Culture: A Matter of Style; the World's Premier Collection of Chinese Antiquities May Be Getting a Politically Motivated Makeover

Newsweek International, May 1, 2006 | Go to article overview

Culture: A Matter of Style; the World's Premier Collection of Chinese Antiquities May Be Getting a Politically Motivated Makeover


Byline: George Wehrfritz and Jonathan Adams

Clad in jeans and a black sweatshirt, Taiwanese singer Lim Giong croons his rendition of a golden oldie. Elvis? The Beatles? Try Sung Dynasty poet Huang Ting-chien, who composed his greatest hit way back in 1087--in script that now ranks among the best surviving calligraphy from imperial China. Seated at a mixing board, Lim performs the piece to a techno soundtrack as images of Huang's brushwork flash on TV monitors. "He sings the ancient poem in Taiwanese," says Lin Mun-lee, who commissioned Lim Giong's music video last year to promote Taiwan's National Palace Museum. "It sounds even more beautiful than in Mandarin."

Beauty, of course, is in the eyes and ears of the beholder. And not everyone is applauding Lin's campaign to repackage the world's premier collection of Chinese antiquities to a Taiwanese backbeat. Her ascension to the directorship of the Palace Museum in January marks a bold new direction that's likely to launch another culture clash on the island.

Lin, an art-education expert by training, styles herself as a visionary who aims to drag the Palace Museum collection into the 21st century. She's also a fellow traveler to embattled President Chen Shui-bian and his independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party--leading many in Taiwan's Kuo-mintang-dominated cultural establishment to view her as a partisan fighter bent on "de-Sinicizing" the island's heritage. "Some people compare [what the DPP is doing] to the Cultural Revolution in China," says one former museum staffer.

The museum houses thousands of antiquities acquired for the exclusive enjoyment of the imperial court--priceless bronzes, porcelains, calligraphy and painting dating back to the dawn of Chinese civilization more than 2,000 years ago. KMT leader Chiang Kai-shek brought the best pieces with him to Taiwan in 1949, and opened the National Palace Museum in 1965.

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Culture: A Matter of Style; the World's Premier Collection of Chinese Antiquities May Be Getting a Politically Motivated Makeover
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