Chinese Censorship Reached Europe, Artists Need to Self-Censor

Chinese Censorship Came to Europe, Forcing Artists and Institutions to Watch What They Say Against Beijing.

Dec 16, 2022By Angela Davic, News, Discoveries, In-depth Reporting, and Analysis
Chinese Censorship
Via Index on Censorship


Chinese censorship is great, it even reached Europe. Some Chinese artists, who live in Europe, feel they need to self-censor their work. They live in fear of reprisals from the Beijing authorities on their families back home. Also, some of them needed to cancel their shows through diplomatic pressure by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).


Chinese Censorship and CCP’s Strong Soft Power

Chinese Censorship
Chinese Censorship


Major new investigation from Index on Censorship reveals the scale and reach of the CCP’s international soft power. Chinese Censorship pushes across the European arts landscape. Whom to Serve? How the CCP censors art in Europe is the name of the conducted report. It includes in-depth interviews with more than 40 leading artists, curators, academics and experts from across Europe.


It also includes more than 35 Freedom of Information requests. Many artists also encountered surveillance by suspected government actors. And several institutions and local governments in Europe needed to avoid activities that could infuriate Beijing. They are afraid of losing Chinese funding or market access.


Chinese President Xi Jinping
Chinese President Xi Jinping


The investigation found that the CCP used a number of strategies to stop the spread of critical art by applying diplomatic pressure. It also finds making direct threats to individuals, and the propagation of pro-state art to “tell good China stories.” The government also controls the public expression on all fronts.

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The Chinese censorship is expanding from the media and business to arts and culture. Pressure constantly grows since 2013, when President Xi Jinping took office. In Europe, there is a self-censorship system among creative and cultural workers. Their tactics are various. They include surveillance, interrogations, harassment, and physical attacks, Index noted.


“China’s tactics are aggressive and stretch far” – Index’s Editor-in-Chief, Steinfeld

Photo: Alex Chan/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images.


According to some of the individuals surveyed for the research, threats had been made against their family members in China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan, the organization continued. Jemimah Steinfeld, editor-in-chief at Index also expressed his opinion. She said Beijing previously showed how expansive its extrajudicial reach was in late 2015.


At that time, special forces abducted five persons connected to Causeway Bay Books. It all happened in Thailand and Hong Kong. Also, they were accused of trading banned books, and detained. “What this report shows in startling detail is just how far [China’s power] stretches and how common aggressive tactics are”, Steinfeld said in a statement.


“The scale of CCP’s reach across the art world is as staggering as its nature has a great coordination. This is not a fringe pursuit or some dabbling at the margins. it is a new and growing weapon in China’s arsenal to burnish its image abroad. Also, to control how people both view it and discuss it, and to ruthlessly target those who create or curate art they class as dangerous”, she added. This happened in Italy 2021, but also in Prague 2022.


Photo: Wu Huiwo/Xinhua via Getty Images.


Artists and curators who exhibit works that would enrage Beijing also felt various forms of censorship. Beijing tried to halt displays of artwork by the Chinese dissident artist Badiucao, who lives and works in Australia. They sent diplomatic warnings by the local Chinese embassies to the city or institution in question.


“I think that the threat is actually working because I was planning to take the show to more places but we’ve hit a wall again”, Badiucao said in the report. The fact that China is a major economic power and one of the largest markets for contemporary art has also become a serious concern, noted Nik Williams, policy and campaigns officer at Index on Censorship. “We remain fearful of how these relationships could inform how institutions engage with dissident artists or sensitive topics”, he said.

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By Angela DavicNews, Discoveries, In-depth Reporting, and AnalysisAngela is a journalism student at the Faculty of Political Science in Belgrade and received a scholarship for continued education in Prague. She completed her internship at the daily newspaper DANAS and worked as an executive editor at Talas.