China’s recent use of a 35-year-old torn painting, known as the “Whispers of Love”, as a symbol of ‘hope for reunification’ with Taiwan, is a multifaceted initiative that embodies the world of symbolism and diplomacy. The painting was split into two during an exhibition in 1986 and was recently restored and exhibited in mainland China. This has sparked global conversation around the artistic metaphor the Chinese administration is using to advance their reunification narrative with Taiwan.
The torn painting, itself a visual metaphor for a divided polity, reflects the current political divide between China and Taiwan. “Whispers of Love”, a tranquil scene of a mother and her child, was accidentally torn in transit to Taiwan’s Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall in 1986. The painting was split almost evenly in two, a physical mirroring of the great ‘One China’ divide.
China considers its reunification with Taiwan a historical imperative and a national goal. This political sentiment led to the concept of ‘One China’, which encompasses both mainland China and Taiwan. However, Taiwan considers itself a sovereign state with its distinct constitution and democratic government, straining the relationship between the two entities.
The painting’s display is strategic timing on China’s part, aiming to project the idea of reunification amid heightened geopolitical tensions. The restoration of the torn artwork sends a clear message that resonates with Beijing’s long-term goal of Taiwan’s reunification. The resulting picture becomes a powerful symbol of a reunified polity, reflecting China’s hope that the current political divide is not permanent and can be reconciled, much like the painting.
The act of portraying geopolitics through art is not new. Nevertheless, China’s use of the painting as a tool in its diplomatic toolkit signals an intriguing shift in the way Beijing imparts political messages, particularly concerning sensitive issues like Taiwan. It illustrates China’s ability to weave a potent narrative of unity and reconciliation using emotional and cultural resonance, shifting away from solely relying on military and economical coercion.
Whether or not the metaphor of a torn and restored painting will help bring about China’s objective is uncertain. However, it’s undeniable that the painting has rekindled conversations about the potential for reunification, underpinning the enigmatic power of symbolism in politics.