An e-mail obtained by RFE/RL shows the Chinese Embassy in Warsaw trying to pressure the Polish government to cancel an upcoming art exhibit in the Polish capital by dissident artist Badiucao.
In the written exchange sent on June 7 to senior officials at the Polish Ministry of Culture and National Heritage from embassy staff, a Chinese diplomat says that the art show is an attack against the image of “China and Chinese leaders” and that it hurts “Chinese people’s feelings.”
The e-mail then goes on to say that the show being hosted in Poland could harm the “bilateral relationship” between Beijing and Warsaw and asks for a meeting with senior ministry staff.
“We don’t want this kind of exhibition [that] undermines [the] China-Poland relationship to be held in Poland,” wrote Wei Jiao, who introduced himself as the new counselor in charge of cultural affairs at the Chinese Embassy in Warsaw and sent the e-mail from the embassy’s cultural affairs account.
The e-mail -- whose contents were first reported by RFE/RL -- is the latest episode of Chinese officials looking to censor exhibitions by Badiucao, an artist famous for his politically-charged work taking aim at repressions in Hong Kong and Xinjiang, the Chinese Communist Party’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown, and broadly criticizing Chinese leader Xi Jinping.
The upcoming exhibit in Warsaw, which is set to open on June 16, will be hosted at the Ujazdowski Castle Center for Contemporary Art and the organization said that it was also pressured by Chinese Embassy staff to cancel the art show and was even visited in person by a high-ranking representative who demanded that they drop the exhibition and remove posters around the city advertising it.
“We would like to express our concern and astonishment at the actions of the Chinese Embassy in Warsaw towards [the Ujazdowski Castle Centre for Contemporary Art], which have been carried out for several days and whose aim is to stop the exhibition,” the museum said in a June 9 press release. Ujazdowski Castle also claimed that their website is now blocked inside China.
The ministry’s response to the e-mail is not in the communication obtained by RFE/RL and it is unclear if they agreed to meet with embassy officials. Ujazdowski Castle said that it would not back down and intends to move forward with the art show that opens next week.
The Polish Ministry of Culture and National Heritage and the Chinese Embassy in Warsaw did not respond to RFE/RL’s requests for comment.
The Show Goes On
The exhibit in Warsaw marks the third international exhibit for Badiucao, the pseudonym used by the artist who is now based in Australia, and each show has faced pressure from Chinese officials against organizers and governments in the host country.
The artist’s last international exhibit took place in Prague in May 2022 and Chinese Embassy staff in the Czech Republic also tried to pressure the art gallery hosting Badiucao’s work to cancel the show and contacted the Czech government to demand that it be stopped.
Chinese officials also made unsuccessful attempts in November 2021 to pressure a gallery in Brescia, Italy to cancel Badiucao’s art show there, which contained many provocative works touching on political topics that are taboo or even illegal inside China.
Similarly, student groups at George Washington University in Washington that were affiliated with the Chinese Embassy moved to have posters removed from campus that were part of a guerrilla art campaign by Badiucao taking aim at China's hosting of the 2022 Winter Olympics.
“The aggressive action from the Chinese Embassy is not just an attack on my personal human rights and freedom of speech, but it’s also serious interference against Poland’s sovereignty,” Badiucao told RFE/RL about the recent censorship efforts in Warsaw.
In China, censorship has long been a reality for the country’s cultural sphere, and the already-narrow space for free expression has only continued to shrink since Xi’s rise to leadership in 2012.
China's vast censorship system -- fueled by its mounting economic strength and political influence -- has also successfully extended its reach beyond its borders to other countries around the world and exerting pressure on media outlets, corporations, sports franchises, and governments.
Badiucao says that he appreciates the support he has so far received in Poland amid the latest incident and that he rejects the narrative from Chinese officials that his work offends the country or its people.
“They call me anti-China,” he said. “However, as a China-born artist, I love the country and the people there. That’s why I criticize [the Chinese government.]”