CIHA 2016 in Beijing

34th World Congress of Art History

About History Press Release Sessions Schedule Activities Participants Venue Discussion Registration Closed


BULLEN, Richard and BEATTIE, James
Art as soft power during the Cold War

Session 6 Politics of Identity: Tradition and Origin

the Historical Research Unit, University of Waikato/Art History and Theory at the University of Canterbury


In 1959, Dr. Wu Zhongchao 吴仲超 (1902-1984), President of the Imperial Palace Museum, Peking (1954-1983), and Assistant Minister of Culture, sent the latest of around a dozen gifts of Chinese artwork to Canterbury Museum, New Zealand, writing that he ‘was more than ever convinced that the exchange of culture between our two nations could make us understand each other more’. By this time, Canterbury Museum had gifted Maori artifacts and two precious skeletons of the giant, extinct flightless bird, the Moa (Dinoris maximus) to the Palace Museum, as well as returning a Boxer-period uniform (义和团运动) as a gesture of goodwill.

It uses the Rewi Alley Collection of Chinese Art and Archaeology, Canterbury Museum, New Zealand—of approximately 1400 objects—to offer new and alternative ways of thinking about exhibitions and collections as means of promoting cultural diplomacy during the early years of the Cold War. As well as considering the pivotal roles of the Palace Museum’s Director, Wu Zhongchao, in addition to Rewi Alley (1897-1987) and Roger Duff (1912-1978, Director of Canterbury Museum), the paper analyses the political reception and role of Chinese artworks exhibited at Canterbury Museum’s ‘Hall of Oriental Arts’, opened in 1958.

BULLEN, Richard

Richard Bullen is the head of Art History and Theory at the University of Canterbury, New Zealand, and a Research Fellow at Canterbury Museum, NZ. He studied calligraphy and the Japanese way of tea during several years living in Japan and China. He has published on the aesthetics of the Japanese tea ceremony in the British Journal of Aesthetics and elsewhere. He curated the ‘Pleasure and Play in Edo Japan’ exhibition at Canterbury Museum (2009), and edited the accompanying publication. He co-authored with James Beattie Visions of Peace: The H.W. Youren Collection and the Art of Chinese Soft Diplomacy (2014) and a film they are co-directing about Youren is due to premiere in October 2016. With Beattie he co-curated the ‘Bringing China Home’ exhibition at MTG Hawke’s Bay, NZ (2016). In 2014 Beattie and he began a three year research project funded by the Royal Society of New Zealand on Canterbury Museum’s Rewi Alley Collection of Chinese art and material culture. In 2016 they launched the website ‘China, Art and Cultural Diplomacy’ which documents the 1350 objects in the Rewi Alley Collection.


Dr. James Beattie is Associate Professor and Director of the Historical Research Unit, University of Waikato. He is a historian of gardens, empire, and environment, as well as Chinese art collecting, and has written three monographs, co-edited four books, and published over sixty articles and chapters. His latest co-edited book, published in April 2016 by Palgrave Macmillan, examines environmental change and development in East Asia, Environment, Modernisation, and Development in East Asia: Perspectives from Environmental History.

Today’s talk draws on a Royal Society Marsden Fund project with Dr. Richard Bullen (Canterbury University) on Rewi Alley, Chinese Art and Cultural Diplomacy during the Cold War. In exploring Chinese-New Zealand art connections, James and Richard have written Visions of Peace: The H.W. Youren Collection and the Art of Chinese Cultural Diplomacy (2014), co-curated an art exhibition, Bringing China Home: Chinese Stories and Objects in Hawke’s Bay, and with Xiongbo Shi, developed a freely accessible website on the Alley Collection: Currently they are working on two book projects: Rewi Alley, Art and Chinese Cultural Diplomacy and China and Australasian Cultural Diplomacy: Art, Collecting, and Exhibitions.