On January 17, Weibo user @LuxiaobaoLL posted four photographs of two women and a Mercedes-Benz SUV parked in front of the Gate of Supreme Harmony inside the Forbidden City, with the caption: “Hurried over [as it was] closed on Monday, [we were able to] avoid the crowd and play freely at the palace.”
The photos went viral and prompted outrage almost as soon as they were posted. On a following post, @LuxiaobaoLL initially defended the photographs, saying they had been invited for an event at the palace and allowed to drive the off-road vehicle through the Western Flower Gate, according to China Daily. The original and follow-up posts have since been deleted from Weibo.
Image via China Daily
A statement from the Palace Museum’s official Weibo account confirmed that the incident indeed happened on Monday and that “the Palace Museum was deeply distressed and sincerely apologizes to the public,” while promising, “In the future, we will manage strictly and make sure such incidents will never happen again.”
Angry netizens questioned how the women gained special access and what route the vehicle took. It wasn’t until the morning of January 21 that Wang Xudong, museum director, published an apology on the museum’s official Weibo account, as reported by China Daily. Wang confirmed that an event took place at the museum, but the car of the woman was not in the appropriate parking area.
Netizens have also expressed disappointment at management for failing to protect the 600-year-old site and concerns over the old tiles’ conditions on the palace grounds, mentioning that even the museum’s workers avoid walking on them to prevent more damage.
The Forbidden City is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most heavily-guarded areas in China. The premises is typically closed on Mondays to allow for maintenance and renovation work, and motor vehicles have been banned from the complex since 2013 to protect the cultural dignity of the vast site and its hundreds of historic buildings.
Apart from then 81-year-old Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who took a borrowed electric sightseeing car through the site in October 2013, no foreign state guests or foreign heads of state have entered the Forbidden City by car since the ban was implemented, according to CGTN.
People’s Daily published a commentary on the incident the day after the original post was uploaded, saying that a national relic had been violated. “Under the rules, everyone is equal,” the newspaper stated. “No one has the privilege to run wild.”
[Cover image via Unsplash]