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The director of the Palace Museum in Beijing, also known as the Forbidden City, apologized on Tuesday for a controversial incident brought to light through a post on Sina Weibo on Friday.|
The post featured a woman with the user name Lu Xiaobao, who showed off her luxury car by parking it inside the Forbidden City on Jan 13, which was a Monday, drawing a lot of flak from netizens. The compound is closed for public on Mondays.
The public reaction was furious as they feared damage to cultural relics at the 600-year-old Forbidden City, which was China's imperial palace from 1420 to 1911.
They pointed out that in recent years, some foreign state leaders' motorcades were asked to stop outside the Meridian Gate, the front door of the Forbidden City, when they visited the site on open days.
With the latest incident drawing wide attention, Wang Xudong, director of the museum, issued the apology through the museum's official account on Sina Weibo on Tuesday midnight.
Reacting to the outcry, he said it reflects people's concern for cultural heritage. "I sincerely apologize again to the public."
The director said there was an event at the museum that was approved by museum authorities and attended by some 200 people on Jan 13.
He, however, admitted the woman's car was parked on the southern part of the square between the Gate of Supreme Harmony (Taihemen) and the Meridian Gate, and not near the museum's western gate, where it entered.
Taihemen leads to the Hall of Supreme Harmony, which is the largest and grandest hall in the Forbidden City known for its architectural splendor.
Responding to netizens' queries on whether the cultural relics were damaged when the vehicle drove through, Wang said the ground it drove on was made from "modern materials". The area was sometimes used as a "temporary driving passageway" when the museum was closed for public.
A Palace Museum deputy director who is in charge of security, and a supervisor in the museum's security department have been suspended in connection with the incident.
Wang said the supervisors had temporarily changed the parking location when guiding the vehicle on Jan 13, without following the approved plan.
The checking of vehicles entering the compound and the parking measures will be enhanced, he said.
"This will be a lesson for us", he said. "We'll make sure no harm is caused to the cultural relics, and we will do our best to safeguard the Forbidden City."
The apology attracted over 2 million likes on Sina Weibo by Tuesday night.
Over the last weekend, China's social networks were dominated by discussions over the incident.
Six hours after the woman's post appeared on Sina Weibo, the administrative office of the Palace Museum issued a short statement through official account of the Palace Museum, confirming the car entered the museum on the day, and apologized for the oversight.
The statement, which gave no details, did not clarify people's doubts. Some netizens who rummaged through the previous posts of the woman, who was a stewardess earlier, found she had been flaunting her extravagant lifestyle.
What angered them were her flippant comments on the Forbidden City, which houses more than 1.86 million relics, and is regarded as a holy place.
According to many netizens, her post, in which she said, "Playing around in the Palace on a closure day to avoid the flow of people", deeply hurt them.
Her explanation later, in which she said "it's not a big deal" and "some connections" helped her to park her vehicle there, infuriated them further.
She has now deleted all her posts on Sina Weibo.
Shan Jixiang, former director of the Palace Museum who retired last year, had proposed the moving of all parking lots out of the museum compound when he was in office. However, no specific measures have been taken yet in this direction.
After all, parking spaces in the heart of Beijing are very limited.