Sunday, 21 June 2015

The Chinese Want Their Art Back

Chinese art has become a prized liquid asset for superrich collectors, who, instead of putting their treasures on display, often deposit them in carefully guarded, climate-controlled warehouses. But the media’s emphasis on the white-hot market for contemporary Chinese works overlooks a more interesting story: the effort by the Chinese government, state-run companies, private collectors and even, quite probably, some criminal networks to bring Chinese antiquities back home. One impetus for this effort is the Communist Party’s embrace of traditional culture as “a foundation for China to compete in the world,” as President Xi Jinping said in October. Having for decades viewed antiquities as relics of feudal oppression and bourgeois decadence, the party now says art can “lead people to live a life abiding by the code of morality,” in that way contributing to social stability. [...] Old art is again prestigious; new buyers seek canonical work for the social status, not just potential profit, it confers. The party has taken its new stance on culture at a time of rising nationalism. China openly promotes efforts to repatriate works pillaged during its self-defined “century of humiliation,” from the Opium Wars of the 1840s and 1850s to the establishment of the People’s Republic in 1949.
Karl E. Meyer, 'The Chinese Want Their Art Back' New York Times, June 20th 2015

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