TAIPEI, AFP

Taiwan’s National Palace Museum (NPM), renowned for its collection of ancient Chinese treasures, on Wednesday confirmed reports that its most popular artifact had been damaged — but no one knows when.

A museum spokesperson said one antenna of the two grasshoppers on a jade cabbage, which was selected the most popular item in the museum in a 2002 vote, was snapped off in a long-forgotten mishap.

“The damage has been there for a long while,” Liu Yu-fen told AFP.

“It can be seen in a 1966 photograph … the damage might have happened when it was transported from the mainland to Taiwan (in the late 40s) or even date back to the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911),” Liu said.

She denied press reports that the damage was inflicted during a rare exhibition in the island’s Kaohsiung city three years.

Liu insisted that “the value of the jade cabbage will by no means be undermined by the flaw.”

However, the news shocked the Taiwanese people, many of whom compare it to the Mona Lisa in Paris.

The cabbage, which symbolises purity and prosperity, was first found in the chamber of a concubine of Qing Dynasty Emperor Guang Xu (1871-1908) and is believed to have been part of her dowry. It is carved from a single piece of jade that is half grey and half emerald green.

The item is among the museum’s collection of more than 655,000 Chinese artifacts spanning 7,000 years from the prehistoric Neolithic period to the last imperial Qing dynasty.

The National Palace Museum was founded in Beijing in 1925 and its treasures were moved around the mainland during the Second World War and the civil war with then ruling Kuomintang (Nationalist Party) government.

The collection was shipped to Taiwan in 1948-1949, shortly before the Nationalist troops fled to the island after losing the civil war to Chinese communist forces.

The museum, re located in Taipei’s suburbs in 1965, draws more than 1.5 million tourists a year.