The Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) on Sunday last week held its annual national congress, during which Tainan delegate Chen Li-hsu (陳麗旭), showing her discontent with the government’s freeze of her party’s assets, said that since the KMT had brought large parts of the National Palace Museum’s collection from China to Taiwan, it should demand that all ticket revenue go to the party.
Chen even incited the other delegates, saying: “Should the opposition party not try to show its opposition?” which was met with a burst of applause. It was all directly copied from the playbook of former Kaohsiung mayor Han Kuo-yu (韓國瑜).
When the KMT government fled to Taiwan after its defeat in the Chinese Civil War, it delivered what would comprise the museum’s collection in three shipments from Nanjing to Keelung between late 1948 and early 1949.
The items were temporarily stored at a railway warehouse in what today is Taoyuan’s Yangmei District (楊梅) and were later transferred to a warehouse in Taichung’s Wufeng District (霧峰).
A total of 2,972 boxes of treasures were shipped to Taiwan, accounting for only 22 percent of the items moved from Beijing to Nanjing. Although the relics were shipped in a hurry, many were rare and precious works of art.
In the past, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has accused “the Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) clique” of stealing the possessions of the Palace Museum in Beijing, demanding that the items be returned.
From this perspective, Chen’s claim that the collection belongs to the KMT sounds particularly ironic.
Both sides of the Taiwan Strait have striven to represent Chinese culture. On one hand, China in 1965 launched the decade-long Cultural Revolution, allowing the Red Guards to destroy cultural relics recklessly.
On the other hand, the KMT government in the same year seized the chance to become the “legitimate representative” of Chinese culture by constructing the Chung-shan Museum — which was later renamed the National Palace Museum — near Taipei’s Waishuang Creek (外雙溪).
Through the museum, the KMT hoped to provide a contrast to the CCP’s destruction of cultural relics and revitalize Chinese culture in Taiwan, while at the same time making it take root here and using it to educate Taiwanese.
In other words, the museum served the political purpose of cultural brainwashing.
Despite Chen’s claim that the museum’s treasures belong to the KMT, they arguably belong to Beijing’s Palace Museum and should be returned to China. After all, the People’s Republic of China was established in 1949, and in 1971 it replaced the Republic of China as the representative of China in accordance with UN General Assembly Resolution 2758.
If China is willing to accept the relics, it would offer Taiwan the opportunity to cut off the unclear, entangled ties with it.
The problem is that the National Palace Museum has been praised as one of the world’s top 10 museums, and its collection is considered shared cultural heritage of all humanity, meaning that its treasures do not belong to China or Taiwan, nor do they belong to any specific political party.
Under UNESCO regulations, bombing historical sites, museums and protected historical relics is prohibited in war.
It is abundantly clear that the National Palace Museum’s collection does not belong to the KMT. The party delegate’s lack of cultural literacy implies that the KMT continues to go from bad to worse.
Chen Ching-kuen is an assistant professor.
Translated by Eddy Chang
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