Rival Museums Retrace Route of China’s Imperial Treasures

The New York Times reports on a joint project by the Palace Museum in Beijing and the National Palace Museum in Taipei to research the stashing and protection of cultural relics during the 1930s and 40s:

The original Palace Museum in Beijing was split in two — its staff as well as its collection — in 1949, when the Nationalist government fell to the Communists and retreated to the island of Taiwan with thousands of supporters and a huge cargo of museum pieces.

For decades there has been debate about ownership of the divided treasures. But in recent years the two museums have begun to collaborate on exhibitions in a stunning show of cross-Strait cooperation. On the scholars’ journey this summer, the talk was not of unification but of shared history and of a common desire to understand the remarkable events that both preserved the treasures and eventually led to their division.

“We had a rough idea of how things happened, but we didn’t know the details,” said Li Wenru, deputy director at the Palace Museum in Beijing. “But we knew it was a miracle that in wartime over a million treasures were moved 10,000 kilometers, on roads, in water, by air, and nothing was lost.”

The museum staff members who protected the artifacts on that 16-year odyssey, hiding them in bunkers, caves, temples, warehouses and even private homes, have all died. But some of their children were invited to participate in this year’s trip.