I’ve visited the National Palace Museum in Taipei almost as many times as I’ve been to the city, but last month’s trip wasn’t the most pleasant experience.
Crowded and noisy, the museum was packed with hordes of tourists led by strident guides whose raised pennants resembled war flags on a battlefield. After 10 minutes, I was ready to leave.
My previous visits, when there were fewer people there, were so much more enjoyable and edifying. I could read the captions of the exhibits in peace. Still, this time I did manage to see a few priceless artefacts, such as the calligraphy of artist, scholar-official and poet Huang Tingjian (1045-1105) and the Northern Song dynasty’s Emperor Huizong (1082-1135).
We should be grateful to the Nationalist forces for transporting countless treasures from mainland China to Taiwan towards the end of the civil war, and to the subsequent governments in Taiwan for protecting them. One shudders to think what the Red Guards would have done to them.
The deliberate destruction of cultural artefacts during the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) has few parallels in history. Perhaps warlord Xiang Yu’s burning of the imperial palace when he entered the Qin dynasty capital of Xianyang in 206BC came close. The conflagration supposedly lasted three months, destroying forever a massive library of ancient texts that had been confiscated by the Qin government.