Cultural bodies should be ‘wary’ of funding from China, library says

Historic Dublin library tweeted about exhibition’s funding after being questioned by a visitor

Marsh's Library in Dublin took to social media on Thursday to say that its exhibition on China had received no backing from the Chinese state after a visitor queried how it had been funded.

Jason McElligott, director of the 313-year-old library, said he wanted to make it clear that the Chinese communist party had provided no funding to the exhibition of texts and maps.

The library posted a social media message on its Twitter account on Thursday saying: “All cultural institutions need to be wary of accepting money to promote the soft power of regimes with very hard fists. You can enjoy our current exhibition on China knowing that we have not compromised on fundamental principles.”

It said in an earlier tweet it had decided “on human rights grounds not to seek funding from any entity associated with or controlled by the Chinese CP [communist party]. Recent events vindicate that decision.”

Mr McElligott said that since the library opened on Tuesday he had been asked a question by a visitor in light of the anti-government protests in Hong Kong whether the library had accepted any money from the Chinese state or whether it had some involvement in the exhibition.

The question, he said, was an entirely legitimate one to ask given the events in China.

"We wanted to make it clear for anyone who was wondering who might be coming in after the lockdown that there is no engagement of the Chinese state in presenting historical pictures of China here in Ireland, " said the library's director.

He described the exhibition as "an entirely independent representation of a historical moment in Chinese-European relations" that looked at interactions between Europe and China in the 16th and 17th centuries through texts and maps written by Westerners who lived or worked in China.

Mr McElligott, who is also the keeper of Marsh’s Library, said the exhibition predated the coronavirus pandemic and was organised to appeal to increasing numbers of Chinese visitors to Dublin.

The exhibition opened on March 10th but the library had to close two days later when the Government introduced the lockdown to stem the spread of Covid-19, the coronavirus disease.

“The two Chinese visitors we had in over the two days before lockdown were very impressed,” he said of the exhibition which runs until the end of the year.

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell is The Irish Times’s Public Affairs Editor and former Washington correspondent