San Francisco Chronicle Reports on Art Show Sponsor Bowing to Pressure from Chinese Officials

Friday, August 19, 2005

A perfunctory commendation of a Chinese art exhibition in San Francisco from Supervisor Fiona Ma blew up into controversy this week when she withdrew her support after learning of the show's ties to Falun Gong.

"National Treasures of China," which features 19th and 20th century Chinese paintings and calligraphy on traditional themes, will open Sept. 2 at Urbis Artium Gallery on Second Street.

Material promoting the show explicitly promotes Falun Gong, the spiritual practice banned in China since 1999.

Chinese-born Australians Mei-Ling Dai and her son Tony lent their collection for exhibitions in 40 cities around the world in the hope of educating visitors about Chinese culture and to raise awareness about the plight of Falun Gong practitioners in China, Tony Dai said at a press conference Thursday at City Hall.

Dai said Ma had reversed her support under pressure from the Chinese government.

"I'm shocked that the Chinese government and Communist Party is giving pressure to local government representatives in the United States," said Dai, an antiques and art dealer.

Show organizer Victor Yu, a host on Sound of Hope radio in Mountain View, said Ma had told him Wednesday that the Chinese government had pressured her to pull her support.

Neither Ma nor the Chinese Consulate in San Francisco returned calls for comment Thursday.

The show is co-sponsored by the Dais and three pro-Falun Gong Chinese-language media outlets in the Bay Area -- Sound of Hope radio, New Tang Dynasty Television and the Epoch Times newspaper.

Tony Dai has been arrested three times in China since 1999, and his mother four times, for their support of Falun Gong. Each time they were deported to Australia; they became Australian citizens after moving there from Shanghai 15 years ago.

"After knowledge of the past political history of the original collector," Ma said in a printed statement released Monday, "I have informed the sponsors that I will not play any further role in this exhibit."

Ma's initial letter of support was quoted in widely circulated flyers that advertised the exhibition, and show organizers sent her drafts of pamphlets, flyers and sponsorship proposals.

"I commend the sponsors who made it possible to bring this outstanding exhibition to San Francisco," her letter of support said. "Their hard work gives us the opportunity to view a rare and priceless collection and to provide a bridge to the Chinese community."

Her staff booked a room for a press conference Tuesday in City Hall to promote "National Treasures of China," but Ma did not show up. She had a scheduling conflict, her staff said beforehand, according to show organizers. Yu said she had told him later that day that she wanted to take her name off the flyer.

At the press conference, Supervisor Chris Daly said he, too, had been heavily lobbied by the Chinese government when he sponsored an unsuccessful resolution admonishing the Chinese government for its repression of Falun Gong.

"It is difficult to stand solid when you have such pressure against you," Daly said. "Fiona Ma, in my opinion, has been unfairly lobbied against welcoming a significant cultural exhibit."

Followers of Falun Gong practice traditional Chinese breathing exercises for physical, mental and spiritual well-being. The group's success at organizing large events and protests has alarmed the Chinese government, which fears large gatherings as a threat to its control.

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