Art delegation article captures China in a nutshell

“Chinese Team Searches Museums for Art Treasures” illustrates several important realities about China:

  1. The dangerous mix of pride/arrogance and shame/humiliation many Chinese feel regarding their country and its relations with Western nations: “Emboldened by newfound wealth, China has been on a noisy campaign to reclaim relics that disappeared during its so-called century of humiliation, the period between 1842 and 1945 when foreign powers subjugated China through military incursions and onerous treaties.”

  2. The unpredictability of China’s governmental policies, esp. policies grounded in domestic politics that irk foreign nations in ways the Chinese either don’t grasp or don’t care sufficiently about: ““China is like an adolescent who took too many steroids,” said Liu Kang, a professor of Chinese studies at Duke University. “It has suddenly become big, but it finds it hard to coordinate and control its body. To the West, it can look like a monster.””

  3. The frequency with which the Communist Party — and the media it dominates — blows hot air on smoldering nationalism to stoke pro-Party feelings: “Recounted in Chinese textbooks and in countless television dramas, the destruction of the Old Summer Palace… remains a crucial event epitomizing China’s fall from greatness… The Communist Party has long used the narrative of foreign subjugation as a binding force… But arousing nationalist sentiment, Chinese officials have learned, is a double-edged sword. In 2005, officials allowed public ire against Japan, over territorial disputes and textbooks that glossed over Japanese wartime atrocities, to boil over into violent street protests. After some of the anti-Japanese slogans began morphing into demands for action by Chinese leaders, the authorities clamped down.”

  4. The Chinese can be quite ill-informed about other nations: “One stop [on the "treasure hunting team” tour], the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, Mo., was scrapped after the group realized the museum was in the Midwest, not in the Northeast."

  5. The Chinese can politicize and scapegoat as well as Fox News: “Although the Chinese public broadly supports recovering such items, a few critics have suggested that the campaign merely distracts from the continued destruction of historic buildings and archaeological sites across the country. A government survey released this month found that 23,600 registered relics had disappeared in recent years because of theft or illicit sales, while tens of thousands of culturally significant sites had been plowed under for development. What’s more, said Wu Zuolai, a professor at the China Academy of Art, the obsession with Yuanmingyuan ignores the plunder of older sites that are more artistically significant. “Chinese history did not start with the Qing Dynasty,” he said. “This treasure hunting trip is just a political show. The media portray it as patriotic, but it’s just spreading hate.””

  6. Though the West talks about China as if it will become a superpower tomorrow, China has MANY serious problems: “Mr. Liu, the researcher who was part of the delegation… complain[ed] that politics had upstaged scholarship. Even if he stumbled upon a palace relic, he said, he would be reluctant to take it back to an institution whose unheated exhibition space resembled little more than a military barracks. “To be honest, if you leave a thermos in our office, it gets broken,” he said. “Maybe it’s better these things stay where they are.””

Posted by James on Thursday, December 17, 2009