Taiwan: National Palace Museum admits breaking artefacts worth over $70 million

At least three Ming dynasty (1368-1644) and Qing dynasty (1644-1911) artefacts have been broken in the National Palace Museum in Taiwan, in the past 18 months. This included a bowl, a teacup and a plate broken in three separate incidents which the museum has recently admitted following questioning from a Taiwan legislator. 

On Friday, the country’s opposition leader, Chen I-shin accused the museum’s Director Wu Mi-cha of attempting to cover up that the Palace Museum has broken a national treasure. However, in a press conference, Wu denied these allegations and said they did not hide the news and admitted that at least three items from the museum’s archive have in fact been broken.

Wu also said that these broken artefacts had never been put on display and were not insured and the collective estimated value should not be over NT$2.5 billion ($77.85 million). Reports suggest that the National Palace Museum located on the outskirts of Taipei is home to the world’s largest collection of Chinese artefacts. 

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The artefacts dating back to the 15th and 17th centuries were broken between 2021 and 2022. Wu said the first incident took place on February 3, 2021, followed by another on April 7, earlier this year. Staff members were organising artefacts when they discovered a Ming dynasty “yellow teacup with two green dragons” and a Qing dynasty “yellow teacup with dragon pattern” were damaged, said Wu. 

He also said that despite checking a decade’s worth of surveillance footage they were unable to find the person responsible for the breakage, which led him to believe they were broken due to unsatisfactory storage methods. 

However, the Qing dynasty “blue-and-white floral plate” was damaged due to staff mishandling when the artefact was placed on a 100-centimetre-high workstation, fell onto a carpeted floor and broke into several pieces “like a bowl would,” said Wu. This incident took place on May 19, 2022. 

Furthermore, the museum director said that after the three incidents he was notified by the staff immediately and even launched investigations in response. He also claimed that the information was classified to protect the evidence and not hide it. Notably, the museum had not initially released the images citing the ongoing investigation but did so anyway days later. 

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The museum told the Guardian that the reason why a formal notification was not issued to the public or the cultural ministry was that the artefacts damaged were only “general antiquities”, the lowest-level designation of cultural heritage. Meanwhile, they were working to confirm the liability for the “blue-and-white floral plate” before reporting it was broken due to mishandling, said Wu. He went on to assure that the museum has been working on upgrading storage methods and are setting aside a budget for next year to improve porcelain archive packaging, in light of recent events. 

(With inputs from agencies) 

 

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