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Unpleasant nights at the museum (2)

(Beijing Review)

14:07, September 21, 2011

CROWDED ENTRANCE: Visitors wait in long lines in front of the National Museum of China on March 27 (WANG ZHEN)

Many people suggested that those who are responsible for damaging these historical artifacts should be severely punished.

In the interview with Xinhua News Agency on August 20, Zheng admitted a 1,000-year-old porcelain masterpiece was broken by a researcher during tests in July, and he apologized for not informing the public earlier.

He admitted that July's accident was the third caused by careless staff members over the past two years. Two ritual implements suffered damage in May 2004, and a flower receptacle was damaged in 2009.

He also said the museum had been offering monetary rewards for those who come forward with information that leads to the arrest of employees found cheating the museum out of ticket revenue.

Zheng pledged to upgrade the museum's security system, and to enhance the level of care given to artifacts. He also promised more transparency and engagement with the public.

Concerns

Despite the recent scandals and growing public discontent, the Palace Museum is in fact in the throes of its largest ever renovation, which began in 2002. The total investment in the refurbishment will be 1.7 billion yuan ($266 million) and the project is expected to be completed by 2020.

According to the State Administration of Cultural Heritage, once refurbished the appearance of the Palace Museum will match the original appearance of the palace's halls and buildings. Visitors will not only be able to admire the magnificent architecture and gorgeous imperial collection, they will also be able to see how the government of ancient dynasties operated, and what life was like inside and outside the court. Officials said the Palace Museum would no longer be simply a repository of relics, but an organic cultural entity.

A veteran Palace Museum expert who asked to remain anonymous failed to echo the officials' enthusiasm. "The original structure of the imperial palace should be preserved in its entirety, such an enormous refurbishment project would be bound to cause damage. The construction will inevitably cause overall structural alterations."

Possible changes to the imperial complex's structures are not the only concerns related to the refurbishment. A blogger called Wuzini questioned if the 1.7 billion yuan would go to the right place. "Do they have a monitoring system to take care of this huge amount of money?" he said in a post.

Wuzini has grounds for concern. On August 17, a wall of the imperial Mountain Resort of the Qing Dynasty in Chengde, in Hebei Province, near Beijing, collapsed after heavy rain, raising questions about the use of maintenance funds. The 10-km wall was built in the 18th century and is part of a UNESCO-designated world heritage site. The Central Government allocated about 300 million yuan ($47 million) to repair the wall and the resort in 2010, but the wall simply slid off following heavy showers just a year later.

"Many major museums have become microcosms of inefficiency in China. If change can't be brought about internally, it will be necessary to bring to bear some outside pressure for reform," said Zhang Xiaoming, Deputy Director of the Cultural Research Center of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

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