Sunday, January 20, 2019


A decision by Taiwan's National Palace Museum to lend a rare calligraphy to Japan's Tokyo National Museum has sparked outrage across China. On paper it seemed like a straightforward cultural exchange, so why has this prized masterpiece created 1,200 years ago caused so much anger today?

The calligraphy, titled Requiem to My Nephew, was painted by Yan Zhenqing - considered to be one of the greatest calligraphers in China. He lived between 709 to 785 AD. Yan Zhenqing wrote the piece in 759 AD, after he found that his nephew had died. "He's a household name in China," Fine Arts professor Tong Kam Tang of the Chinese University of Hong Kong told the BBC. Mr Tong said the piece of work was a draft by Yan Zhenqing, and so carried markings and scribbles written by the author, making it even more prized. The final piece has long been lost.

The artwork was preserved in China for centuries until it was taken to Taiwan in the 1940s - along with other Chinese antiquities - when Chinese nationalists defeated by communist forces fled to the island. It's been since kept securely in Taiwan's National Palace Museum - this is only the second time the work has been loaned overseas.
It was lent in 1997 to the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC, but has remained in Taiwan ever since.
The work is now being displayed in Tokyo as part of an exhibition titled "Unrivalled Calligraphy: Yan Zhengqing and His Legacy".

News of the loan shocked many users on Chinese social media site Weibo, many of whom reacted with anger. As of Tuesday, the hashtag "Requiem to My Nephew" has been read more than 260 million times on Weibo. Many people mentioned Japan and China's wartime history and the Japanese occupation, which remain raw subjects in China.

Chinese state media outlet the Global Times did not directly address any political concerns, but instead spoke to an expert who said that the relic was "in jeopardy while being transported", saying that sunlight would harm the ancient paper. According to the Global Times, Chinese law also does not allow "valuable cultural relics, especially paintings and calligraphy" to leave the country.


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