Taiwan considers evacuating cultural artifacts amid Chinese tensions | Asia | An in-depth look at news from across the continent | DW

In July, the National Taiwan Palace Museum in Taipei held a “wartime response exercise” to train staff on what to do in the event of a war breaking out.

Taiwan’s legislature has been urging the museum to establish protocols since March, shortly after Russia invaded Ukraine, sparking fears that Beijing could carry out a similar invasion of Taiwan.

Museum director Mi-Cha Wu told lawmakers the institution is working with national security agencies in Taiwan to find safe places to store the treasures if a war breaks out.

At a press conference on Aug. 8, Taiwanese Legislative Speaker You Si-kun said the executive branch of the Taiwanese government would lead plans for increased protection and eventual evacuation of the museum’s collections.

Are the artifacts threatened?

Following the visit of US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi to Taiwan earlier this month, China held a seven-day military exercise in the waters around Taiwan.

The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has fired ballistic missiles while repeatedly sending military aircraft and warships across the middle line of the Taiwan Strait, an unofficial boundary between China and Taiwan. China has long considered Taiwan part of its territory and Beijing has not given up the option of forcing reunification by force if necessary.

Amid increased military pressure from China, rumors began circulating on the Chinese internet that Taiwan was planning to move the National Palace Museum’s collections to Japan and the United States. The museum refuted these rumors in a statement, urging Taiwanese not to trust these rumors.

The National Palace Museum houses artifacts of Chinese civilization

The museum would not share details of the evacuation protocols with DW, calling them “top secret”. US broadcaster CNN reported the exercise involved some 90,000 pieces from a collection of 700,000.

Patricia Huang, a museum studies expert at the National Taipei University of Education, told DW it was difficult to determine specific locations and methods for transporting the relics.

“I honestly don’t know where, or even how, we can ship the treasures safely and quietly at this point,” she said.

Most museums in Taiwan have emergency response plans that help museums assess and manage risks, such as fires, floods, or terrorist attacks, but wartime evacuations have not. been a priority, she added.

Huang said museums’ priority during a war was always the safety of the collection and its staff.

“Most museums are located in city centers, which means they are at risk of being badly affected in the event of a military conflict. Bombing and looting are the two main concerns,” she said.

“It is advisable to remove all items that could be damaged by explosions from display cases, pack them up and store them in safe places. Transporting valuables has inherent risks, but sometimes moving the collection is the only viable option. Each museum should carefully assess its own situation,” Huang added.

Another major museum in Taiwan, the National Taiwan Museum, told DW the institution had an evacuation plan in place following the invasion of Ukraine.

The plan includes a list of relics that need to be evacuated based on their uniqueness and plans for where to store these collections safely. The museum said it plans to hold its first wartime intervention exercise before December 2022.

Museum as a symbol of history

Nearly 700,000 cultural artifacts from the National Palace Museum are there today due to a wartime move.

Calligraphy engraved in stone

Calligraphic pattern books from the Chinese Neolithic period on display at the National Palace Museum

During the 1930s, the Chinese government decided to transfer cultural artifacts from the museum’s original location in the Forbidden City in Beijing to Shanghai and Nanjing as Japan prepared to invade Beijing.

Then, in the late 1930s, the Chinese government was forced to move the treasures again to several locations in western China’s Sichuan province. In 1947, the museum’s collections were repatriated to Nanjing and then to Beijing.

However, amid the civil war between the ruling Kuomintang (KMT) and the Chinese Communist Party, KMT forces took with them nearly 700,000 artifacts and other important cultural or historical objects when they retreated to Taiwan. in 1948.

“When the National Palace Museum collection was packed up in 1933, southwestern China seemed a much safer place than Beijing. The same could be said of the decision to move the collection from Beijing to Taiwan in 1948” , said Huang, an expert in museum studies. . “At least that’s where the government prepared to go if they lost the civil war.”

The Taipei Museum has become an important institution for Western scholars studying ancient Chinese culture or history as China remained largely closed to the world in the 1960s and 1970s.

“The National Palace Museum was an important representative of Chinese culture, and many scholars who want to learn more about ancient Chinese relics have come to Taiwan to conduct their research,” Ya-hwei Hsu, a professor at DW, told DW. art history at National Taiwan University.

Edited by: Wesley Rahn

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