Associate Professor James Beattie is the latest addition to the Science in Society research group at Victoria University. Previously with the University of
Waikato, James is an environmental historian whose research focuses on the Asia-Pacific region and examines the nexus between environmental history, history of science, landscape and garden history, and health history. In addition, James works on Chinese art collecting in New Zealand.
James is a co-editor of a new book, New China Eye Witness, that has received widespread accolades and has been named in the longlist for the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards provides a unique insight to the world of museums historical artefacts against a backdrop of international relations and diplomacy. According to Dr Beattie, “The beautifully-captured, yet ‘gritty’ street photographs of everyday life provide fascinating detail about the domestic, political and cultural situation of China in the 1950s.”
Published by Canterbury University Press, New China Eye Witness provides insight into the diplomacy involved in obtaining Aotearoa New Zealand’s most extensive collection of Chinese art, and provides a fascinating account of the 1956 visit to the People’s Republic of China by a group of prominent New Zealanders. Among them was Canterbury Museum’s Director Dr Roger Duff, whose diary details efforts to secure a collection of antiquities gifted to the museum by long-time China resident, Aotearoa New Zealand–born writer Rewi Alley.
Through Alley’s connections with the highest levels of China’s communist leadership, including Chairman Mao, combined with Dr Duff’s diplomatic skills, they obtained the sanction of the Chinese government to circumvent its own export ban on antiquities. This permitted the gifting of seven crates of treasures that formed the basis for the museum’s Rewi Alley Collection of around 1,400 Chinese artifacts.
“Roger Duff’s detailed and highly readable diary, enhanced by extracts from others on the delegation, provides a remarkable eyewitness account of a rapidly developing China, at a unique time and unprecedented moment in its history,” says co-editor Dr Richard Bullen, Head of the Art History and Theory Department at the University of Canterbury.
The book is part of a larger research project centred on Canterbury Museum’s Rewi Alley Collection, which was supported by a Marsden grant. Chinese translations in the book have been provided by doctoral student Mr Xiongbo Shi from UC’s Department of Art History and Theory. The sumptuous book design is by award-winning designer Mr Aaron Beehre, a senior lecturer in UC’s School of Fine Arts. New China Eyewitness: Roger Duff, Rewi Alley and the art of museum diplomacy, J Beattie and R Bullen, Canterbury University Press (RRP$59.99), will be published in November 2017. For more details, see www.cup.canterbury.ac.nz
New academic home for James Beattie at Victoria University. Photo: Lorraine Taylor