Staff error caused relic damage: ministry

China’s top culture and heritage authorities confirmed on Tuesday damage done to a 1,000-year-old porcelain plate was caused by poor operation of an analytical device by staff. The admission came after public outrage at the Palace Museum for not reporting the incident sooner.

The Ministry of Culture said in a statement on its website it had formed a special team with the State Administration of Cultural Heritage (SACH) to investigate the accident immediately after receiving a report from the Palace Museum.

The porcelain plate, a grade-one cultural relic of the Ge Kiln, broke into six pieces on July 4 after it was crushed when a laboratory researcher used a device to examine it, said Lou Wei, director of the museum’s antique management center.

The museum, also known as the Forbidden City, admitted the damage Sunday after an Internet user disclosed the incident on his microblog a day earlier.
The SACH’s press office said they would publish more information about the incident, but declined to comment further.

The Ge Kiln was one of the five most famous kilns in the Song Dynasty (960-1279). A porcelain bottle from the Ge Klin sold for 10 million yuan ($1.55 million) at an auction in Henan in 2004.

Lou said the museum will repair the crushed artifact. Antique experts said the repaired piece would not be able to retain the original pattern and therefore the value has been diminished.

The Forbidden City has been embroiled in a series of scandals since May after a thief snuck into the heavily guarded palace and stole seven rare handicrafts on display.

Not long after the incident, it was accused of converting one of the palace halls into a luxury private club, triggering questions about the overall management of the museum.

“It is very disappointing,” wrote a columnist for the Nanjing-based Yangtze Evening News. “The management at the Forbidden City is even more bureaucratic than some government departments.”

Chen Lihua, deputy director of the Forbidden City, denied the museum had tried to cover up the incident. Chen said they needed more time to thoroughly examine the case to determine whether it was the machine or the operator’s fault.

“We didn’t want the operator to be under too much pressure since we could not conclude whether it was her responsibility then,” Chen told China Central Television.

Feng Naien, Forbidden City’s spokesperson, said the incident would not stop the museum from carrying out similar scientific research in the future, but said they would improve their operations.

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