The National Palace Museum has a collection of more than half a million artifacts that were once housed in the Forbidden City. It is considered by the government in Beijing to have been stolen by the fleeing Kuomintang.
And this is no doubt true. At the same time a case could be made that they were saved from destruction in the Cultural Revolution when many, perhaps most, of these artefacts would have been destroyed.
For years it has been a standoff with Beijing claiming there can only be one Palace Museum, even if it exhibits only the artworks that were abandoned as less valuable when the Nationalists withdrew to Taiwan in 1949.
Now there is hope that art may ease a way forward. The director of the National Palace Museum, Chou Kung-shin, traveled to Beijing in February to hold her first official talks with Zheng Xinmiao, the director of the Beijing museum.
She had a bold request to make – that Beijing loan her museum 37 artifacts from the Qing dynasty period so that the Taipei museum could for the first time exhibit all the belongings of the Yongzheng emperor, a despot who died nearly 300 years ago.
Zheng Xinmiao and a portrait of Yongzheng, dressed in gold and with a string of pearls draped around his neck, has been put on display in the front room of the National Palace Museum, marking the first time the two museums have co-operated on an exhibit.
After six decades of stalemate, the willingness of the Beijing museum to loan its treasures to Taipei reflects how far and how fast relations between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait have warmed in the 16 months since Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou assumed office and declared his intent to seek better ties with the Mainland.
Globe and Mail shows that there is still a long way to go. It is reported that Chou Kung-shin said the Taiwanese museum couldn’t consider returning the favour and lending artworks to Beijing so they could be displayed in their old home in the Forbidden City. There’s just no guarantee, she is reported to have said, that anything sent to Beijing would ever be returned. Possibly that could have been more precisely and diplomatically reported.