A bowl, teacup and plate – dating from 15th and 17th centuries – were broken in three separate incidents
Taiwan’s national palace museum has admitted to previously undisclosed breakages of three artefacts from the Ming and Qing dynasties, worth a reported £66m ($77m).
The items – a bowl, a teacup and a plate – were broken in three separate incidents during the past 18 months but the damage came to light only last week under questioning from a Taiwan legislator. The artefacts date back to the 15th and 17th centuries.
The museum said it was unable to determine who was responsible for two of the breakages after checking 10 years of CCTV footage, but one was found to be caused by negligent handling, and disciplinary action was being taken.
The museum’s director, Wu Mi-cha, said a senior staff member had put the artefact on a one-metre-high desk, from where it fell to the floor and broke “like a bowl would”.
On Friday, Taiwan’s opposition legislator, Chen I-shin, accused Wu of ordering staff not to speak of the breakages and to treat all paperwork as classified, claiming he had received a “tip”.
The museum and Wu strongly denied accusations of a cover-up or gag orders on staff, saying their actions were to ensure the “evidence” was not tampered with while they investigated the breakages.
“We have absolutely not hidden anything about this,” Wu said at a press conference.
The museum told the Guardian there was no formal notification to the public or culture ministry because the items were classified only as “general antiquities”, the lowest-level designation of cultural heritage. It also said the value estimate was “way lower” than the figure reported, but did not elaborate.
The national palace museum on the outskirts of Taipei holds the world’s largest collection of Chinese artefacts, much of it brought over from the mainland by Chiang Kai-shek after the Nationalists fled to Taiwan during the Chinese civil war.
The collection spans 5,000 years of Chinese history, with only a fraction of it displayed at any one time. Artefacts not on loan or being exhibited – including the three broken items – are uninsured. The museum vowed to improve storage practices for the artefacts, which had been moved several times across China in the early 20th century to keep them safe during the Sino-Japanese and then civil war.
The news of the breakages has been seized upon by Taiwan opposition parties, and by nationalist social media users in China who accused Taiwan authorities of seeking to destroy Chinese culture.
Hashtags relating to the incident were viewed more than 600,000 times by Monday, with some commenters linking it to the Chinese government’s claim that Taiwan is a Chinese province.
One said: “I believe that only by completing reunification as soon as possible can we prevent our national treasures from being destroyed for no reason again!”
Additional research by Xiaoqian Zhu

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