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  Literature and Artistic Development

The Modern History of the Display of Culture Relics by the National Palace Museum (Hui-Liang Chu)


        China has a long historical tradition in the collection, preservation, and research of Chinese cultural relics. However, the public display of cultural relics did not occur until western churches built museums in coastal cities after the Opium Wars. The first museum built by a Chinese person was the Nantung Museum established by Chang Jian, an entrepreneur.

        The hundred-year history of the public display of the cultural relics in the Republic of China (“ROC” afterwards) shall be traced forward from the establishment of the Cultural Relics Exhibition Hall in 1915, followed by the establishment of the Peking Palace Museum in 1925 (the name was changed to the National Palace Museum after relocation to Taiwan.) Since its outset, the history of the National Palace Museum has been closely associated with the fate of the ROC. Passing through the period of warlord government, the period of the Nanjing government, and into the democratic period in Taiwan, the museum has always had the full support of the government and provides the best illustration for the development of the exhibition of cultural relics in the ROC.

        In this article, the history and development of the National Palace Museum is observed chronologically in the following phases:

1.    The Cultural Relics Exhibition Hall, the predecessor of the National Palace Museum, and its exhibitions: The Cultural Relics Exhibition Hall was established in 1915. It was the first museum devoted to the collection and preservation of imperial artworks and located in an imperial palace. In addition to the presentation of exhibitions, it also published directories of its collections and was commissioned to do research. The Exhibition Hall was merged into the National Palace Museum after the Second World War in 1948.

2.    Peking Palace Museum, the first national museum in China and its exhibitions:  The Peking Palace Museum was announced open in 1925. The Museum had a difficult time to stay open in the first few years, and it was not until the ROC government took over the Museum in 1928, that the management and operation finally came together step by step.

3.    Promoting culture and arts amidst constant warfare, the period of moving southward: Starting from the 918 Incident (also known as the Manchurian Incident) in 1931, in order to stay away from possible damage due to warfare, the collections were removed from Peking (Beijing today) and relocated to Nanjing, and then Chungching. Despite the warfare, the Museum managed to organize the first exhibitions outside of Peking and overseas.

4.    Relocation to Taiwan, and the exhibitions during the period: In the fall of 1948, the Kuomintang government reached a decision to move selected collections to Taiwan. After arriving in Taiwan, they were stored in Wufeng in Taichung in the beginning and then moved to Waishuanghsi in 1965. The first public display in Taiwan was held in the Peikou Exhibit Room in Wufeng, Taichung in1957.

5.    The restoration in Taiwan and the exhibitions during this time: About ten years after the relocation, the Peking Palace Museum was merged with the National Central Museum and named the National Palace Museum. During this time, substantial development and growth were achieved in cataloging, preservation techniques, promotion, and number of publications, etc. Along with the expansion of the exhibition space, the National Palace Museum was on the road to becoming one of the top five museums in the world.

6.    The period of world’s top five museums: Many breakthroughs were achieved under the leadership of Chin Hsiao-yi, and a thorough  systematization was finally completed as more non-imperial objects were added to the collection. Furthermore, the Palace Museum was known to the world after it hosted a international conference for the 60th anniversary in 1984. The museum was eventually ranked as among the top five best museums in the world.

        At the arrival of the 21st century, the collaboration between technology and arts and culture became the mainstream. For the National Palace Museum, transforming into a “younger, digital and more responsive to daily life” museum was the new mission and goal. As part of the national digitalization project, the National Palace Museum launched its digitalization in 2001, including the development of “digital collections,” the “digital museum,” and “digital learning.” With the assistance of the internet and creative industries, the Museum started to attract a younger generation, connecting them with the ancient culture and traditions. In addition to digitalization, also worthy of discussion in the 21st century is the frequent and in-depth exchanges between Taiwan and China.


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