Beijing’s Palace Museum, or the Forbidden City, is again under an uncomfortable spotlight after China Youth Daily reported it auctioned off five pieces of ancient calligraphy, yet another allegation denied by the museum.
According to a response made by the Palace Museum to the Global Times, the ancient calligraphy was not bought by the Palace Museum as the buying funds were not offered and approved by superior departments, and therefore the museum never collected the five Song calligraphy works.
But the denial means little to many. The scandal is another in a series of embarrassing incidents for the museum. This July, the museum’s managerial capabilities were questioned after breaking a rare piece of porcelain during a scientific test.
Mao Xiaohu, a Beijing-based Chinese porcelain assayer, said he’d like to know the museum’s competency in handling such important relics.
Accident in secret
The porcelain plate was manufactured in the Ge Kiln. It is one of the five most famous kilns in the Song Dynasty (960-1279) and dates back 1,000 years. It broke into six pieces on July 4 after it was crushed when a laboratory researcher used a device to examine it, the Guangzhou-based Time Weekly reported.
It is estimated the price of a well-preserved piece of porcelain from the Ge Kiln is worth more than 100 million yuan ($15 million), according to Time Weekly.
The news was first reported by Web user Long Can on his microblog on July 30 and was then confirmed by the Palace Museum the next day. The museum said it conducted a two-week investigation after the accident occurred and determined the cause was poor operation of an analytical device.
“We know little about the accident right now,” Ma Weidu, founder and curator of the oldest private museum in China, the Guanfu Museum, told Time Weekly.
In fact many people want to know why the Palace Museum confirmed the accident on July 30 rather than July 4, the day it happened.
Facing so many questions, the Palace Museum claimed they did not report the accident to protect the responsible culprit, a young postgraduate student majoring in science who had successfully examined more than 50 porcelain pieces prior to the incident, Time Weekly reported.
As well the museum said it considered the case to be complex and required a month to investigate the event, so the accident was not immediately reported to officials.
But these arguments were disputed by Long Can, who believed it was not contradictory for the Palace Museum to report and investigate an accident at the same time, according to Time Weekly.
In fact, it was not the first time a museum employee has broken relics without it being reported to the public immediately.
A staff member with the Henan Museum once broke a grade-1 jade piece when photographing the relics around 20 years ago, but did not receive any punishment and was only criticized by the Henan Museum and higher authorities. The accident was not reported to the public either, according to Shi Jixiang, a professor with the Changchun-based Jilin University, Time Weekly reported.
“These accidents all reveal the museum’s poor managerial abilities,” Mao Xiaohu told the Global Times, adding the Palace Museum’s management system was so backwards it can not keep up with the pace of social development, for instance, its management always lacked public transparency.
Mao further said staff members with the Palace Museum were also not professional, and most of them had no formal training.
“A tragedy due to poor training was bound to occur,” he said.
According to Mao, only when the Palace Museum opens its information to the public and receives oversight from the public can it truly see its own mistakes and therefore avoid future incidents.
Shen Wangshu, deputy director of the Institute of Capital Cultural Development at the Beijing Academy of Social Sciences, agreed.
“In my opinion, a professional staff member should be obsessed with the relics and do his best to protect them. He should master professional knowledge about relics and have the ability to appreciate them,” Shen told the Global Times.