high-end restaurants take up a large proportion of space in the museum,” the retired teacher said.
“Such establishments not only occupy a large part of the museum’s two main exhibition halls, but also interfere with their exhibition planning,” he said, urging the museum to redesign its traffic flow.
Linxi Borough warden Kuo Chao-fu (郭肇富) agreed, saying that as the proposed expansion project involved complicated geological problems, the underground water system and transportation, the museum should instead seek internal improvements such as removing all shops and eateries from its main building.
“We, who have lived in Waishuangxi (外雙溪) for many generations, strongly believe that the Grand National Palace Museum project is a mistake,” Kuo added.
Democratic Progressive Party Legislator Lin Chia-lung (林佳龍), who also attended the public hearing, urged the museum to conduct another feasibility assessment in line with the changes made to its original construction plan.
“This feasibility report was conducted on the presumption that the proposed Cultural and Creative Industrial Park would be constructed first. However, what has been put as the first part of the construction plan is [the renovation project] of the museum’s main building,” Lin said.
Since the park will no longer be constructed first, the museum should have carried out another evaluation of its proposal, rather than use its initial feasibility report for a different plan, Lin said.
Tseng Kuang-chung (曾光中), dean of Chung Yuan Christian University’s Department of Architecture, also expressed doubts about the museum’s feasibility report, saying its contents were misleading and that the museum should carry out a reassessment.
Chang Shih-hsien (張世賢), former director of the museum’s technology office, proposed replacing the project with the Grand Shuangxi project.
Chang said the Grand Shuangxi project included a plan to build more parking lots either in Shilin or Dazhi (大直) districts to prevent sightseeing buses from driving into the museum’s surrounding valleys and to preserve the area’s scenery.
Meanwhile, some participants established a link between the project and China.
A local resident criticized the expansion project, saying that if the plan only aimed at accommodating the influx of Chinese tourists, the planned buildings would become yet more empty “mosquito-breeding halls” if the number of Chinese tourists to Taiwan decreased in the future.
“To put it bluntly, this grand project has been launched for nothing but the sake of catering to Chinese tourists,” the resident said.
Another resident said the project was former National Palace Museum director Chou Kung-shin’s (周功鑫) way of buttering up the Beijing-based Palace Museum.