Palace Museum chief sorry for string of scandals

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 21 August, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 21 August, 2011, 12:00am


The director of the beleaguered Palace Museum in Beijing's Forbidden City has finally apologised for multiple incidents of mismanagement, some involving damage to priceless antiques.

Zheng Xinmiao admitted the problems posed an unprecedented crisis of credibility for the museum, which enjoys the highest honour as a guardian of China's ancient culture.

Zheng confirmed the incidents, many exposed by whistle-blowers, and pointed to a lack of transparency within the museum's administration, Xinhua reported yesterday.

He highlighted a number of serious incidents, including the theft of seven precious powder compacts and cases, on loan from a Hong Kong museum, and employees damaging at least three antiques.

'I would like to apologise to the public through the media for the recent incidents of theft and damage that are related to negligence in our museum,' Zheng said. 'Our poor management and our negligence of duty should be blamed.'

The museum has been the target of widespread criticism since May, with internet whistle-blowers exposing at least 10 scandals at the museum, accusing it of irregularities and mismanagement.

In a separate development, a wall of the imperial Mountain Resort in Chengde, near Beijing, collapsed after heavy rain on Wednesday, triggering questions about the use of maintenance funds, China National Radio reported yesterday. The 10-kilometre wall was built in the 18th century and is part of a Unesco-designated world heritage site. The central government allotted about 300 million yuan (HK$12.2 million) to repair the wall and the resort last year, the radio said.

Zheng said the public had lost faith in the Palace Museum because of its poor management, and it had also upset its own employees, some of whom had brought the scandals to light.

Among the scandals exposed by whistle-blowers was the cover-up of four major accidents involving damage to relics. Other revelations included accusations that the museum had been renting out one of the palace halls as a venue for exclusive events, and claims that it had paid hush money to cover up the embezzlement of ticket revenue in 2009.

Zheng pointed to the museum's lax supervision of its commercial partner, Forbidden City Palace Cultural Development Company.

He said the museum had offered cash rewards to people who could provide information leading to the arrest of employees embezzling ticket revenue. He said that in July 2009, an informer was given an 80,000 yuan reward, not 100,000 yuan as earlier reports had claimed.

Zheng vowed to promote among employees an awareness of the need to protect antiques; upgrade the museum's security system; and fully assess risks in its work. He also promised more transparency and regular engagement with the public. 'If we fail to fix our poor management, more problems will appear,' he told Xinhua.