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Palace Museum praised for rejecting controversial bronze animal statues

Palace Museum praised for rejecting controversial bronze animal statues

The National Palace Museum (NPM)'s caution in pursuing two bronze statues removed from China some 150 years ago, harshly condemned by local lawmakers, has been praised by the International Council of Museums (ICOM).
The NPM reportedly declined to purchase or accept for free Qing dynasty bronze rat and rabbit heads from a French collector earlier this year. They were once the property of the Imperial summer palace in Beijing, and China insists they be treated as stolen property.
NPM Director Chou Kung-shin denied that French businessman Pierre Berge ever offered the works to her museum, but she told legislators the museum would never accept artifacts that are controversial, stolen or of unknown origin, a stance lauded by ICOM.
Ethics issues
"The Ethics Committee considers that (Chou), showed her care for museum ethics issues internationally, and demonstrated a positive relation to the position of the National Palace Museum, when it recently refrained from any move to purchase the Qing bronze rat and rabbit head sculptures, " Bernice Murphy, chairperson of the ICOM's Ethics Committee, told the Central News Agency in an e-mail Monday.
According to Murphy, the ICOM's Ethics Committee addressed the bronze sculpture matter recently at a meeting in Paris and was well aware of the controversy surrounding the auctioning of the sculptures by Christie's in Paris in February this year.
Chou has reiterated twice at the Legislative Yuan this year that the NPM, as one of the world's most famous museums, should follow professional ethics and uphold its international image in not pursuing the pieces.
Berge, partner of the late French fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent, said in a radio interview in early October that he would never offer the works to China and had hoped to give them to others.
"I wanted to give them to the Taiwan Museum, which did not want to create a bone of contention of such importance with mainland China. Or to the Musee Guimet, but I don't think that France is any more interested in a quarrel with China," Berge said.
Neither sell nor donate
During a legislative session in early October, Chou said that when she met Berge in Paris in June, he told her that he "would neither sell nor donate the two pieces, " but even if he had offered to donate the sculptures, the NPM would not accept them based on professional ethics.
Her stance drew the ire of lawmakers, who accused the government of kowtowing to China and surrendering Taiwan's sovereignty.
Murphy also praised Chou's visit to the Beijing Palace Museum in February and her partnership venture to seek loans and prepare an exhibition in Taiwan that will reunite objects from both museums.
"This is aligned with other progressive projects of much interest and relevance to principles supported by ICOM's Code of Ethics for Museums, and related ICOM policies encouraging greater cooperation throughout the museums sector internationally," Murphy said.
"While museums around the world... continue to care for their long-developed collections responsibly, there has been a progressive opening of negotiations by many museums in recent years to evolve new ways of working - especially on joint exhibition projects - across state and national borders," Murphy added.
These initiatives signal a greater awareness of shared responsibilities in caring for and interpreting cultural heritage internationally, she contended.
The sabotaged auction
The controversy that cast the NPM in the spotlight surfaced in February, when Berge's two bronze sculptures were auctioned by Christie's.
The bronzes of the Chinese zodiac animals were seized in 1860 from Beijing's imperial summer palace, Yuanmingyuan, by invading French and British forces, and China has 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 a Paris tribunal rejected the petition.
The two pieces were sold at the Paris auction for 15.7 million euros each to a telephone buyer who at the time remained anonymous. A few days later, Chinese collector Cai Mingchao said that he was the successful bidder but would refuse to pay for the statues, claiming that 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 has said he will return the two pieces to China only if the country guarantees human rights and allows the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, to return home.


Updated : 2021-06-20 06:43 GMT+08:00