One of our Centre for Science in Society staff, James Beattie, with Richard Bullen and Maria Galikowski, has edited a book just published by Routledge in 2019, China in Australasia: Cultural Diplomacy and Chinese Arts since the Cold War. I knew James had published a book, but I didn’t know much about it until coming across a Stuff article while scrolling through the news on Saturday morning. I read Flashback: How a New Zealand museum traded taonga for Chinese antiquities and started delving into the life of Rewi Alley and James’ work.
James and Richard Bullen were interviewed for the Stuff article, which details how Rewi Alley bypassed Chinese bans on exports to swap Chinese art and artefacts for intact moa skeletons. This exchange occurred in 1956 and our cultural views on trading of taonga has changed in the six decades since. Looking at the role Rewi Alley played in developing the official relationship between New Zealand and China revealed a part of New Zealand history to me that I was not aware of. Alley used the trade of Chinese and New Zealand treasures, “gifts of friendship”, to foster connections.
See James, Richard Bullen, and Maria Galikowski’s book for “significant new perspectives on the role of art in the cultural diplomacy of the People’s Republic of China.” There is a chapter on Embracing friendship through gift and exchange, Rewi Alley and the art of museum diplomacy in Cold War China and New Zealand.
James and Richard Bullen have a new project underway: understanding Rewi Alley through his engagement with Chinese material culture and art. This work reveals the centrality of collecting to Alley, at a personal and professional level, and aims to present a more balanced view of Alley that challenges presentations of him as either sinner or saint.