The Double Standard: China’s Promotion & Oppression of their Art

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

Geographic locations of Taiwan and China

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.

Anna O’Cain (Art instructor at Miracosta College) & Richard Keely (community member) on why they participated in the sit-in. O'Cain: "I believe in freedom of thought & spirit. Art empowers us to think, so we should let it be free." Keely: "For Ai Weiwei, of course, & for human rights & freedom of expression. And, because I am in the privileged position to be able to sit for one hour to contemplate my own freedom."

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.

Chinese artist Ai Weiwei

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One Response to The Double Standard: China’s Promotion & Oppression of their Art

  1. hliao says:

    I found this blog very interesting because it reflects the relationship between artists in China and the Chinese government. Actually, in my opinion, the promotion and oppression processes in China are not very different from time to time, rather, they are deep in the history of China. Many ancient Chinese artists in the history were oppressed by the officials when their arts had negative effects on the impression of the government or politics in China. The same for Ai Weiwei. I think this might be the definite thing that might happen in a developing Communism country where the politics is under a major party’s control. To ensure its authority, the official has to eliminate some political freedom among people and thus cause the oppression. It sure is a great loss for the art development in China, but I am sure that Chinese people are making efforts to change the status quo of their government and will be much more democratic in the future time.

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