Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Art, politics, and diplomacy

In China it's impossible to separate art from politics and now the Canadians are adding a diplomatic issue.

Embassy walls provide safe haven for free speech in China
Ai Weiwei
Late last year, the Canadian embassy in Beijing invited a group of artists and critics to a meeting to discuss China’s modern art. Some displayed their work and talked about it. Others came to listen, drawn in part by headline speaker Ai Weiwei, the prominent visual artist and dissident.

Social events are the bread and butter of diplomacy, and embassies in Beijing began holding exhibits in the late 1980s when foreigners were the chief buyers of newly emerging Chinese modern art…

As Chinese authorities jail large numbers of activists and dissidents, foreign diplomatic missions have become among the few places inside China where people can voice their thoughts without fear of arrest, or worse. Inside embassy walls, artists can broach topics that would otherwise be considered dangerous in public, including the Tiananmen Square massacre and criticism of the Chinese political system…

Providing a haven for free speech is risky in China, which is in the midst of a campaign to root out Western influence and looks dimly on anything that appears like foreign meddling. To underscore the sensitivity, participants at the Canadian embassy event received warnings from Chinese authorities that future meetings at other embassies could be in jeopardy…

China has taken an increasingly harsh stance against criticism in recent years, particularly under President Xi Jinping, who has been accused of overseeing the worst clampdown on free expression in 20 years…

“During the last two years of crackdown under President Xi Jinping, we’ve basically seen that sentencing for activists and dissidents has just become heavier and heavier,” said Maya Wang, China researcher with Human Rights Watch…

Last fall, Mr. Xi called on artists to reflect a “correct” understanding of Chinese history and culture in their work, saying their aim should be to “inspire minds, warm hearts, cultivate taste and clean up undesirable work styles.”…

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