Artist Hung Liu in 2014 (via Wikimedia)

An exhibition by Chinese-American artist Hung Liu that was set to open in Beijing next month was canceled by local authorities. The cancellation comes amidst growing trade tensions between the United States and China and signifies increased censorship of political art in China.

An exhibition of Liu’s works was scheduled to open at the UCCA Center for Contemporary Art in Beijing on December 6, but it was called off after Chinese officials denied the institution the customs permits needed to import the works into the country.

Liu, an artist known for her political works, was born in northeastern China in 1948 and moved to the United States in 1984. “Maybe they felt like it was a comment on the current state of China,” the artist told the New York Times. “I was so sad and disappointed,” she continued. “Of course my work has political dimensions, but my focus is really the human faces, the human struggle, the epic journey.”

According to Liu, Beijing cultural authorities have voiced concerns about nine of her works, including the painting “Twelve Hairpins of Jinling” (2011), which shows 12 schoolgirls in uniforms wearing gas masks, and a 1993 self-portrait based on a photo of her a young, rifle-toting fighter at the end of China’s Cultural Revolution. Another painting that was objected to by authorities is “Abacus” (1988), which loosely translates to “Seven-Up Eight-Down,” a phrase in Chinese that describes agitation.

Liu reluctantly agreed to withdraw the nine works from the exhibition, focusing on more recent works and works that had been exhibited in China before. But that did was not enough to ease the concerns of the authorities in Beijing.

According to the Times, Philip Tinari, director of the UCCA, sent a letter to lenders to the exhibition explaining that after months of negotiations with the local authorities, he was informed this month that the approvals will not be issued.

“Topics that were once relatively open for discussion are now increasingly scrutinized,” Tinari wrote in his letter. “An exhibition that might have been greenlighted a few years ago — such as this one — must now be canceled.”

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Hakim Bishara is a Senior Editor at Hyperallergic. He is also a co-director at Soloway Gallery, an artist-run space in Brooklyn. Bishara is a recipient of the 2019 Andy Warhol Foundation and Creative Capital...

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