China and the Vatican Aim to Heal a Six-Decade-Long Diplomatic Rift With Two ‘Harmonious’ Art Exhibitions

Soft diplomacy between the two countries starts off with an exchange of art.

Beijing's Forbidden City. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons, Photo by Saad Akhtar

China and the Vatican’s Holy See announced plans to open two joint exhibitions in March 2018, signaling a step toward restoring diplomatic relations after more than six decades. A rift has existed between the Vatican and Communist China since 1951.

The Catholic seat will send some 40 works from its vast collection for a show in Beijing’s Forbidden City, including Chinese bronzes, ceramics, and paintings. It is then due to tour four other cities in China. In exchange, China will send art and artifacts from museums all across the country to be shown in the Vatican’s ethnological museums.

“Beauty and art are truly a vehicle of dialogue,” said Barbara Jatta, the director of the Vatican Museums. “This is the key of the success that we, at the Vatican Museums, love to call the ‘diplomacy of art’.”

Speaking at a press conference in the Vatican this week, Zhu Jiancheng, the head of the government-run China Culture Investment Fund, expressed hopes that this act of soft diplomacy would contribute to the “normalization of diplomatic relations between China and the Vatican,” AFP reported.

China broke off relations with the Vatican in 1951 after a dispute over the Vatican’s power. The Communist Party established a government-sanctioned Catholic Church that lies outside the Pope’s authority.

The exhibition at the Vatican, titled “Beauty that Unites: Travels in the Marvelous Harmony of the Chinese people and Vatican Museums,” will also include one of two oil paintings by Zhang Yan, which China gave to the Pope this past May, while the twin show in the Forbidden City, titled “Anima Mundi (Soul of the World): Human, Nature and Harmony,” will feature the other.


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