Taiwan museum removes defaced statues given by Jackie Chan amid strained China ties

Actor Jackie Chan poses with his Honorary Award at the 8th Annual Governors Awards in Los Angeles, California on Nov 12, 2016.
Actor Jackie Chan poses with his Honorary Award at the 8th Annual Governors Awards in Los Angeles, California on Nov 12, 2016. PHOTO: REUTERS

TAIPEI (AFP) - Statues donated by pro-Beijing actor Jackie Chan to a top Taiwanese museum and later defaced by anti-China protesters have been removed from display, officials said Monday, in a further sign of ties between the neighbours deteriorating.

Workers began to move the set of 12 zodiac animal sculptures from the garden of the National Palace Museum's southern branch in the presence of several lawmakers from the ruling Beijing-sceptic Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), who had backed their removal.

The sculptures are copies of high-profile historic artefacts from China's Qing Dynasty and are seen on the mainland as emblematic of the country's suffering under foreign invaders.

The originals of the statues were looted from Beijing's Summer Palace in 1860 by British and French troops.

Hong Kong action star Chan, an honorary Oscar recipient, is a member of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, a key political advisory body, and has drawn criticism in Taiwan for his pro-Beijing remarks.

Beijing still sees self-ruling Taiwan as part of its territory to be reunified, by force if necessary, and many on the island are fiercely opposed to any sign of increasing Chinese influence.

"Jackie Chan himself signifies unification propaganda and we do not wish to see such politically charged (statues) in the southern branch (of the museum)," said DPP lawmaker Tsai Yi-yu.

Two of the bronze statues were defaced with red paint and daubed with anti-China slogans last December, days after the museum opened in Chiayi county.

The attack came ahead of presidential elections in January, which saw Tsai Ing-wen of the DPP sweep to power, ending eight years of rapprochement with China under the Kuomintang (KMT) government.

Relations with China have deteriorated since Tsai's election, and Beijing suspended official contacts with Taipei after her government took office in May.

Wang Shih-sheng, head of the museum's Chiayi county branch, said the statues were removed in favour of "displaying more original artworks".

She said the statues would be kept in storage until the museum has decided what to do with them.

Reactions were mixed on social media, with some accusing the museum of succumbing to political ideology and others urging the return of all the museum's artworks to China.

"We should get rid of another unification propoganda symbol - the giant pandas gifted by China," read one post on the Facebook page of the Liberty Times.

The main branch of the museum in the capital Taipei boasts more than 655,000 Chinese artefacts.

They were transported to Taiwan after nationalist KMT troops were defeated by the communists in the Chinese civil war and fled to the island in 1949 to set up a separate government.