China’s censorship reaches far beyond its own borders | Letter

I read with interest your editorial (The Guardian view on China’s censors: the sense of an (acceptable) ending, 24 August). In 2016, I was about to publish a book on pop art, which had a short section on artists responding to political and social turmoil in the 1960s, and which included an illustration of Jim Dine’s Drag – Johnson and Mao (1967). The etching depicts Mao Zedong of the People’s Republic of China and the US president Lyndon B Johnson, who sent troops to counter Chinese communist support in the Vietnam war.

Dine’s coloured etching applies cosmetic touches to the lips, cheeks and eyelids of these two supposed (and opposed) “freedom” fighters (and a black heart painted on the chin of Mao), essentially to caricature political propaganda and masculine conviction. The capitalist and communist leaders appear as drag actors whose posturing affects a global audience. The printers of my book – a Chinese company – forced the London publisher to remove the offending illustration and text. In our cosy western world, we should never take free speech for granted, especially if it concerns art.
John Finlay

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