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Haikou Jiangdong New Area
CLASS

The cultural contamination underlying relations with China

July 23, 2019


Abstract : Beauty Unites Us: China Arts from Vatican Museum, is the exhibition which was held in the Forbidden City, in Beijing, that proposed a reflection on the influences of Catholicism in the history of art and culture of the former Celestial Empire.

MILAN, Jul 22 (Class Editori) - The exhibition just ended, held in the Pavilion of the power of divine value in the Forbidden City on the theme "Beauty Unites Us: China Arts from Vatican Museum" allows a reflection on the relations of the People's Republic of China with the Vatican State, representative of the Catholic Church, and on the many vicissitudes they have experienced, starting in 1949.

The ongoing geopolitical change offered a tangible glimmer of new ideas, such as the agreement for the appointment of bishops in China in 2018 and, more recently, the presence of the Vatican at the exhibition of Beijing's Ortoculture in March, with the exposure of a famous scroll depicting a subject of Chinese art, prodrome of Beauty Unites Us. The exhibition consisted of 76 folk, Buddhist and Catholic artworks, with the purpose to portray “a geopolitics of fraternity” focused on “respect for identities and the courage of being diverse,” as affirmed by the Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin.

Shortly after the appointment of Qu Dongyn as FAO Director General, which sees a Chinese personality holding this position in the organization of the United Nations for the first time, there was an exchange of greetings with Pope Francis, as documented by a photo published in the South China Morning Post.

The first impression aroused by the exhibition in the Forbidden City is a deep-rooted inclusivity over the past centuries that allowed the spread of the Catholic religion in imperial China through the Jesuits with Matteo Ricci as a leader and cultural exchange especially in the world of art and theosophy.

An example is the art of Wu Li, one of the most celebrated painters in China, who at the time of transition from the Ming to the Qing dynasty, broadened his intellectual horizon by converting and accepting the "West teaching", meaning the study of Latin, conversion and proselytizing activities. He encountered enormous difficulties in his path and dedication to the arts, becoming, among other things, one of the "Six great masters of the Qing dynasty." Not to mention his artistic talent as a poet.

Another character who has even contributed to the design of the Summer Palace in the Forbidden City, was Giuseppe Castiglione, who with the exhibited work "Otto cavalli" borrowed and contaminated Chinese art with Italian traits. Castiglione, despite the suppression of the Society of Jesus, in the mid-700s, stayed with the royal family together with other coordinators, leading the Astronomical Office. Subsequently, after becoming a court painter, Castiglione designed the complete Geographic Map of the Empire.

Another two Chinese painters hosted in the exposition, both converted to Catholicism, are Wang Suda and Su Hanchen – an important artist during the Song dynasty (960-1279). Suda offers the audience his representation of the Last Supper, not comparable with Leonardo’s but still an excellent testimony of the artist’s privileged relationship with the Catholic religion; also, a Madonna con Bambino, surrounded by a traditional Chinese garden recalling Hanchem’s naturalistic subjects.

There are even more recent examples of such cultural contamination. Twenty years ago, “Turandot in the Forbidden City” made it to the stages under the direction of Zhang Yimou, curated by Maggio Fiorentino, and with the orchestra direction of Zubin Mehta. Before that, Bertolucci’s memorable shoots in his “The Last Emperor”.

Cultural contamination sets the ground for making considerations on China and on its relations with the outside world. Balancing between tradition & uses and 5G technologies & AI constitutes the challenge of the future – or even of the immediate present – for all those interested in operating in China, or for the companies intending to further invest in this country. At the moment, it is hard to find a general prescription, yet whoever may wish to live and entertain a relationship with China must ask themselves some questions.

In the text “The Rise and Fall of Europe in the World” by Emilio Gentile, the writer states that, back in 19th century, Europe used to control 35% of global territories, and peaked at 85% in 1914. Nowadays, the EU does not basically control anything, and the bigger picture has completely changed – with the US, China, India, and South America playing bigger roles. This could be intended  as a lection on approaching.

*edited by Marco Leporati, General Manager at Savino Del Bene – transport and logistics company active in China since 25 years.

(Source:Class Editori)

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Keyword: cultural exchange

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