Saturday, February 12, 2011

Penn Museum Kowtows to Chinese to Regain Exhibit

The Silk Road Mummies Exhibit is now on again at the University of Pennsylvania Museum, though for a limited time. See

The New York Times blamed the mess on a bureaucratic snafu between Chinese national and regional authorities, but a Chinese Embassy spokesman blamed the fiasco on the Museum:

In an interview, Mr. Wang said that the regulations governing the display of antiquities in China are very strict, and artifacts are not supposed to be on display overseas for more than a year. (The exhibition opened at the Bowers Museum last March.)

“The exhibition was originally approved to be on display for only two stops, one in California, the other in Houston,” Mr. Wang said.

However, after repeated requests from the University of Pennsylvania, Beijing had decided to grant it special approval. What was important, he said, was that Americans understand they have to follow China’s rules.

“We just want the American public to know we have the relevant laws and the regulations, he said. “You’ve got to follow the laws,” he added.

A museum spokeswoman, Pam Kosty, declined to comment on the nature of the original mixup with the Chinese government, but said, “We’re very grateful for the Chinese Embassy — a lot of Chinese officials really worked with us to make this happen.”

Indeed! As mentioned in a prior post, China is supposed to provide long-term loans as part of its MOU with the United States. See However, China will not do so and apparently even has a law that forbids it.

Rather than hold the Chinese to their obligations, our State Department Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs is silent. Meanwhile, University of Pennsylvania Museum archaeologists can do little more than kowtow to Chinese authority to save their precious show. Of course, archaeologists who supported the China MOU pitched an entirely different vision of cultural cooperation at the time, but kowtowing to the Chinese has in fact become the sad reality.

Addendum: The Philadelphia Inquirer has more about what led to this snafu. It does appear that the US Ambassador to China helped resolve the matter. See

No comments: