VATICAN (SE): There may be a common perception that the talks between Beijing and the Holy See are all about the appointment of bishops in China, but an announcement at the Vatican of a joint exhibition of Chinese historical treasures to be held simultaneously in Rome and the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in the Forbidden City in Beijing, reveals other topics are under discussion as well.
Announced at the Vatican at a press conference on November 21, the director of the Vatican Museums, Barbara Jatta, described the exhibition as an extension of the dialogue between the two states in a universal language that can only be that of beauty, which makes a powerful appeal to harmony and unity.
Jatta said, “Beauty is always an extraordinary vehicle for talking, at every latitude and longitude, physical or temporal. Without fear, without barriers. On behalf of humanity, because I believe that beauty, in the broadest sense of the term, is a need we all share.”
She added, “I think that it is precisely here that we find the key to the success of what in the Vatican Museums we like to define as the diplomacy of art, which is certainly not our own discovery, but which belongs instead to the centuries-long tradition of the Church.”
In responding ot Jatta, Chinese artist, Zhang Yan, stressed, “Dialogue between us is possible and inevitable because of our common sense of goodness. In the 21st century, the extraordinary plan to build a solid bridge of dialogue between Beijing and the Vatican will make the Silk Road shine once again!”
On May 31 this year, two masterpieces of Zhang’s that he believes represent his work and reflection over the past 23 years, Cradling Arm and Iron Staff Lama, were presented to Pope Francis as a sign of friendship towards the pontiff from the 1.4 billion Chinese people who walk on the face of this earth.
They are on display in the Vatican Museums as part of their permanent exhibition and Zhu Jiancheng, representing the Chinese government at the announcement, described them as being presented in recognition of Pope Francis’ greeting to the secretary general of the Communist Party of China, Xi Jinping, and the Chinese people at the Lunar New Year of 2016.
A charcoal representation of the Sacred Mountain by Zhang, has also been presented to Pope Francis, which the artist says embraces all of humanity, incorporating the essence of all religion.
“It represents the place of a permanent spirit that should be eternity and cannot be destroyed,” Zhang said in describing his own work.
“The Father is love among the faithful, like father and son: white as snow, white also like the pope’s robe. The mountain is like the body and with the cross it bears,” he said.
He stressed that nothing in the world can be irrelevant to anyone, quoting the encyclical of Pope Francis, Praise Be: On care for our common home (Laudato Si'), as imaging Mother Earth as embracing us, showing that the family of nations can be tolerant and united.
“Chinese and Vatican cultures too need communication and exchange, as do all cultures of the earth,” Zhang noted.
In describing the Sacred Mountain as a natural symbol of dialogue and the civilisation of encounter, Zhang said, “Selfless friendship between China and Pope Francis and the idea that we are all a single family will urge men to rethink the relationship between humanity, life, society and nature.”
He then described the aesthetics of art as revealing in us the complete awareness of the environment, benevolence and tolerance.
Zhu backed up Jatta’s claim that exchange through art and history can be a way of extending relations between nations, saying, “The upcoming simultaneous Sino-Vatican Exhibition will start a new chapter in the cultural exchanges between the Chinese people and the Vatican, enabling greater closeness and comprehension between two countries with a profound cultural tradition.”
As the ancient Chinese philosopher, Maestro Han Fei Zi (280BC to 233BC), said, “The relations between nations depend upon the closeness between the peoples, and the closeness between peoples depends upon the communication of hearts.”
He added that we all know that this is also the thought of Pope Francis.
Zhu went on to say that China has a long history of peace diplomacy, as 2,100 years ago it opened the Silk Road and promoted exchange between eastern and western culture.
But while the tone of the announcement was quite upbeat, Zhu’s comment that cultural relationships precede diplomatic relations indicate that formal relations and other agreements may well be a long way off.
But in describing the Vatican as the fulcrum of faith for one-sixth of the world and the heart of the European Renaissance, the two representatives from China expressed their recognition of the significant role that it plays and has played in the development of the culture of the west.
However, Zhang added that with the advent of greater wealth in the world and technological progress, “The relationship between men and between man and nature, has never been so strained. Humanity has even developed the capacity to destroy our ecosystem and ourselves.”
He added that irrespective of where people come from the survival or destruction of life on Earth depends upon their response to what he called the final challenge for humanity.
Jatta pointed out that there is nothing unusual in the Vatican Museums taking part in exhibitions around the world, as they are a regular item on the annual calendar. However, she explained it is not so often that the Museums participate in the sponsorship and they are the ones that are really important.
“This meeting is special,” Jatta said in referring to the shared exhibition with China, “because it will be the first time that the Pope’s Museums have organised an exhibition with Chinese cultural institutions. This seems to me to be a first fact of primary importance.”
She concluded by saying, “I believe, however, that the real novelty is the spirit that has inspired us from the beginning, and on whose solid foundations rests this friendship and this relationship with the cultural institutions of China, and which have led to what we will present to you today.”