Entertainment & Arts

China to receive British art treasures

George Osborne Image copyright PA
Image caption George Osborne visited the National Museum in Beijing

Art treasures including works from Shakespeare to David Hockney are to travel to China as part of a drive to showcase British culture.

Chancellor George Osborne, who is in China for talks aimed at boosting cultural ties, has pledged £7m in funding for the programme.

A further £750,000 will help take the British Museum's 'History of the World in 100 Objects' exhibition to China.

The exhibition, featuring art through the ages, is currently on a world tour.

Leaders of some of the UK's biggest cultural institutions, including representatives from the British Library, the Southbank Centre and Shakespeare's Globe, have joined the chancellor in China.

Before going, Mr Osborne sat down with BBC Radio 4's Samira Ahmed, who quizzed him for Front Row on his reasons for going.

"I think the British people are fascinated by China; they have a combination of curiosity about this great force in the world and frankly a bit of anxiety," said Mr Osborne.

"And one of the best ways people's cultures express themselves is through their theatre and their paintings and their art... and what better way to explain to many, many Chinese people about Britain than letting them hear a Shakespeare play in Mandarin or see a David Hockney picture...there in China?"

The £7m funding will go towards projects including:

  • £1.6m for the British Library to display literary treasures in China, including works by Shakespeare and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
  • £740,000 for Shakespeare's Globe to tour The Merchant of Venice, including an education programme.
  • £500,000 for a Royal Opera House training programme for Chinese students.
  • £500,000 over three years for a new Love China Festival at London's South Bank.

Mr Osborne defended the cost at a time when arts centres in the UK were suffering cuts, saying the government spent three quarters of a billion pounds on culture in the UK through the Arts Council last year.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Ai Weiwei has had his passport returned, allowing him to visit the UK

"It's a question, of course, of how you spend that money, and I think doing what we can to showcase British culture around the world is good for British culture... because one of the fastest growing groups of people coming to our country are Chinese tourists, who spend more per head than any other nationality.

"This is good finance as well as good art."

Mr Osborne was also questioned as to whether the UK should be engaged in dialogue about the arts with a country with a poor human rights record concerning artists, such Ai Weiwei.

"We in Britain have a huge tradition of artistic freedom exemplified by the Ai Weiwei exhibition... I would say the best thing you can do to try and explain your values around political freedom and artistic freedom is to showcase some of the great works of art that helped us form this culture."

He also praised China for bringing many of its citizens out of poverty.

"I don't think you have to choose between engaging with China and having concerns about their human rights record or the lack of political freedom.

"Of course we talk about these things to the Chinese but I think we also need to be careful as to how we do it, and as we raise legitimate concerns we respect what they have done in the country.

"In my lifetime the biggest single change that has happened to reduce poverty in the world is the rise of China. I think it would be pretty churlish of people in Britain to dismiss that as irrelevant or something that we shouldn't respect."

Listen to the full interview on BBC Radio 4's Front row tonight at 19:15 BST.

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