Nantes, museum halts collaboration with China: they want to impose their vision on us

Nantes, the Castle of the Dukes of Brittany halts collaboration with a Chinese museum for an exhibition on Genghis Khan: authorities wanted to censor and control the French museum's work.

The Castle Museum of the Dukes of Brittany, one of the most important museums in the city of Nantes, has decided to terminate an important collaboration with the museum in Hohhot, a city of nearly three million people in northern China and the capital of Inner Mongolia province. The reason? Chinese authorities wanted to impose their vision on the French museum, which had initiated the collaboration in preparation for a major exhibition on Genghis Khan, entitled Fils du ciel et des steppes. Genghis Khan et la naissance de l’empire mongol (“Son of Heaven and the Steppes. Genghis Khan and the Birth of the Mongol Empire”) that was supposed to open on October 17: the exhibition had then been postponed to January 2021 because of the health crisis, and now the project has been permanently moved to 2024, precisely because of this clash with Chinese authorities.

The museum had been working on the exhibition for years, but was forced to shelve its intentions momentarily. The reasons were put in black and white by the director of the château (as well as of the Musée d’Histoire, the Nantes Museum of History, housed in the château’s rooms and the venue for the exhibition), Bertrand Guillet: “We are forced to postpone this exhibition until October 2024,” Guillet wrote in a note, "because of the stiffening this summer of the Chinese government’s positions toward the Mongolian minority. At first, this stiffening had as an effect on our project an injunction, by the Chinese central authorities, to have certain vocabulary elements (the words Genghis Khan, empire, and Mongolian) removed from the exhibition. At a later stage, at the end of the summer, we received an announcement to change the contents of the exhibition, accompanied by a request to check all our production (texts, cartographies, catalog, communication). The proposed new synopsis, written by the Beijing Heritage Bureau, applies a kind of censorship on the initial project, and in particular introduces elements of tendentious rewriting that aim to totally disappear Mongolian history and culture for the benefit of a new national history."

“After consulting with historians and specialists who collaborate with us,” the director continued, “we made the decision to stop this production in the name of the human, scientific and deontological values that we defend in our institute.” However, Guillet concluded, “the project does not end at the moment, because we are committed to reconstructing, preserving the first synopsis, a new exhibition fueled by objects from European and American collections.”

The decision was commented on by some experts who stood up for the Nantes museum. Valerie Niquet, an expert on Asian politics and a researcher at the Fondation pour la recherche stratégique (FRS), confirms that “the Chinese regime prohibits historical narratives that do not correspond to its official narrative, and tries to impose this abroad as well.” Also of the same opinion is Antoine Bondaz, another FRS researcher and a specialist in Chinese politics: “the affair shows,” he said, “that Beijing is not only toughening its policies towards minorities, but also trying to impose its narrative on foreign countries.”

Pictured is the Castle of the Dukes of Brittany.

Nantes, museum halts collaboration with China: they want to impose their vision on us
Nantes, museum halts collaboration with China: they want to impose their vision on us

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