China’s competing legacies on show at National Palace Museums in Beijing and Taipei

Two faces press against a glass case, mobile phones raised. The object of their interest looks like a single succulent piece of braised pork purloined from the museum cafe downstairs. Closer inspection reveals it to be a delicately carved lump of stone. Nearby resides an almost perfect stalk of bok choy (complete with a pair of insect stowaways) made of jadeite.

These two objects are among the most sought-out artefacts on display at the National Palace Museum in Taipei. While perhaps not as valuable or artistically important as other pieces in the collection, each is a perfect blend of whimsy and craftsmanship. The “meat-shaped stone” and “jade cabbage” are just two of 1,700 pieces on display, each one selected for removal from mainland China as the government of Chiang Kai-shek relocated to Taiwan in 1949.

More than 1,800km away, at the other National Palace Museum, in Beijing, a mother vainly tries to make space for her young son in a heaving scrum outside the Palace of Supreme Harmony. Once the main ceremonial hall for the 24 emperors of the Ming and Qing dynasties, who ruled from the Forbidden City, today the hall is near empty.