May 23, 2021, 12:00:00 AM
Go East, Young Woman!
Two Decades of the National Palace Museum – Wellesley Connection, 1968-1989
Presenter / Panelists
Panelists: Mary Jane Clark, art appraiser and principal for Art Care & Appraisals LLC, and former museum management professional; Katharine Burnett, Professor of Chinese Art History, University of California Davis and Founding Director, Global Tea Initiative for the Study of Tea Culture and Science; Kristen Day, International Business Ethics Consultant and former Co-Chair for the Columbia University Seminar on China International Business; Rachel Wang, former Asia Director of the Elisabeth Luce Moore '24 Wellesley-Yenching Internship Program and former Managing Director-Asia, Acoustiguide Corporation
Please join us as four Wellesley Alumnae reflect on what motivated them to study Chinese, Mrs. Lin’s role in that endeavor, their decision to travel to Taiwan and work at the National Palace Museum (NPM) after graduating from college, and where their lives took them afterwards.
Panelist MJ Clark was the first Wellesley graduate to work at the NPM, a position arranged personally with the museum’s director. How the position evolved into the Wellesley Yenching Fellowship remains somewhat a mystery.
Founded in 1925, the NPM is one of the largest museums of its kind, with almost 700,000 artifacts and pieces of art that cover an 8000 year span – a collection with holdings from the Song, Yuan, Ming, and Qing imperial courts. Recognized today as one of the world’s major museums, the NPM has reflected the vicissitudes of China in the 20th century.
In the 1930’s, as Japanese troops advanced across North China, the Chinese made preparations to relocate the museum’s most precious pieces, so they would not be destroyed or seized by the Japanese. In 1933, the National Beijing Palace Museum objects, along with objects from the Summer Palace and the Imperial Hanlin Academy, were placed in thousands of crates and relocated to Shanghai. In 1936, the collection was moved to Nanjing. As the war with the Japanese grew more fierce, the collection was moved to a more remote area, and eventually returned to Nanjing in 1947.
When the conflict between the Chinese Communists and Nationalists intensified in 1948, the National Beijing Palace Museum and five other institutions agreed to transport what were considered the most valued objects to Taiwan. Only 22% of the original collection in Nanjing made it to Taiwan.
The NPM was used in the 1960’s and 1970’s by the Kuomintang to bolster its claim that the Republic of China on Taiwan was the true government of China, pointing to its possession and preservation of traditional Chinese culture. This message was used especially during times of upheaval on the Chinese mainland, particularly during the Cultural Revolution. The People’s Republic of China (PRC), on the other hand, viewed the collection as stolen and asserted its legitimate claim to the collection. Since the 2000’s, as relations between Taiwan and the PRC have warmed, the Palace Museum in Beijing and the NPM in Taiwan have lent relics to each other and tried to promote a more inclusive view of China’s cultural heritage.
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