China demands shut down of Rome art exhibit curated by Vatican’s schools

ROME — An art exhibition featuring Chinese cultural artifacts — produced with the help of Italian academic institutions, including one of the Vatican’s schools — has caused an uproar in Beijing, where the Chinese…

China demands shut down of Rome art exhibit curated by Vatican’s schools

ROME — An art exhibition featuring Chinese cultural artifacts — produced with the help of Italian academic institutions, including one of the Vatican’s schools — has caused an uproar in Beijing, where the Chinese government has demanded it be shut down.

The exhibition, which opened on Saturday in downtown Rome, is among the first of its kind in Europe, featuring art that has been in the collections of Italian universities for decades and displayed in public, private and museum collections in Italy and around the world. But for the next two months, the artwork will be on display in Piazza Cordullo, on the pedestrian plaza in front of the central Piazza Navona.

The exhibition was organized by the Education and Research Center for Chinese Culture in Lazio, a section of the Italian government responsible for the dissemination of China’s culture. The organization has been running the exhibition since April.

The photos, sculptures and installations came from six central Chinese universities, along with the City of Beijing and the Beijing University of Fine Arts. The contents were assembled from institutions including Rome’s Academy of Social Sciences and the Academy of Art, as well as in public collections, including the Rieti Museum of Cultural History and the Uffizi Gallery.

The Central Commission for Discipline Inspection of the Chinese Communist Party, the country’s internal watchdog body, issued a statement criticizing the artwork as a “piece of propaganda promoting capitalism.”

The exhibit is “not the object of thought or discourse,” the statement said. “It is like a giant cobweb that stalks our minds and enters and deposits its indigestible content in them.”

In an interview with the CNN channel published on Wednesday, the director of the Chinese Cultural Center in Rome, Xu Jijun, said: “We know that they can’t close this exhibition,” calling it “not only a cultural and intellectual struggle, but also a battle for humanity.”

Luilong Zheng, a spokeswoman for the Education and Research Center for Chinese Culture, said the work was produced “in a cordial spirit.” She said that due to the sensitive nature of the Italian-Chinese relations, “there is no venue on the Chinese side for these types of art exhibitions.”

Instead, she said, Italian representatives gave back the objects to the Chinese government, and those that came back, she said, went to Chinese institutions, including the National Museum of China in Beijing.

The exhibition also marks an occasion to see some of Italy’s most prestigious cultural institutions contribute to the promotion of the Chinese government’s vision of modern China. It was organized by a group of cultural institutions that includes two of the Vatican’s schools, an International Arts Academy, and the Cultural Memory Foundation of the Holy See, a newly launched initiative created by Pope Francis.

This latest series of artistic collaborations between Italy and China is part of a series of programs that the Roman Catholic Church has been promoting in China over the past decade.

The Vatican, an influential player in China affairs, was largely isolated from the experience of promoting the arts in China because of its double-record of cultivating autocratic regimes and asserting independence from them. Pope Francis has made many gestures toward Chinese spiritual, cultural and political leaders, and given them more space in Catholic affairs.

The exhibition could also attract a portion of a strong class of wealthy Chinese visitors looking for European landmarks to visit and for better educational opportunities to study abroad. The exhibition will cost Italian visitors about $13.

Leave a Comment