Cover-up on broken artefact exposed
A laboratory researcher and his boss at the Palace Museum in Beijing were finally punished nearly a month after a precious 1,000-year-old artefact was broken - but only after a cover-up was exposed.
The museum said yesterday that the researcher who broke a grade-one cultural relic, named Celadon Plate with a Mouth in the Shape of Mallow Petals, into six pieces on July 4 received a serious demerit and his department head got a warning.
The public was kept in the dark about the incident until a former reporter exposed the scandal on the internet on Saturday.
The museum said an investigation suggested that the porcelain plate was broken into pieces due to an 'operational error' when the researcher mishandled a testing instrument. The plate dates back to the Song dynasty (960-1279).
'We were distressed about the breakage, which shows that the museum has not done enough in terms of relic management and usage,' the museum said, adding that its staff should have more sense of responsibility.
Although mainland internet users argued that the punishment was too lenient, deputy curator Chen Lihua told Xinhua that it was done according to the museum's internal relic management regulations, which she refused to make public.
Angry internet users said the damage of a national relic was a public issue and should not be handled under the museum's internal regulations.
'The museum didn't even announce the researcher's name in its investigation report,' one said.
Many also asked why the museum's testing instrument did not have a shock absorber to protect precious relics during tests.
State media reported that the testing instrument was used on at least 50 relics before the porcelain plate was broken. Use of all such instruments at the museum was suspended after the incident.
The breakage and the museum's attempt to cover up the incident by not reporting it to state cultural authorities for at least 26 days have sparked questions about the credibility of the museum and management.
The Ministry of Culture and State Administration of Cultural Heritage announced their investigation result on Tuesday.
In May, seven rare exhibits on loan from a Hong Kong museum were stolen in the Palace Museum by a jobless man and police were not able to retrieve some of the exhibits.
The number of artefacts at the Palace Museum. This includes 1.68 million items designated as protected 'valuable cultural relics'