A little over a month ago, NATO's errant bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade also demolished a long-planned appearance by the Boston Symphony Orchestra (BSO) in Beijing. The cultural collateral damage didn't end there. Visits to China by the American Ballet Theater, the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, and the New York Choral Society have also been cancelled.
Chinese officials are quick to say that all cultural exchanges are not off (and, indeed, many Chinese groups are currently touring the US). The missed dates with the major American ensembles mentioned above can be rescheduled, they say.
That, however, could be a process of years, since orchestras and ballets book far ahead. The BSO, for example, won't be able to put Beijing back on its itinerary for three or four years. But a new date is likely. The symphony's managing director, Mark Volpe, notes that the orchestra has ongoing relationships with Chinese artists and composers. Some of them will participate in the Tanglewood festival in Massachusetts this summer.
So the outlook for Chinese-American cultural exchanges is brighter than it may have seemed in recent weeks. That's to the good. Such exchanges have been a major part of building understanding between the two peoples ever since the "opening" of the early 1970s.
Culture and art are universals that should not be drowned out by bombs, spy controversies, or trade issues.