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Palace Museum will not acquire any disputed artifacts: curator

Palace Museum will not acquire any disputed artifacts: curator

Taipei, Oct. 7 (CNA) The National Palace Museum (NPM) will not collect any cultural relics or objects d'art whose origins are controversial or in dispute, the museum's top curator said Wednesday.
NPM Director Chou Kung-shin made the remarks while fielding questions at a Legislative Yuan session where ruling Kuomintang (KMT) Legislator Lee Ching-hua asked why the museum had rejected an offer by the French collector to give it two bronze sculptures of Chinese zodiac animals that date back to China's Qing Dynasty (1644-1911).
Lee was referring to two bronze heads -- one of a rabbit and the other of rat -- that were illegally seized in 1860 from Beijing's summer palace Yuanmingyuan by invading French and British forces.
The two statues later became part of the collection of the late French fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent. When they were put up for auction by the designer's partner Pierre Berge late last year, it aroused great anger in China, which demanded their return.
China's Lost Cultural Relics Recovery Fund, an activist group, filed a petition in France in an attempt to stop the auction, but the Paris tribunal rejected the petition.
The two zodiac animal heads were sold in the Paris auction in February this year for 15.7 million euros each to a telephone buyer who at the time remained anonymous. A few days later, a Chinese collector, Cai Mingchao, said that he was the successful bidder but would refuse to pay for the statues. He claimed his bid was a "patriotic act" to sabotage the auction.
The two statues have since been sitting in a safe room at Christie's auction house.
According to a Reuters report, Berge had considered donating them to a museum either in France or Taiwan. However, he said neither country wanted to exacerbate tensions with China, and added that in the end he would probably find a "brave" buyer.
Responding to Lee's questioning, Chou said she was invited by the French government to visit Paris in June. During the visit, she indeed met with Berge, who said at the time that he "would neither sell nor donate" the two pieces, she recalled.
From the perspective of professional ethics, Chou said, the Palace Museum should not collect any artworks or cultural relics whose origins are controversial or in dispute.
In response to Lee's continued grilling on the issue, Chou maintained that "as they were taken illegally... we cannot accept them, because of professional ethical principles." During the same session, opposition Democratic Progressive Party Legislator Chen Ting-fei asked Premier Wu Den-yih whether he agreed with Chou's views.
In response, Wu said he will ask the Palace Museum to clarify whether the French collector intends to sell or donate the bronze animal head to Taiwan. "Even if the collector wants to donate the items, we should still consider the relevant ethical problems, including whether the Paris court's ruling is final," the premier added.
The National Palace Museum in suburban Taipei is home to the cream of the 1,000-year Chinese art collection held by various Chinese emperors.
Wu said all of the the museum's articles were legally transported to Taiwan during the Chinese civil war. As the two sides of the Taiwan Strait have been separately ruled for the past six decades, the National Palace Museum's legal status is undisputable.
Meanwhile, KMT legislative whip Lu Hsueh-chang said he agrees with Chou's stance that it is not appropriate for the Palace Museum to accept the two bronze pieces, which he said are more suitable for outdoor display.
"The KMT legislative caucus would not oppose the idea if the French collector donates the pieces to some other local museum for outdoor display," he added.
According to the Reuters report, Berge has said he would return the two pieces to China only if the country guaranteed human rights and allowed the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, to return home.
(By Sofia Wu)