National Palace Museum denies covering up artifact accidents

10/28/2022 07:11 PM
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Photo courtesy of the National Palace Museum
Photo courtesy of the National Palace Museum

Taipei, Oct. 28 (CNA) The National Palace Museum (NPM) denied on Friday that it had tried to cover up three incidents in which staff members shattered historically valuable artifacts from the Qing and Ming Dynasties.

At a legislative hearing, Kuomintang (KMT) Legislator Chen I-hsin (陳以信) said he had received a complaint alleging that employees at the NPM broke a bowl dating to the Qing Dynasty made of an unspecified material last February, and more recently broke another blue-and-white porcelain work.

According to Chen's source, NPM Director Wu Mi-cha (吳密察) attempted to hide evidence and ordered that no records of the mishandling of artifacts be made, no inspection notes be taken until they were fully restored, and that all paperwork regarding the incidents be classified.

If true, Wu had deceived his superiors and the public, and was negligent and therefore unfit for his job, Chen said.

He urged Premier Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌), who was present at the hearing, to investigate the claim, and apologize to the public on the NPM's behalf if it was true.

Wu, on the other hand, should take responsibility and resign from his post, he said.

Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Legislator Shen Fa-hui (沈發惠) asked Wu whether he had tried to cover up the incidents, to which he answered that he had not, as he had ordered the work unit responsible for the damages and the NPM Office of Civil Service Ethics to separately investigate the incidents and tender a written report.

Su said that Wu had verbally reported to him about incidents at the NPM involving damages to artifacts, and that he instructed Wu to professionally handle the incidents following the NPM's due procedure, adding that to cover up the incidents or issue "gag orders" would have been beneath Wu.

Shortly after Chen raised the issue, the NPM issued a statement denying that it had tried to cover up the incidents.

The incident in February last year involved a bowl from the Ming Dynasty's Hongzhi period, while the more recent one Chen referred to occurred in April this year and involved a porcelain bowl from the Qing Dynasty's Kangxi period, the NPM said.

There was a third incident, which occurred in May this year, involving a blue-and-white porcelain dish from the Qing Dynasty's Qianlong period, it said.

The NPM launched investigations into all three incidents, but was unable to determine who was accountable for the first two incidents, while a probe into the third incident had concluded pending punishments from the NPM's Civil Service Ethics Office, it said.

Classifying paperwork regarding the incidents was in accordance with the NPM's standard practice for handling cases where artifacts have been damaged, and instead of "hiding evidence," preventing personnel who were not involved from inspecting the damaged artifacts and relevant documents was aimed at making sure that evidence would not be tampered with while the cases were being investigated, the NPM said, adding that it did not need Wu's order to do so.

The three artifacts were classified as "treasures," the lowest-level designation under the Cultural Heritage Preservation Act, not "national treasures" as some news outlets had reported, it said.

Meanwhile, Wu called a news conference in response to the controversy, vowing to improve the current methods used when storing artifacts.

When the treasures at the NPM were transported to Taiwan from China, they were put in boxes cushioned with hay, which over time had been substituted with cotton, he said.

However, since the NPM stored more than one item in a single box, and more than one box in a carton, they were prone to damages when they were moved or accidentally dropped, as was the case with the incident in May, he said.

Going forward, the NPM would end the "outdated" practice of storing multiple items in one box and replace the cartons with larger chests, he said.

The three incidents were the only ones involving damages to NPM treasures since he took office in February 2019, he added.

(By Wang Yang-yu, Chao Ching-yu, Wen Kuei-hsiang and Sean Lin)

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