By creating a new southern branch of the National Palace museum, the government would correct cultural policies that privileged the more developed, metropolitan North, where Taipei is located, over the more rural, agricultural South. With the opening of its Southern Branch in early 2016, a poor Jiayi farmer can access Taiwan’s cultural resources as easily as a wealthy Taipei banker.
To that end, museum officials transferred some of the institution’s most popular attractions to the Southern Branch and offered free admission to residents of three southern counties for the first three months after its opening. Curators ensured that prized antiquities—such as the crowd-pleasing Jadeite Cabbage, a piece of jade carved into the form of the green vegetable—would make their rounds at the Southern Branch and attract local visitors. The inclusion of a permanent exhibition about tea culture across Asia offered an additional point of entry to residents of these counties, where tea cultivation is a major sector of the local economy.
While the National Palace Museum’s two branches share many works, each has a slightly different angle on Chinese cultural heritage. Unlike the older National Palace Museum, Taipei, which showcases objects from the imperial collections of past Chinese dynasties, the Southern Branch is forward-looking, laying the groundwork for a narrative of pan-Asian identity. Driving this shift is Taiwan’s underlying geopolitical strategy to decrease its dependence on Mainland China and increase its ties with the rest of Asia.
Thus the inaugural exhibitions at the Southern Branch showcased blue-and-white porcelain objects featuring Islamic calligraphy—presented as gifts between Chinese and Persian ruling families—and Japanese and Korean ceramics, which underscore techniques shared by Chinese artisans. Permanent exhibitions on Asian textiles and Buddhist art further highlight the history of positive cultural exchange across Asia.