China cries foul after Taiwan's NPM lends ancient calligraphy to Japanese museum

Chinese netizens outraged after Taiwan's National Palace Museum lends calligraphy masterpiece to Tokyo museum

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"Requiem to My Nephew." (Image by National Palace Museum)

"Requiem to My Nephew." (Image by National Palace Museum)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) -- Chinese-state-run media and netizens are in an uproar after news broke that the National Palace Museum in Taipei is lending a rare 1,200-year-old calligraphy masterpiece from the Tang Dynasty to a museum in Japan.

The ancient work by Yan Zhengqing titled "Requiem to My Nephew" (祭姪文稿) is slated to be displayed in the Tokyo National Museum from today until Feb. 24. Chinese netizens quickly became outraged on Saturday (Jan. 12) when a photo of a poster announcing the exhibition of the ancient masterpiece in Tokyo was posted on Weibo (China's version of Twitter).

Yan, a calligrapher and governor during the Tang Dynasty, is considered one of most influential Chinese calligraphers in history. The piece, which is part of the NPM collection which was brought to Taiwan from China in 1949, is highly prized because it is an excellent example of Xingshu or semi-cursive script by Yan.


"Requiem to My Nephew" by Yan Zhenqing. (Image by National Palace Museum)

Yan composed the piece to honor his nephew, Yan Jiming, who had died during the rebellion of An Lushan in Hebei province in 756. The work on display was actually a rough draft created two years after his nephew's death and his strokes demonstrate his emotions felt when finally seeing the few scant remains of his nephew's body had been finally been recovered from the battlefield.

Outrage over the loan of the precious work quickly spread like wildfire on Weibo, with the Chinese tag for "Requiem to My Nephew" being read 230 million times and drawing 146,000 comments.

An article by China's state-run-mouthpiece the Global Times soon followed, claiming that the work would not be properly protected, such as exposure to sunlight and flash photography. However, the NPM told South China Morning Post (SCMP) that a special glass case was being used to project the calligraphy scroll.


Poster announcing exhibition of calligraphy piece. (Weibo image)

One agitated Weibo user wrote,“The original Requiem to My Nephew is too precious to be allowed for exhibition outside the country. It embodies the unyielding spirit of the Yan’s family who lost their lives fighting rebellions." While another followed the standard Chinese Communist Party line, "I felt so sad. Let's unite Taiwan by force. I can't take it anymore."

In response to the criticism from China that the exhibition would damage a national treasure, Frank Hsieh (謝長廷), Taiwan's representative to Japan, said that modern science and technology is being used to protect the work, reported Liberty Times. Hsieh added that the two museum had made many preparations over the six years since the exhibition was agreed upon.

Even some experts in China supported the move, such as, Ling Lizhong, the curator of the department of painting and calligraphy at Shanghai Museum, who described it to Thepaper.cn as a "normal exchange." Ling told the news service that the exhibit "shows respect and love for the Chinese culture."


Frank Hsieh (謝長廷), Taiwan's representative to Japan (left) viewing scroll. (CNA image)

Ling when on to say that is common for such exchanges to take place between museums and expressed hope that the work could be displayed in Shanghai one day. The Shanghai Museum is actually currently running an exhibition on the works of Ming dynasty calligrapher Dong Qichang that includes another work by Yan Zhengqing, which was borrowed from a museum in Tokyo, according to SCMP.


Display of the piece in Tokyo National Museum. (CNA image)


(CNA image)


(CNA image)