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July 23, 2017

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Tokyo museum owes Taiwan an apology

The upcoming exhibition in Japan of some of Taiwan's most treasured collections of antiques would have been a perfect example of cultural exchange if not for a row over the name of the Taipei-based museum that owns the items.

A press conference in Tokyo meant to unveil the freshly arrived items was canceled Friday following a protest by the National Palace Museum (NPM) because the word "national" was missing from its name in some of the organizer's materials advertising what many consider to be the most important Taiwanese exhibition ever in Japan.

The Taiwan government has issued an ultimatum demanding that the organizer correct the mistake by removing all posters without the full name by midnight tonight, threatening to cancel the exhibition if the demand is not met.

The importance of the exhibition is proved by the fact that it is the first time that two of the NMP's must-see items, the Jadeite Cabbage and the Meat-Shaped Stone, have left the museum since they were moved to Taiwan from China more than six decades ago. It's like the Louvre lending out the Mona Lisa.

We assume the exhibition at the Tokyo National Museum (TNM) must have been meticulously planned.

Some commentators in Taiwan have suggested that Japan's law preventing any ownership claims to exhibits on loan from other countries was made specifically to pave the way for the NPM event.

It should have been a "perfect" example of cultural exchange because all arrangements seemed to have been made to prevent politics from stealing the show – specifically the possibility of Beijing taking legal actions to reclaim the items.

So everything went well until reports emerged about the discrepancy in the NPM's name. Politics is back in the game.

Shakespeare's Juliet famously asks "What's in a name?" and concludes that a rose called by another name would still smell as sweet. She could be right if only we could ignore the role of language in the world.

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