Museum blamed for relic damage

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 02 August, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 02 August, 2011, 12:00am


Questions have arisen about the Palace Museum's managerial ability and integrity after a 1,000-year-old artefact was broken by a laboratory researcher.

The breakage of the porcelain plate dating back to the Song dynasty (960-1279) was due to an 'operational error', said a museum spokesman. The researcher had broken the plate while using a device to examine it last month.

The breakage was not reported until blogger Long Can, a former reporter from Chengdu, Sichuan, broke the news on Saturday on Weibo, a microblogging platform.

Long claimed that the museum managers tried to gag the people who knew about the damage. The museum confirmed the damage on Sunday but denied that it had tried to cover up the incident.

The grade-one cultural relic, named 'Celadon Plate with a Mouth in the Shape of Mallow Petals', was broken into six pieces on July 4, but the damage was not reported to the state cultural departments for at least 26 days.

Lou Wei, director of cultural relics at the museum, told Xinhua: 'The broken condition is quite complex, but there should be no problem restoring it. Some cultural museums and institutions, including the Palace Museum and the Shanghai Museum, have vast experience in repairing porcelain.'

Although Lou was confident the plate could be repaired, archaeologist Liu Qingzhu said it could not be restored to its original condition, and that its historical value had been permanently diminished.

'Even though testing the relics' components is necessary for research, extra care should be taken in the handling of national grade-one relics,' said Liu, a former director of the Institute of Archaeology at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

'Before museums carry out such tests, they should make sure they are 100 per cent safe,' Liu said.

The breakage, he said, 'suggests that their handling of cultural relics is inappropriate and should be improved'.

The Palace Museum recently came under the spotlight after a series of management scandals, notably one in which seven exhibits on loan from a Hong Kong museum were stolen in May. A few days later, a palace hall was found to have been turned into a private exclusive club for wealthy patrons. That sparked an online outcry against cultural resources being abused for commercial gain.

On the matter of the plate breakage, Chen Lihua, the museum's vice-president said it had been trying to run a scientific and accurate investigation into the incident before reporting the damage to the relevant cultural departments.

The damage was reported to the State Administration of Cultural Heritage, museum spokesman Feng Nai'en was quoted as saying yesterday by Beijing Evening News. No timetable was given for its restoration.

The Palace Museum did not respond to a request for an interview yesterday.

The plate was from the Ge kiln, famous for its cracking patterns and for being among the five most prominent kilns of the Song dynasty. Its porcelain is among the most coveted by collectors of Chinese ceramics around the world.