Chinese Bible

I think pretty much everyone in the room laughed in recognition, as Gene Sherman told the story about the promise she and her husband had made to each other. As she noted they had been married forty-seven years, and were a family that “kept promises”, she went on to say they had agreed and promised to stop purchasing art. As they approach their 70s, they realised they had close to 900 works at various locations around Sydney, and that was probably enough for them to handle. Visiting Hong Kong, however, she came across the work “Chinese Bible” by Yang Zhichao, declaring it today “the greatest work in our collection”.

And what a purchase! A collection of about 3,000 personal diaries from the time of China’s Cultural Revolution, currently on display at Sydney’s Sherman Gallery. Dr Geremie Barme from the Australian National University (who opened today’s exhibition) said the diary entries range from shopping lists to “careful thoughts”. He also noted it was often a practice during those years for people to burn their diaries, mindful they might fall into the hands of the authorities.

As you enter the gallery, you’re immediately overwhelmed by the scale of the artwork. It took three days to lay them out carefully in order on specially prepared plinths, we were told today. And then you look more closely at the works, the beautiful covers, and wonder what’s inside. Twenty five of the diaries have been translated into English, which you can read them on computers at the back of the gallery.

For me, this blog is like a diary, though nowhere as personal as something I might have written by hand and without thinking there would be a broader audience, preferring to keep my “darker thoughts” to myself. As I wandered home I thought about my own childhood diaries where I did just that. Sadly, they were washed away in the big Lismore flood of the late 1980s.

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