Taiwan Solidarity Union (TSU) Legislator Hsu Chung-hsin (許忠信) on Sunday accused the National Palace Museum (NPM) of putting the country’s national treasures at great risk by entrusting a Chinese corporation with the manufacturing of replicas of historically significant coins.
Hsu said Shanghai-based Yuanquan Coin Co is among a list of 21 companies commissioned by the museum this year to manufacture reproductions of its collections of paintings, porcelain, and cultural artifacts made of glass, jade and precious metals.
After winning the contract, Hsu said Yuanquan posted an announcement on its official Web site that read: “On Nov. 9, 2012, the Royal Palace International Culture Co [Yuanquan’s parent company] was entrusted by Taipei’s National Palace Museum to duplicate its artifacts, becoming one of the few companies in the precious metal arts industry to be granted such authorization.”
“The announcement went on to say that all of the more than 240,000 items housed in Taipei’s museum were carefully selected from the collections of Beijing’s Palace Museum to prevent them from being damaged during the War of Liberation [the Chinese civil war],” Hsu said.
After losing the civil war in 1949, the then-Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) government took most of the best artifacts from Beijing — totaling about 650,000 pieces — and took them to Taipei.
Hsu said Yuanquan was founded in 1995 under the umbrella of Royal Palace, a conglomerate that enjoys cozy ties with several Chinese financial services companies and is in charge of manufacturing commemorative coins for China’s central bank, the People’s Bank of China.
“Given Royal Palace’s business background, the museum’s move to delegate reproduction works of our national treasures to Yuanquan is like ‘throwing a sheep directly into a tiger’s mouth,’ as there is a good chance that the Chinese company might secretly swap the coins with undetectable counterfeits,” Hsu said.
The laws stipulate that the copyrights of the museum’s cultural artifacts belong to the country and that duplicating the items without authorization is prohibited, Hsu said, urging the museum to terminate its contracts with Yuanquan immediately to ensure the safety of the national heirlooms.
Separately on Sunday, Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) legislators Lin Chia-lung (林佳龍), Cheng Li-chun (鄭麗君) and Chen Ting-fei (陳亭妃) threatened to boycott the legislature’s Education and Culture Committee’s review of the museum’s budget proposal for the next fiscal year, which began yesterday, unless the museum stops entrusting its Staff Consumer Cooperative with the management of its store and restaurant services.
The cooperative has been at the center of a longstanding controversy involving the museum, which has been accused of feathering its own nest by manipulating open tenders for the operation and management of the services in order to let the cooperative win.
As a result, the cooperative has been put in charge of the services since July 2001 and its members received part of the profits that were generated not directly because of them until 2008 in violation of the Cooperatives Act (合作社法), according to a correction order the Control Yuan issued to the museum in February.
The legislature’s Budget Center also criticized the museum in an evaluation report of its budget proposal for next year, in which it accused the museum of turning a deaf ear to the committee’s repeated calls for it to refrain from pocketing profits from sales of products related to its collections ─ which have to be returned to the nation’s Treasury as required by the law ─ by means of entrusting the cooperative with the services.
Lin said in an attempt to assuage critics, the museum held an open tender for management of the services in 2011, which was won by a private company, but it later voided the bidding results citing the necessity to make changes to the tender requirements.
The museum caused further controversy this August, when the cooperative once again won the tender for the restaurant service.
“From what I have heard, the museum called a meeting in late July to evaluate participants in the tender. The meeting was originally scheduled for 9:30am, but was delayed because the panel of judges decided to hold a closed-door discussion for 30 minutes just before the meeting was about to start,” Lin said.
Lin said the museum also raised the thresholds for the tender, such as by setting a relatively high pre-tax net profit goal for the bid winner, in an apparent attempt to deter other aspirant bidders.
“The museum should immediately halt its controversial practices and investigators should also launch a probe into the museum’s interactions with the cooperative to see if any wrongdoing is involved,” Lin said.