Stick to martial arts, rather than works of art. That was the message for Jackie Chan from Taiwan’s National Palace Museum when it decided it no longer wanted 12 animal heads donated by the kung-fu movie veteran.
The sculptures are copies of 12 zodiac statues looted from Beijing’s Summer Palace by Anglo-French troops in 1860, an act viewed by many Chinese as symbolic of their nation’s suffering in the era of foreign imperialism (of the original 12 heads seven have been returned to China, but five are still missing).
The controversies surrounding the auction of the bronze artefacts (see WiC4) inspired Chan’s 101st movie Chinese Zodiac, or CZ12, in 2012 (which features a crew of mercenaries trying to recover the lost artefacts). Having reproduced a dozen sets of the sculptures for the film the Hollywood star decided to give away one to Taiwan’s most famous museum.
However, Chan’s replicas got a cool reception when they arrived last year – largely owing to the film star’s close ties with Beijing (he is a long-serving delegate of the CPPCC, the mainland’s political advisory body). Two of the replicas were even splashed with paint and daubed with the slogan “cultural united front” – a reference to mainland China’s bid to exert influence over the island by use of cultural means.
The vandalised heads were cleaned up and returned for display. But now the whole collection is being withdrawn after consulting the public, which expressed concerns over its political sensitivity.
Lin Jeng-yi, the new dean of the museum, also questioned the replicas’ artistic value. “Everyone from architects, domestic collectors, the art world and the media thinks they should be removed,” he told a legislative session in September.
The snub earned this response from Chan’s spokesperson: “If the National Palace Museum holds a different attitude about ‘respecting civilisation and protecting culture’, then we also respect that.”
One of the allegations from his critics is that he plays up his patriotic credentials for commercial effect, including a starring role in another film as a Han Dynasty general protecting the Silk Road from barbarians.
“I have always been a patriot. Is it wrong?” the 62 year-old told mainland’s state broadcaster CCTV last year. “If people are cursed for being patriots, please curse me.”
Others can’t forgive what they perceive as his pro-Beijing bias, including comments in 2009 that “we Chinese need to be controlled” and that he isn’t convinced “if it’s good to have freedom or not”.
“If you’re too free, you’re like the way Hong Kong is now. It’s very chaotic. Taiwan is also chaotic,” he added.
The backdrop to the row is new restrictions on mainland tourists visiting Taiwan – a tit-for-tat over the new president’s refusal to acknowledge the ‘one China policy’. Visitor numbers in August were just under 250,000, a drop of a third on last year (see WiC340).
It’s not clear where Chan’s sculptures will now go. If you fancy them, call Taipei’s Palace Museum and name a price…
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