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The Loan of Cultural Materials between New Zealand and China: A dialogue with Chinese conservators


Receiving the inaugural Winston Churchill NZ China Friendship Society Fellowship enabled Diana Coop to combine two of her passions: conservation of cultural materials and China.

She sought the Fellowship to understand the general work and role of Chinese conservators in the loan process for exhibitions of cultural materials between New Zealand and China.

The Fellowship also enabled her to make connections with conservators in China for future collaborations and enhance communication between conservators in the two countries.

Diana met and discussed the work of more than 50 conservators in eight cultural institutions in four Chinese cities – Shanghai, Suzhou, Nanjing and Beijing.

“The hardest part of the process was getting confirmed meetings and connections. Chinese organisations can be very hierarchical so be clear who it is you want to meet so you can be set up with the right people. I called on all my contacts in the effort to get those critical invitations in China. In terms of communication, make sure you get a WeChat account. Once I’d established contact via email WeChat was the way to communicate through instant messaging. Everyone has WeChat. In fact, people use WeChat to pay for practically everything in China.”

She found that the conservator role in China has some distinct differences to the role of New Zealand conservators in cultural institutions.

One conservator role in New Zealand is split into two in China: the conservator, or scientific research role, and the restorer, or repair of cultural materials role. The two roles are distinct from each other and the training is completely different. The conservator trains in scientific methods via formal university studies and the restorer generally trains as an apprentice with an in-house master in an institution.

Diana found the people she met in China extremely generous with their time and knowledge.

“At every meeting I was given an interpreter,” she said.

“A lot of people speak good English but it can be harder if you are trying to discuss technical subjects with jargon. I was lucky to find a document that had some English / Chinese definitions of terms specific to my project that I could refer to. I also took uniquely New Zealand gifts: pounamu and honey as well as exhibition catalogues that were relevant to my project subject. Everyone was very interested in New Zealand and in particular Maori culture – be prepared to be somewhat of an ‘ambassador’ for New Zealand. New Zealanders are well loved.”

Conservation of a hand scroll at Conservation Hospital, Palace Museum, Beijing


Diana with paper conservators at Nanjing Museum


Diana with scroll mounting Master, Mr Fan, at Suzhou Museum.


Here is the link to the webpage to access information about this years Winston Churchill NZ China Friendship Society Fellowship opportunity and make an application..


Applications for travel in 2019 close on Wednesday 1 August 2018. Decisions will be made in October 2018