That the National Palace Museum plans to send works to the United States for a series of exhibitions there isn't news. Newspapers and magazines carried this story at least as early as last October when the museum was celebrating its 70th anniversary. Well up to the Museum's own send-off exhibition of these works in late December, reports were all very favorable, and legislators' inquiries focused strictly on the US$3 million that the Metropolitan Museum in New York had received from the ROC government to put on the show.
Doubts didn't begin surfacing until 27 of the Song and Yuan works, whose fragile condition gives them a "restricted status" allowing only limited exhibition at the museum itself, were replaced with copies at the send-off show. Having recently been hung at the exhibit "70 Restricted Works of Outstanding Calligraphy and Painting," can these paintings and calligraphies which are shown only 40 days every three years in Taiwan, be promptly shipped off to America for a series of exhibitions lasting more than a year all told? Museum officials stressed that meticulous preparations had been made for years to reap the fruits of this cultural diplomacy, and that the public ought to understand the difficulties of the times and trust the experts.
From sit-ins during which white banners were unfurled asking that the 27 works not be allowed to go abroad, to public hearings put on by legislators from the ruling and opposition parties, those in favor and opposed to sending the works to America could find no common ground. Finally, in accord with the Cultural Assets Preservation Law, the Ministry of Education invited a panel of various experts to examine these works and determine whether or not they could be shipped overseas. The panel declared seven restricted Song paintings unfit for travel--including Fan Kuan's Travelers Among Mountains and Streams, Guo Xi's Early Spring and Li Tang's Soughing Wind Among Mountain Pines. Non-restricted works in poor condition, including nine paintings and calligraphies and seven implements, have also been barred from travel, and the Americans have been asked to abide by Taiwan's rules governing the exhibition of restricted works.
Billed as a great event of East-West cultural exchange and painstakingly prepared, the planned exhibition of these works in America has aroused members of Taiwan's art world to pound the pavement and collect more than 20,000 signatures in protest--an unexpected way for the museum to discover 20,000 loyal members of the public who care deeply about preserving the nation's cultural treasures. A hot topic of debate for many days running, the controversy has made people reassess the issue of protecting our cultural legacy. Perhaps foreign friends who enjoy the ancient "Chinese national treasures" in America--though disappointed that 24 precious works in the catalog have been removed from the exhibition--will also appreciate the concern the Taiwanese public has about protecting culture.
What follows is a collection of articles about this topic that have appeared in the papers here. They show the heart-felt sentiments of people with varied opinions on this matter.