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Taiwan Palace Museum releases photos of broken artifacts

Museum director admits storage methods must be improved

The three National Palace Museum artifacts before and after being broken. (National Palace Museum photo)

The three National Palace Museum artifacts before and after being broken. (National Palace Museum photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — After confirming that three items in its archive had been damaged, the National Palace Museum has released more details about the incidents, including photos of the broken porcelain pieces.

Legislator Chen I-shin (陳以信) on Friday morning (Oct. 28) accused the museum’s Director Wu Mi-cha (吳密察) of attempting to cover up the first time the Palace Museum has broken a national treasure. While the museum and Wu denied they had tried to hide the news, they admitted that three pieces of porcelain in its archive were broken.

In a press conference, Wu said on Feb. 3, 2021 and April 7, 2022, while staff members were organizing artifacts, they discovered upon opening packages that a Ming dynasty (1368-1644) “yellow teacup with two green dragons” and a Qing dynasty (1636–1911) "yellow teacup with dragon pattern” were damaged. Additionally, on May 19, 2022, due to staff mishandling, a Qing dynasty “blue-and-white floral plate” fell and broke.

Wu said after the three incidents, his staff had immediately notified him, and he launched investigations in response. He claimed that relevant information was classified to protect evidence rather than to hide it, because “after the incident occurred, if we didn’t preserve evidence and allowed people to view and hold artifacts at will, what would be the consequence?”

When pressed for details, Wu said he was unable to release photos due to the ongoing investigation. Regarding the mishandling of the “blue-and-white floral plate,” he said a senior staff member had placed the item on a 100-centimeter-high work station.

The plate fell onto a carpeted floor and broke into several pieces “like a bowl would.”

As for the two teacups that were broken, Wu said the museum was not able to find anyone responsible after checking up to 10 years’ worth of surveillance footage. This led him to believe that they broke due to unsatisfactory storage methods.

“There are always empty spaces in a box containing porcelain pieces, which makes breaking them easy when the box is moved. When (the boxes) came from China, they were stuffed with hay. In Taiwan, some hay was replaced with shredded wood, then with cotton,” Chen said. “Still, items may move and knock into things when moved, so we should place each item individually in boxes and use cushioning materials for storage to ease the problem.”

Wu said the three broken artifacts had never been put on display and were not insured. He estimated that the value of the items did not exceed NT$2.5 billion (US$77.85 million).

He added that the artifacts were not insured because they had not been appraised. Had they been appraised, insurance policies would have cost a lot, which was why artifacts would only be insured if they were to be shipped out for exhibitions.

As for why the museum did not announce the news about the broken artifacts, Wu said the broken pieces were classified as “ordinary artifacts” and not “important artifacts” or “national treasure,” which was why the incidents did not warrant public announcements. The museum had been waiting to confirm liabilities before reporting that the “blue-and-white floral plate” had been broken due to mishandling.

Wu said he has been working to upgrade storage methods and “replace boxes with shelves” since he took office, setting aside a budget for 2023 to improve porcelain archive packaging. He added that he has also been improving the museum’s information management system, upgrading it to one with a computerized management, access, viewing, and condition recording system.