Elgin Marbles vs. The National Museum


#1

Well, things have been pretty tame around here lately, so I thought of something that I think could stir things up.

I read a few months ago an article about the Elgin Marbles. This collection of Greek statues were taken from Greece about 190 years ago and preserved in England, where they are still on display. Many people believe that this saved these works of art from destruction or from each piece being stolen piecemeal from the Parthenon. But now the Greek government is asking that they be returned. I think that they should be.

Now back to Taiwan (If somebody could flesh out the holes in my history here, please do. But I think I have most of the facts straight):

On the eve of the KMT losing to the People’s Army, they took the majority of treasures from the National Museum (which they’d taken out of the museum months before) along with them to Taiwan with the excuse that they would preserve them.

Ironically enough, their intentions were fulfilled. It is widely believed that if these items had been in Mainland China during the Cultural Revolution, many of these items would have been destroyed.

It’s now over fifty years later, and Taiwan still holds these items. I wonder if anybody agrees with my idea that the Taiwanese should consider taking them back. Almost all of these artifacts are from the Mainland.

Part of China’s argument for taking over Taiwan is the idea that Taiwan they are the same country. I don’t buy that, any more than I believe the US is part of England. I think that this act would be a brave statement to China and the world that what is Chinese should be returned to China, and what is Taiwanese should stay in Taiwan.

Any thoughts? I’d appreciate any replies, whether for or against. You can be angry, but if you think I’m wrong, just tell me how I am wrong.


#2

Britai,
Firstly, thanks for bringing up something worth discussing.

Second, Returning these artifacts is a compromising situation for both Taiwan and China.

How would it be understood if China says they are reclaiming their artifacts? Would it look like Taiwan was saying we are coming back home? Are the Taiwanese willing to accept this? Afterall Politics is all about perception. (Feel free to correct me if you think otherwise) Are they ready for that?

As for China, it looks as though they are saying, bring back our things, it was always ours and Taiwan is packaged up with that as well. Which then creates more bickering between these two.

Who will give in first, Taiwan or China? Stubborn nature of Chinese people on both sides,
with no evidence that anyone is willing
to budge, nevermind compromise.

Would Taiwan take the bold step to return these
artifacts to their origin, Mainland China?

Would it be an attempt to show they are willing to cooperate?
What do you think? I agree they should return the treasures to their origin , but it is now about politics. Not about what is right or wrong here.


#3

Better yet where is there a comprehensive museum on Taiwanese history and culture in Taiwan?

Most foriengers are fooled when they go to the Palace Museum and view Mainland Emperor Class Antiquities (MECAs). They might end up believing that these objects represent Taiwan and that Taiwan does not have its own historical identity.

Where is a museum in Taipei that houses antique Taiwanese God Statues, Earthenware, Porcelain, Clothing Articles, etc., etc., etc.?

Taiwan does have its own history that is NOT represented in the Palace Museum. So who’s interests are at stake here anyway?


#4

Shouldn’t this be in the culture/history forum? Anyways, I was disappointed when I went to the National Museum last year. It’s old and dilapidated, carpet is nasty, English descriptions of the artifacts poor.


#5

Tawian Authorities thinking

“We are the ROC …the legitimate rulers of China (Chung Hwa)…then why shouldn’t we display the artifacts of OUR country in a muesuem…why give them over to the other side…to those communists devils that have the rest of our brothers and sisters in the chains of communism…lets display these artifacts in a part of China( Chung Hwa) ie Taiwan until we gain a foothold in China and get the ROC back”

Maybe this was the old thinking, but as always politics is involved. I believe the ROC to returning the artifacts to the PRC could be interrupted in a number of ways.

  1. The ROC accepts the PRC as legitimate rulers of China(Chung Hwa), and therefore the PRC should ‘control’ and possess all of China’s history and cultural artifacts.

  2. A lost of leverage to deal with the PRC on an equal footing. The PRC would possess and gain more of China’s history etc, to the lose of the ROC.

  3. Renouncing the people of Taiwan as Chinese . “Here PRC , we don’t want these things, you have them and enjoy, we have our own Taiwanese artifacts and history, what do we need these Chinese things for”

Again a point to note about the elections on Saturday. Canvassing candiates are always caught between appearing to China or too Taiwan, how do you appeal to the native Taiwanese thinking and the One China thinking. How do you find the happy medium between the two that appeals to the majority?. Well obviuosly not like Lien Chan, who has the worst Taiwanese people have ever heard.

Maybe for years this was much easier, when the Taiwanese had guns to their heads so their choice in whether they were ROC chinese or Taiwanese was made a little easier.

Now where do Taiwanese look for their history and culture, to CKS memorial hall, to Sun Yat Sen, to Aboriginal culture or to Taiwanese culture.
Our Taiwanese friend went to CKS with us, and she asked why we woukd want to go and see the BEAST’s place.

I wonder are the Taiwanese having an indentity crisis. Ask a Taiwanese person their nationality, they may say Taiwanese, but what is being Taiwanese or what is Taiwaneseness?
Maybe they aren’t having a crisis and don’t really care about this, and are instead more interested in whether they will have a job tomorrow.

Maybe they like having 4000 years of Chinese history behind them but at the same time like being independant and Taiwanese.


#6


Yes I think this is a really good question:
What is Taiwanese? Or the essence of Taiwan.
AND What is Chinese?

There is a real good advert right now on TV about Taiwan from the Taiwan Tourist office.Makes one want to go to Taiwan right now and stay up all night.

quote[quote] On the eve of the KMT losing to the People's Army, they took the majority of treasures from the National Museum (which they'd taken out of the museum months before) along with them to Taiwan with the excuse that they would preserve them. Ironically enough, their intentions were fulfilled. It is widely believed that if these items had been in Mainland China during the Cultural Revolution, many of these items would have been destroyed. (Britai)[/quote]

On the other side, China also had its own conservation efforts, led very much by an intellectual- 知識分&#23376 ; called Ma ChengYuan, now 78 years old, who fooled the red guards, and whose efforts culminated in the present day Shanghai museum. Worth a visit definitely. A lot of famous or rich overseas Chinese especially from Hong Kong and America also donated ‘pieces’ or cash to the setting up of this mega institution which takes about 3 to 4 days ‘to visit’ even though not all the pieces are on display at the same time. This story was actually a recent SCMP article, but I won’t bother adding this here because it is just too long.

quote[quote] It's now over fifty years later and Taiwan still holds these items. I wonder if anybody agrees with my idea that the Taiwanese should consider taking them back. Almost all of these artifacts are from the Mainland. (Britai) [/quote]

From a business point of view, Taiwan would be a fool to give the artifacts back to China for free. After having managed to preserve them for so long, at the very least, a charge for their upkeep (and not selling them) is I think quite reasonable.

Also to be correct, these artifacts belong first and foremost to the Chinese people or the Chinese Nation - Chung Hua 中 &#33775 ; – not to any of the governments on either side. They are symbols of the Chinese culture. This was what Ma ChengYuan in Shanghai tried to establish in his first exhibition on the China side when he was permitted to make a first exhibition by the communist government, at around when the museum finally opened in 1996.

According to the SCMP article, Ma didn’t do what the communists wanted which was apparently to turn art or his first exhibition into illustrating “class struggle and the triumph of the working classes”. The artifacts are also worth millions of USD, if they were actually sold on the open market or through Christies, which could theoretical bring a massive boost to Taiwan’s present ailing or deficit economy.

quote[quote] How would it be understood if China says they are reclaiming their artifacts? Would it look like Taiwan was saying we are coming back home? Are the Taiwanese willing to accept this? After all Politics is all about perception. (Feel free to correct me if you think otherwise) Are they ready for that? As for China, it looks as though they are saying, bring back our things, it was always ours and Taiwan is packaged up with that as well. (Little Fly) [/quote]

Politics is all about perception these days: Nothing illustrates this better than the recent news about Chan Shui Bian carrying his wife to the toilet every night for 20 years and using this to win voter admiration. On the subject, China already assumes Taiwan, the land and her people belong to the indivisible Chinese Nation. Claiming/ accepting JUST the artifacts back is surely an admission of defeat, so China would never just do that.

From the Taiwan point of view: Giving such artifacts back for ‘free’ as suggested by Britai would also not prove that Taiwan was rid of its Chinese-ness or Chinese culture. In fact this shows quite clearly the fundamental difference between a westerner’s understanding / perception of Taiwanese culture and a local Taiwanese understanding of Taiwanese/Chinese culture.

quote[quote] ( zhukov’s point about Taiwanese identity) : Now where do Taiwanese look for their history and culture, to CKS memorial hall, to Sun Yat Sen, to Aboriginal culture or to Taiwanese culture. Our Taiwanese friend went to CKS with us, and she asked why we would want to go and see the BEAST's place. [/quote]

In fact Taiwan not only preserved the PHYSICAL artifacts (which are representations of Chinese culture) but practised more of the “traditional” Chinese way of life such as observance of Confucianism, Taoism, Buddhism, etc.; than what would be acceptable even under the more ‘relaxed’ communist rule of today’s China.

quote:
Part of China's argument for taking over Taiwan is the idea that Taiwan and they are the same country. I don't buy that, any more than I believe the US is part of England. I think that this act would be a brave statement to China and the world that what is Chinese should be returned to China, and what is Taiwanese should stay in Taiwan. (Britai)

For Taiwan and China to be successfully compared to the US and England, one would have to imagine that the US was ruled/governed by a government (in 1776) which once ruled over Great Britain or the British Empire, but vacated Britain, while Britain at about the same time got itself a new ruler or a brand new government through some sort of class struggle or civil war. Such a civil war or class struggle was of course not happening in Britain or England during the same time that their “colony” or America or now the United States of America became independent (1776). This analogy is far too complicated and confusing.

I want to bring in a different comparison or analogy, which is being played out on HK’s TV at this very moment. If you don’t have it on Taiwan TV, it will be there soon. It is a much watched serial called “KangXi” 《康熙 》about the reign of a famous Qing Emperor, and it includes several episodes where the emperor KangXi attempts to take back the island of Taiwan after a general of the previous dynasty (the Ming dynasty) retreated back into this island, (which was previously already part of the Ming empire after driving out the Portuguese who attempted to occupy the island as well), as a safe haven, after the Ming dynasty capitulated on the mainland.
According to history, the Qing dynasty successfully took back the island of Taiwan (before it was conquered again for no apparent reasonable provocation, by the Empire of Japan).

Out of all this I think I like best of all is the statement: “what is Chinese should be returned to China, and what is Taiwanese should stay in Taiwan.”

So what is Taiwanese?


#7

Some interesting comments and questions about Taiwanese culture, history and politics. I’m no expert on these matters, but I’ll offer some comments. I’m not sure what I think yet about returning the artifacts in the National Palace Museum, though…

First, to answer Martian’s questions about museums that focus on Taiwanese history, culture or artifacts? There are two museums that I would recommend going to:

  1. Taiwan Folk Arts Museum
    -small, quaint, simple & homey (you will be asked to remove your shoes before entering)
    -this museum is a real no fringes place, but it has many interesting artifacts and handicrafts, well written English translations and descriptions of objects
    -the museum also has a hall devoted to explaining Taiwan’s history from 15000 (B.P) to 1998 and a pamphlet that summarizes major events in Taiwan’s history

32 Yu-ya Rd.
Peitou, Taipei, Taiwan
Tel. (02) 28912318
Tu-Fri 10:00-19:00
Sa-Su 9:00-19:00
closed Mondays

2)Shung Ye Museum of Formosan Aborigines

-this museum showcases many aborigine artifacts and gives insight into the lives of aborigines and videos of aboriginal people’s customs and craft making methods

282 Chihshan Road, Sec. 2
Taipei 111, Taiwan
Tel: (02)28412611
Tu-Su 9:00am-5:00pm

Second, to address Zhukov’s comments… there is no doubt that there the Taiwanese people have a unique culture. Just look into the history of Taiwan and you will see that the experience of Taiwanese people has been vastly different from that of the people in Mainland China. Anyone who had spent a reasonable amount of time in both China and Taiwan will tell you that there is a difference in each country’s culture.

I wonder how many people know that besides the Chinese, that the Taiwanese have been ruled by the Dutch, Spanish, and Japanese.

The complexity of Taiwan’s history and politics have undoubtedly confused the Taiwanese people’s concept of cultural identity. How can one summarize what it means to be Taiwanese? How can one summarize what it means to be American? Just try asking different people why they call themselves Taiwanese and you’ll get an array of answers.

It all depends on personal experience. Some people have been here for generations; their families have endured the occupation of the Japanese, and KMT- in one household there may be family members who each have different preferred/mother tongues such as Japanese, Mandarin Chinese and Hoklo Taiwanese. There are other families in which one parent was born and raised in Mainland China and the other was born and raised in Taiwan. What does it mean to be Taiwanese for the offspring of such a union? Then there are people of aborginal, and Hakka origin and so on…

Just take the Hoklo Taiwanese language as an example. There are Dutch, French, Japanese, English and Chinese words that have been adopted as part of Hoklo Taiwanese. Taiwanese culture is a mosaic of influences that have been left behind from its history and various rulers.

Taiwanese people are just beginning to realize the choices and freedom that they have to decide their future… since the oppression of their past rulers has gradually lessened in recent years.

**Note to UM -I agree with you about the National Palace Museum. What a disappointment!


#8

Just an aside to this discussion, where does the word “Hoklo” come from? When I hear the language “Taiwanese” referred to in Taiwanese, it’s always called “Dai-gi”, “Dai-gu”, “Dai-wan-wei” or “Minan-wei”.


#9

Yeah Paogao, what’s up with Hoklo, Hokkien(sp?), and fukien? Those words sound like arbitrary Jesuit/academic words. I prefer Taiwanese, Fujian, minanyu, Taiyu or Taige. Anybody know the background on these weird-ass words (I can guess fukian… sort of like Nanking). On a similar subject, does it bug anyone else to hear “Chinese” referred to as “Mandarin”. I think the widespread use of this term is that most people in the West think that there are two kinds of Chinese, Mandarin and Cantonese. It bugs me even more when the people say “mandarin” with the stress on the last syllable.
On the subject of the Palace museum artifacts going back to the mainland, I can’t imagine a scenario where the stuff goes back before the reunification/independence issue is resolved. The Taiwanese would be fools to return them in the current political environment.


#10

Hokkien is from the Taiwanese pronunciation of Fujian, but I still don’t know what Haklo is from. I’ve only seen that term in the Times; maybe I should ask one of my friends who works there.

Mandarin is a type of Chinese. Cantonese is another, ‘Shanghainese’ and Fujianese or ‘Fukienese’ are still more types. I don’t know the number of Chinese dialects, but I imagine there’s quite a few out there.


#11

Interesting topic.

I agree with Chainsmoker. People here would be crazy to hand over the treasures of the museum to China. For what? Maybe then they’d stop threatening to kill us all? Not likely.

Zhukov, don’t forget that the people of Taiwan still have a gun pointed at their heads. But now it’s just one very big gun, coming from the other side of the strait, instead of two, as during the martial law days.

I don’t think Taiwan should ever, under any circumstances, give all of it back. The ROC did rescue it and deserves a portion. Politically, I believe in a separation of China and Taiwan. Culturally, however, things aren’t as simple. There’s no reason a culturally Chinese place can’t have items of Chinese culture. Those items were made by the ancestors of the people of Taiwan just as much as they were made by the ancestors of the people of the mainland. In this light, the Elgin Marbles analogy doesn’t work very well, I think.

The collection is massive, perhaps ten times as large as would fit in the current building. My best-case scenario: When China recognizes Taiwan’s statehood and learns to be a good neighbor (hey, I said this was a best-case scenario), Taiwan could return, say, 80 percent of the original collection, retaining many choice items. (Everything acquired since the war would of course remain here.)

As for museums of Taiwanese culture, more are needed. You can believe that this administration knows that, too.

Political aside: The head of the National Palace Museum has been a Cabinet-level official. But that’s going to change with the downsizing of the government that will probably happen next year. Will that shake things up? I don’t know. Will it make them get better carpet? I doubt it.

Me, I always like looking at the exhibits better


#12

Great replies I’m reading here. I’d like to reply to some of the remarks.

Zhukov–I think you bring up a very good point.
I think that in politics (and this issue would be VERY political), perception is the key. If Taiwan were to give back at least some of these artifacts, I would hope it would be done with a clear focus on how to spin the whole issue of Chinese/Taiwanese sovereignty.

As far as the idea of “What is Taiwanese”, my belief is that the people of this country have very little perception of their own history. Their entire education system is fixated on China’s history. How can you have a sense of being Taiwanese, when you have very little idea of what forces have shaped your country?

Of course, China’s history is undoubtedly a huge influential part of Taiwan’s past (as with all of Asia), but it ignores Taiwan’s local history as well as what the people of this island have experienced independently from China.

David K,

Great information. And ditto on the aspect that not only physical objects were preserved in Taiwan–that cultural traditions have thrived as well.

And you’re right about the US/England analogy. There are many parallels that aren’t appropriate. But the fact is that in both situations you have two countries with a shared culture and history, as well as many shared aspects of their identity (And if you look back in the history of England and “The Colonies” you’ll find that there is a great amount of conflict betwen these two countries on similar issues).

And you’re right about the idea that Taiwan can’t do this with the idea of casting off their Chinese culture. Perhaps I should have been clearer.

I disagree with the idea that giving back at least some of these artifact wouldn’t help change the world’s perception of Taiwan. Maybe I should have fleshed out this idea more. Let me try again:

(Using the Elgin Marbles parallel again) The idea is that these artifacts belong in the Parthenon. That is where they were for over 2000 years, and where they are meant to be. By putting them back into their original place, it would give the world a truer glimpse of what Greece was in it’s Glory.

What if Taiwan could take the world spotlight to give back some key artifacts to China that would restore a part of a Chinese landmark? This would be done as a grand gesture: pure largesse on the part of the people of Taiwan.

Business-wise? Yes, doing something like this isn’t very Chinese. But then again, Chinese culture has never been about spinning issues on a world stage. China has always been of an isolationist ideology, with the idea that “The rest of the world can do what the wnt. We’re Chinese. It’s not the same for us.” I think that the longer China follows this path as their place on the world stage grows, the more damage they’ll do themselves. And the quicker that Taiwan stops following this example quicker they’ll reap the benefits of international support.

I believe that for far too long Taiwan has been equated with the KMT–a mainland organization. The positions that Taiwan has taken have been formed by a group who comprise mainly of (or are inordinately influenced by) Chinese expatriates, who have always treated Taiwan as a temporary, second-best home. In their eyes, Taiwan is China.

I believe this is the reason that many Taiwanese have no appreciation for their own nationality. From what I’ve witnessed, there is very little long-term view of Taiwan as their permanent home. This makes me sad, because I honestly think there are too many Taiwanese who do not appreciate what a great thing they have here.

How’s that sound? If there are flaws in my facts or my logic, let 'er rip.

Please let me hear your ideas on this.


#13
quote:
Originally posted by britai: I believe this is the reason that many Taiwanese have no appreciation for their own nationality.
You've got that right. Taiwan is one of the few countries that has no national symbol untainted by politics. In America, Uncle Sam, the Bald Eagle, the Stars and Stripes, all of these are claimed equally by Republicans and Democrats. In Canada, the Maple Leaf is ubiquitous, and shared by everyone. What do Taiwanese have? Hello Kitty is Japanese, The star on policemen's and soldiers' uniforms is the KMT party star, and CKS Memorial Hall is a monument to a mainland dictator. The ROC [img]images/smiles/converted/Taiwan.gif[/img] flag is an import from China - at the time it was first unfurled, Taiwan wasn't even part of China, but a colony of Japan. What's left that is uniquely Taiwanese and unassociated with one political ideology or the other? The scooter? Whisby? The cockroach?

#14

On a similar topic. I once heard that the Kaoshiung City government was trying to borrow some of the National Palace Museum collection. I think that’s a great idea. Given that the Museum is only big enough to display a tenth of the collection at any one time, why not have a Southern National Palace Museum in Kaoshiung and a Central national Palace Museum in Taichung.


#15

Maybe this should be in ‘Culture and History’, but I think it would be evn better if we had a new forum for Chinese language.

Anyway,

quote[quote] Just an aside to this discussion, where does the word “Hoklo” come from? [/quote]

This is from http://www.hoklo.org/

"The term Hoklo does not seem to be of Chinese origin, and historically has no standard Chinese character representation. This name has been employed for centuries and centuries by the Hoklo people to refer to themselves.

There have been many other terms used to refer to this people and/or their language. For example: Hokkien, Fukien, Amoy, Minnan, Min, Fujianese, Taiwanese, etc. But these names are toponyms linked to specific geographic locations. Following the current academic trend of avoiding toponyms, the ancient, native ethnonym Hoklo has gained substantial momentum because of its political neutrality. Ethnonyms are preferable because a people’s culture is not solely dictated by their geographic location. After all, peoples do migrate. Migration is especially true for a sea-faring people like the Hoklo, who nowadays are scattered all over Southeast Asia, and quite frankly, all over the world. "

Bri


#16
quote:
Originally posted by Bu Lai En: On a similar topic. I once heard that the Kaoshiung City government was trying to borrow some of the National Palace Museum collection. I think that's a great idea. Given that the Museum is only big enough to display a tenth of the collection at any one time, why not have a Southern National Palace Museum in Kaoshiung and a Central national Palace Museum in Taichung.

People have been arguing about this for years. The head of the NPM would like to have branches in the south. But so far no luck.

www.taipeitimes.com/news/2001/03/21/print/0000078433


#17

Thanks for the link. “Haklo” is very strangely spelled if it is, as I would guess, “Ho-lo-wei” would be what they are referring to here. I guess more people in the south use that term rather than “Dai-gi”. Still, nobody says just “Holo” or “Haklo”. Is this right? I always thought “Holo” was the name of a place in Fujian.