New China Eyewitness: Roger Duff, Rewi Alley and the art of museum diplomacy
Edited by James Beattie and Richard Bullen Chinese translation by Xiongbo Shi
176pp, hardback with jacket
240 x 173mm
New China Eyewitness is the fascinating account of the 1956 visit to the People’s Republic of China by a group of prominent New Zealanders – including Roger Duff, James Bertram, Evelyn Page, Angus Ross and Ormond Wilson – and of how Canterbury Museum came to acquire the largest collection of Chinese art in New Zealand.
At the centre of the book is the eloquent diary kept by Canterbury Museum director Dr Roger Duff, detailing his efforts to bring to Christchurch the collection of antiquities gifted to the museum by long-time China resident, New Zealander Rewi Alley. Through Alley’s contacts with premier Zhou Enlai and Duff’s diplomatic skills they obtained the sanction of the Chinese government to circumvent its own export ban on antiquities and permit the gifting of seven crates of treasures to Christchurch. These objects were the basis for the museum’s Hall of Oriental Arts and their arrival led to a collections policy dedicated to Chinese art.
Beautifully written and illustrated, New China Eyewitness offers a rare glimpse of foreigners’ views of China during a period of rapid social, political and cultural change, and at a time of unusual political and cultural tolerance.
Dr James Beattie is professor of history and director of the Historical Research Unit at the University of Waikato. He is an historian of gardens, empire and environment, as well as Chinese art collecting, and has written three monographs, co-edited four books and published more than sixty articles and chapters.
Dr Richard Bullen is the head of art history and theory at the University of Canterbury and a research fellow at Canterbury Museum. 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.
Xiongbo Shi is a doctoral student in the Department of Art History and Theory, University of Canterbury. He has a masters degree in art theory from Nanjing University, where he also received a postgraduate certificate in Chinese and American studies.