CHINA claims Taiwan as its own and has long attempted to stop the hapless country from joining international organisations or maintaining official ties with all but a tiny handful of states. So Taiwan has to employ other means to raise its standing. With the recent opening in Chiayi county of a southern branch of the vast National Palace Museum, “museum diplomacy” is becoming a part of that—a way not just to boost tourism but to assert Taiwan’s sense of its own history as distinct from China’s.
The main National Palace Museum in Taipei, the capital, which over 5m people visit a year, is an astounding receptacle for artefacts from imperial China. They were originally from Beijing’s Forbidden City and were brought by Chiang Kai-shek to Taiwan before his Kuomintang forces fled China from the all-conquering Communists in 1949. To Chiang and his followers, the collections of ancient works, imperial regalia and international treaties were a source of Chinese legitimacy. But a democratic Taiwan has developed a sense of identity rooted in something broader than a confining Sinosphere.
The Chiayi extension is billed as a museum of Asian...