Chinese media outlets (and The New York Times) are blowing up with the big news about the reunification of the historical Chinese painting Dwelling in the Fuchun Mountains. While at first glance it may appear to be your run-of-the-mill 14th-century Chinese ink landscape, it’s actually much more.
The reunification of the two-piece painting, which was originally just one unbelievably long scroll, is another stepping stone in easing decades-old tensions between China and Taiwan.
Painted by Yuan dynasty artist Huang Gongwang (yes, that Huang Gongwang), the piece was officially completed in 1350 and became a favorite of (the rather selfish) art collector Wu Hong-yu, who asked that the painting be burned right before his death. Fortunately for art nerds everywhere, Wu’s nephew rescued the painting before it was completely destroyed. Nice save. Unfortunately for the art nerds, the flames had already sundered the painting in twain. After traveling through the hands of a number of collectors, the smaller part of the painting, approximately 20 inches long, eventually landed in a museum in Hangzhou, China. The second piece, about 21 feet long, was stored at the National Palace Museum in Taipei, Taiwan.
Then, about a month ago, both pieces were brought together in Taipei in an exhibit called “Landscape Reunited.” This highly anticipated exhibition is now the talk of the Chinese art world for reasons beyond artistic value.
China and Taiwan’s decades of political and cultural conflicts have restricted travel, commerce, and communication between the two nations. However, with the 2008 election of current Taiwanese president Ma Ying-jeou, the two governments have been working harder to bridge their gaps. Following President Ma’s inauguration, China gave two very cuddly pandas to the Taipei City Zoo. In a culture where pandas are highly valued, this grand gesture was very political and very significant. People actually call it “panda diplomacy.” Catchy.
Obviously, it takes more than a burnt painting and two pandas to ease tensions between Taiwan and China. But if these simple objects are capable of inspiring and facilitating cooperation between two nations, then bring on the simple objects. I’d take a free panda any day.