Problems showing gratitude between twinned cities

12Jan09

What, you may ask, do Florence (Italy) and Ningbo (China) share in common? Well, the simple answer was that the two cities were twinned. But it appears a touch of civic uncertainty now also links the local government officials from both cities even more tightly.

The problem has risen in the form of art – reproduction statues in this case. First of all the civic authority in Florence donated a copy of the statue of David to the people of Ningbo. In typical Chinese style, the gesture was politely returned and added to.

The government officials for Ningbo sent two statues to the people of Florence. So where’s the problem you might ask? Well, while the Italians assumed the Chinese would be delighted to display the copy of Michelangelo’s David (it is dutifully displayed outside the Grand Theatre). The Italians have found the two Chinese statues less to their liking. In fact they haven’t been able to agree a suitable spot in Florence to display them. The residents of Florence have apparently made it clear they find the Chinese art ugly and don’t wish to display the statues.

The Chinese statues are reproductions of Tang dynasty figures. One a smiling warrior, the other a bureaucrat. They were supplied in September 2008 with the request they be placed near greenery and running water.

The problem is a little more sizable than you might expect. Firstly because each 4m (13 feet) tall Chinese statue weighs 4 tonnes. Secondly because a delegate from China was planning to travel to Florence to see the 2 statues installed. The lack of progress in finding a site led to a comment from the Chinese authorities in The Guardian newspaper ‘Councillors are worried that when the truth emerges the Ningbo David could be knocked down in revenge.’

Officials in Florence cannot persuade the residents’ committee to accept the Chinese statues, even if they are tucked away, somewhere out of town. “How about placing them at an international location, like the airport,” the committee chairman, Giuseppe d’Eugenio told newspaper Corriere Fiorentino after he refused the statues.

“They are ugly and too imposing,” added Andrea Ceccarelli, a second residents’ representative. “They would also block the views of motorists at a roundabout and be dangerous.”

The danger from Chinese art cannot be understated it seems for the residents of this Italian World Heritage Centre. Florence official Silvano Gori, who backed the exchange of statues to help “establish a bridge for businessmen from China and Italy to exchange ideas.” blamed Florentine stuffiness for the rebuff. “Every time you try something different in Florence there is a row,” he said.

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