In 2009, China opened its first ever joint exhibition with Taiwan, 60 years after they split amid civil war. With improving relations between the two former rivals, Taiwan’s National Palace Museum displayed 37 loaned items from Beijing in a three-month exhibition. Taiwan only recently returned the favor last year by
loaning a 17th century portrait to the Hubai Provencial Museum in central China. The National Palace Museum, however, has still refused to loan items for fear the works might not be returned. Despite this, the joint exhibition marked a significant step in China’s cooperation to show their ancient, cultural treasures.
Since 2009 though, China has been anything but cooperative in promoting their art. In the past year, world-renowned Chinese artist Ai Weiwei has faced significant oppression by the government. He has been arrested, had his studio demolished, and was prevented from showing an exhibition in Beijing earlier this year. His oppression has caused uproar worldwide, especially among the international arts community.
One of the most notable U.S. protests occurred at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego (MCASD) in May. The protest involved a 24-hour sit-in in which volunteer community members, media, and museum staff, sat in two traditional Chinese chairs for one hour periods. The sit-in was a reference to Ai’s Marble Chair sculptural series.
The Chinese government has justified their actions by pointing to the scandalous nature of some of Ai’s work and to the outspoken comments he’s made. However, I would argue this is not nearly enough to justify such treatment. I fully believe in the right for an artist to express himself or herself aesthetically. And to me, the oppression of Ai Weiwei and other artists by the Chinese government is saddening. It seems as though they’ve taken twelve steps back since their promotion of art in 2009. And given the cruel nature of Ai’s treatment by the government (including being beaten so badly that he required surgery), I think some Chinese artists will hesitate to fully express themselves through art for fear of experiencing the same repercussions. Perhaps only time will tell how much the country’s art will be affected by the government’s increasing control of artistic expression.