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Divided ancient scroll a metaphor for China, Taiwan

March 29, 2010

scrollWhat to do with a giant 650-year-old landscape scroll literally divided between rivals China and Taiwan? That question is painting a knotty picture for the government-backed museums that hold pieces of the scroll. Taking advantage of a recent political detente between the two, museum officials in Taiwan and China suddenly want to link up the full Yuan Dynasty scroll “Dwelling in the Fu Chun Mountains”.

China, keen to impress Taiwan on its long march to unify with it politically, has said it would let the island’s National Palace Museum show a share of the scroll stored now at a provincial museum near Shanghai, but Taiwan has replied that it would not reciprocate unless China changed laws to ensure it would not seize the palace museum’s share on grounds of rightful ownership.

Taiwan’s Nationalists took more than 650,000 pieces of the best Chinese art to Taiwan when fleeing there from China in the 1940s after losing the Chinese civil war to Mao Zedong’s Communists, who say the 4,000 years worth of booty belongs to them. Taiwan’s public is keen to see the big picture but wary of a possible contradiction between China’s friendliness toward the island, as overall government-to-government ties warm, and China’s refusal to give up seizure rights.

Today’s Nationalist Party leadership in Taiwan wants the palace museum to help it rebuild economic ties with China, including with thousands of Chinese tourists who happen to like art. So it has said it was willing to show Beijing’s share of the scroll — and just hand it back.

(photo: courtesy of Mainland Affairs Council)

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