Museum Diplomacy for Taiwan and Mainland China

Tourists walk in front of the National Palace Museum in Taipei on January 6, 2009. The museum and its counterpart in Beijing plan to hold a joint exhibition of artifacts and arrange exchange of visits by their officials, in yet another sign of fast improving ties between Taiwan and rival China (SAM YEH/AFP/Getty Images).

Last week, Taiwan and China's trade agreement was making the news. Now it looks like museums are getting in on the diplomacy. As reported in The New York Times, rival museums, the Palace Museum of Beijing and the National Palace Museum in Taiwan are cooperating on a project to retrace the route of China's imperial treasures. This project is especially remarkable because in the past, both museums have fought over the rightful ownership of these artifacts.

After Japan invaded north China in the early 1930s, the government sent the Palace Museum's artifacts to Nanjing. Days before the Japanese destroyed Nanjing in 1937, the valuable objects were moved along three separate routes, further dividing the collection throughout China. After the Japanese surrendered, the collections returned to Nanjing, but their journey wasn't over yet.  In 1949, when the Communists came to power, Chiang Kai-shek split the collection in half, sending the most valuable pieces to Taiwan.

Since then, there has been some bitter debate as to which museum should house the treasures. It's no wonder that this exceptional collection would spark controversy-there are more than a million centuries-old artifacts from the Forbidden City in Beijing including jade, porcelain, calligraphy, and paintings. Furthermore, the treasure's symbolic value is huge.

Still, it seems as if the two museums have put their rivalry aside for now. Both sides are more interested in exploring their shared history by way of tracing the amazing journeys these artifacts have taken over the last century. And this collection certainly has a story to tell-hidden in caves, mountainsides and warehouses for decades-it is amazing that they survived.

Even so, Taiwan has no plans to merge any part of its collection with Beijing, as they have no reason to believe that the government would return the artifacts. Looks like it's going to be baby steps for these museum rivals, but at least they're headed in the right direction.