Thursday, 19 February 2009

Chinese Treasures on Loan to Taiwan: a Sino-Taiwanese Rapprochement?

by Kathryn Hadley

Just before Christmas, China sent Tuan Tuan and Yuan Yuan, two giant pandas, as a gift to Taiwan. The move was widely reported as sign of improving relations between the two countries. The name of the pandas, meaning ‘reunion’, angered Taiwanese separatists, however, thus questioning the success of Chinese ‘panda diplomacy’. Nevertheless, Sino-Taiwanese relations may still be improving...

On Sunday, following the first ever formal and high-level visit by a delegation from Taipei’s National Palace Museum to its counterpart from Beijing’s Palace Museum, China agreed to lend 29 of its national treasures to Taiwan. It is the first such cultural exchange in 60 years, since the end of the Chinese civil war. The artefacts, dating from the Qing Dynasty which ruled China from 1616 to 1911, are planned to be displayed for three months in a joint exhibition at the National Palace Museum in Taipei at the end of the year. The exhibition will focus on Emperor Yongzheng, who ruled China from 1722 to 1735, and will feature portraits of the emperor and his concubines from Beijing’s Museum.

Between them the museums are believed to hold the world’s most precious collection of Chinese relics. The collection in Taiwan was formed for the most part when the nationalist party retreated to Taiwan in 1949 at the end of the Chinese civil war. Seven other agreements were also signed last weekend, notably regarding personnel exchange and cooperation in academic research, exhibits and publishing. Chou Kung-shin, the director of Taipei's National Palace Museum, then travelled to Shanghai to discuss the possibility of holding a joint exhibition for the 2010 World Expo.

Nevertheless, despite the Chinese loan, Taiwan remains reluctant to lend pieces from its own collections to Beijing for fear that they may never be returned. Chou Kung-shin argued that the main obstacles to displaying relics from Taipei on the mainland were legal because the Chinese law does not contain a ‘free of capture and seizure’ clause. Taipei National Palace Museum allegedly has very strict rules on antiques. In 1996, however, it lent artefacts to the United States on a ‘free of capture and seizure’ condition and later did the same to France, Germany and Austria.

Are the obstacles merely legal, or are there further limits to the Sino-Taiwanese rapprochement over the last few months?

The visit was notably reported on by China Daily on Monday.

For more information on the relationship between Taiwan and China, in particular the Taiwan rebellion of February 28th, 1947, read our article Taiwan Confronts Its Past

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