When artist and patron are one

By Raymond Zhou ( China Daily ) Updated: 2014-09-27 07:26:37

We seem to have a tradition that those who fall from grace must have all traces of their existence or accomplishments removed. The proverb is, "Beat up the dog that falls into the water." It is a subliminal way to show the moral high ground that we occupy as bystanders. A folksy demonstration is a fellow villager who claims that he knew the person just caught for doing something bad would grow up to be a good-for-nothing or hardened criminal when the latter was barely out of the cradle.

Imagine my shock when I first saw on American television neighbors who were interviewed and said the criminal had always appeared like a nice guy to them. Maybe they didn't know better, but there is no intrinsic contradiction between the good things one does at home or in his community and the bad things he does elsewhere. A person may have many facets.

The simplicity with which some of us tend to categorize a person, when stretched to extremes, could be poisonous for the evaluation of historical figures. History is often rewritten to reflect the version favored by whoever is in charge. We've seen old photographs airbrushed and details revised. A new dynasty does not build on the shoulders of the older one, but rather, smashes the previous one to erect something new, a rule of thumb that applies to inscriptions and other physical marks.

Those who argue for the removal of Qin's photography may have a point, though. Did Qin's work come to be given awards and showcased simply because of its quality? Did he use resources as a senior official to promote his own hobby? I haven't seen evidence for or against the argument, but I admit these are legitimate questions and very relevant to the discussion.

A person may have hobbies or even be a connoisseur in a field totally unrelated to his or her profession, and an official is no exception. But with an official it is no longer a simple affair of enjoying some pastime. Because of the power and clout he carries in his official position, what he prefers to do in his own time may spill over to other areas. His achievements as a lover or connoisseur of that hobby may be exaggerated or receive recognition higher than they otherwise would have.

A local magistrate may be a fan of orchestral music or Peking Opera, but I've often heard complaints from administrators of performing arts organizations that government funding is unfairly distributed because the leader of that jurisdiction personally favors one or the other of the genres. Sometimes a personal preference may also dictate or influence contest results in arts and literature. The person may not even be actively meddling, but a random utterance from him may carry enough weight to determine the fate of an arts organization or competition.

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