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China demands French museum censor Genghis Khan exhibit

China flag. (Unsplash)
May 23, 2024

An exhibition on Mongol Emperor Genghis Khan was put on hold until this year after China demanded certain historical facts be altered.

In partnership with the Inner Mongolia Museum in Hohhot, China, the French museum Chateau des Ducs de Bretagne in Nantes was planning the display until the Chinese Bureau of Cultural Heritage insisted on complete control over all of the exhibition’s texts and catalogs.

According to a recently resurfaced report by the Le Parisien, the Chinese museum had already signed a contract agreeing to loan pieces to the Chateau des Ducs de Bretagne for the exhibit, but China’s cultural department questioned the contract, requiring all maps, legends, and brochures be sent to China for approval.

“While everything was signed and validated, a new contract was offered to us,” Bertrand Guillet, director of the Château des ducs de Bretagne, said in Le Parisien. “It was indicated that all the texts of the exhibition and the catalog as well as the cartography elements had to be sent to China for validation.”

Chinese authorities demanded certain words be removed from the title, including “Genghis Khan,” “empire,” and “Mongol.” They insisted the new title read: “Chinese Steppe Culture of the World.”

The bureau also completely rewrote the text for the exhibit in China and sent it to Nantes.

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“The word Mongol appeared on the twelfth page, Genghis Khan had completely disappeared and the point of view was centered on the Han dynasty,” Guillet said. “It is a prism that corresponds to the national narrative developed in China today. Today there is absolute control over what comes out and what is said.”

The French museum believed they had no other choice than to postpone the exhibition after accusing the Chinese government of “censorship,” which they believe stems from “hardening, this summer, of the position of the Chinese government against the Mongolian minority.”

Chinese Communist Party oppression is a decades-long issue the Mongolian minority has faced. After World War II, China annexed the southern part of Mongolia. Called the “Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region,” the Chinese Communist Party encouraged ethnic Han Chinese to move into the new region in an effort to force out the minority Mongolians.

The conflict between the two museums is the most recent attempt at what human rights groups classify as Mongolian “cultural genocide.”

“You understand that here, there are things with which we do not compromise,” Guillet said. “The exhibition is therefore not definitively canceled. It is postponed to 2024. This is the time needed to collect other pieces to present, unearthed elsewhere than in China.”