Recently, Chinese calligrapher Yan Zhenqing’s “Draft of a Requiem to My Nephew,” or “Ji Zhi Wen Gao” in Chinese, a funeral ode written by master calligrapher Yan Zhenqing from the Tang Dynasty (618-907) to his nephew, became a trending topic on Weibo.
The reason was that the Taipei Palace Museum sent the important treasure to Japan for an exhibition that lasts 40 days, from January 16 to February 24.
The museum’s lending process has sparked outrage and raised questions. The question of how to protect national treasures on loan to overseas exhibitions is gaining traction on both sides of the Taiwan Strait.
What is this draft about?
The An Lushan Rebellion, which began at the end of 755 AD, began the decline of the prosperous Tang Dynasty.
The Yan family lost more than 30 members in the battle. Two years after the war, Yan Zhenqing finally discovered the skeleton of his nephew Yan Jiming. With intense grief and emotion, Yan Zhenqing completed the “Draft of a Requiem to My Nephew.” The text is full of corrections and messy drafts, with vigorous and varied brushwork, which shows its important historical, artistic and spiritual value.
Laws and regulations
According to Chapter 5, Article 65 of the “Cultural Heritage Preservation Act” of China’s Taiwan, antiquities are divided into national treasures, important antiquities and general antiquities according to their precious and rare values. The other 70 cultural relics, including the “Draft of a Requiem to My Nephew” in Taipei Palace Museum, are classified as “national treasures” by the regulation. It is even more important than “The Green Jade Cabbage.”
Given the vulnerability of paintings and calligraphy, such exhibits can only be exhibited for 42 days at a time and must rest for more than three years after the exhibition. The last time “Draft of a Requiem to My Nephew” was shown was 10 years ago at the “The Calligraphy Exhibition of Jin and Tang dynasties” at the Taipei Palace Museum.
According to the regulations, after the exhibition in Tokyo, the draft will disappear from public view for at least three years; the next exhibition will be around 2022 at the earliest.
Why is it stored in the Taipei Palace Museum?
According to the Yangtse Evening Post, the National Palace Museum in Beijing moved 13,427 boxes and 64 packages of cultural relics to the south in January 1933 to avoid being damaged by the war after the “918 Incident” broke out in 1931.
After winning the War of Resistance, the national treasure moved back to Nanjing City. But soon after, 2,972 boxes were shipped to Taipei after the civil war broke out, and “Draft of a Requiem to My Nephew” was among the batch.
What are scholars saying?
In addition to the historical significance of cultural relics, there is another important reason why many netizens are angry about the loan – cultural relics protection.
According to experts of cultural relics protection, high temperatures will cause the paper to shrink and crack when dry; low temperatures will cause the moisture in the paper to freeze. High humidity will allow mold or mildew to grow, while ultraviolet light will make the paper yellow and brittle.
Speaking to People’s Daily, Sun Peiyang, a cultural scholar, expressed worry that the weak paper artwork, which is more than 1,000 years, will be damaged in display overseas.
“Traditionally, paper works are believed to have a life of 1,000 years. So there is a risk that damage might be caused during its exhibition and transportation due to changes in the environment such as temperature,” said Sun.
Fan Bocheng, a researcher from Si-Mian Institute for Advanced Study in Humanities of ECNU, also pointed out that every country or region has some cultural relics that are not allowed to leave the country for exhibition or specific exhibition specifications. The Chinese mainland’s list of cultural relics forbidden to go abroad consists of mainly paper products.
Before the exhibition, Taipei Palace Museum issued a statement saying the entire loaning process was legal.
However, Guangming Online commented that a cultural relic as crucial to the Tang dynasty as the draft should not be loaned overseas. Its aesthetic value and varied calligraphy styles reflect the era’s politics and characteristics from different aspects, making it irreplaceable.
According to a report by the Global Times, the Tokyo National Museum said visitors could take photos of the calligraphy works without using flash but later changed the statement in another interview, saying photography would be banned to protect the cultural relic.