In 1898, the Empress Dowager of China announced, "As newspapers only serve to excite the masses to subvert the present order of things and the editors concerned are composed of the dregs of the literary classes, we hereby command the entire suppression of all newspapers published within the Empire, while the editors connected with them are to be arrested and punished with the utmost rigors of the law."
Not much has changed. Last week, following a March concert in Shanghai at which the singer (and wife of Matthew Barney) Bjork shouted "Tibet! Tibet!", the Chinese government announced its intention to suppress any performer whose expression denigrated "the nationality of China." One of the few honest and outspoken Chinese artists, Huang Yong Ping, calls for the cancellation of the Olympics in the current number of the Art Newspaper. In that same issue, collector Ian Charles Stewart, based in Beijing, sums up Chinese contemporary in these words, "Most work here exhibits little content or attitude beyond, perhaps, comments on conspicuous consumption and the occasional one-liner visual gag. . . . The lack of a truly perceptive, self-analytical and self-critical art movement is also evidence of a willingness to not rock the boat when things are going so well."
I have argued in Artnet Magazine that the production and marketing of Chinese contemporary art is a deliberate attempt of the Chinese government, in the person of the Chinese Army ex-officers who run the state’s corporate art machine, to homogenize the brutality of the Beijing dictatorship towards Greater China and the wider world [see "Fear Strikes Out," Apr. 18, 2008, and "China Dollars," Oct. 18, 2007]. In the current issue of ArtAsiaPacific, Uli Sigg, former Swiss ambassador to China and North Korea, attacks, in a self-penned piece, my call for collectors not to buy Chinese art as a protest against China’s continued suppression of true expression.
Mr. Sigg asks if we should boycott art produced in America during the Bush Administration. Well, if said art was wholly financed by the government and consisted of innocuous paeans to the greatness of America, of course we should. A prominent collector of Chinese contemporary himself, Mr. Sigg is perhaps worried that the value of his holdings might decrease if the Chinese Communist Party were challenged by true artistic freedom. He ignores the fact that China has no freedom of speech or assembly, no trial by jury, no habeas corpus. The Chinese government continues to suppress its dissidents, poets and politically active artists, laughing all the way to the bank at Mr. Sigg and his collector running dogs.
The Chinese government has also done body scans of 100,000 Falun Gong detainees -- of their "harvestable organs" only. Abortion in China is not a "choice," it is forced on women who wish to bear more than one child. And for you pet lovers, China is also exterminating stray cats in Beijing in preparation for the Olympics. This is a totalitarian society which no more deserves the Olympics than Nazi Germany did in 1936. The fact that U.S businesses, athletes and media patronize it is a disgrace. Hitler had his sympathizers in the West, as well. Switzerland accommodated Hitler, Mr. Sigg. I suggest you lift your head out of your Chinese collection and breathe the air of freedom, for a change.
CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).