When Chiang Kai-Shek retreated with the Nationalists to Taiwan, he brought with him over 600,000 pieces of artefacts removed from Chinese imperial palaces during wartime. These artefacts are now stored at the National Palace Museum in Taipei. Both China and Taiwan have claimed title to these Chinese imperial treasures.
Last week, the director of the National Palace Museum visited the Forbidden City Museum in Beijing. As part of the visit, the Forbidden City Museum has agreed to loan around thirty artefacts to the National Palace Museum. The National Palace Museum would only agree to loan artworks to the Forbidden City Museum if Beijing signs a letter of guarantee promising that it would return the artefacts to Taiwan.
As with all things China/Taiwan, the title of these artefacts has become politically charged. Apparently most Taiwanese believe that they are the rightful owner of these artefacts, including, ironically, the Democratic Progressive Party, which has been the most ardent proponent of the de-sinicization movement in Taiwan.
As an American of Chinese descent, there is no question in my mind that these treasures must eventually be returned to their home, where they came and where they belong: the Forbidden City Palace in Beijing. The title of these treasures is not about politics, not about reunification or independence. It’s about who we are as a people. They belong to all Chinese people and should be exhibited at a place where they would be accessible to most Chinese people. When I visited the National Palace Museum in Taipei, I was deeply saddened that most Chinese people will never be able to see those art works because of Taiwan’s visa restrictions on Mainland Chinese. They will never be able to see and appreciate their own cultural heritage, to find out where they came from, what makes them Chinese.
What do you think? Who owns the Chinese imperial treasures?