It’s been a bit of a bad week for the British Museum. High temperatures forced staff to close the site early on Monday and Tuesday, damaging revenue flow and prompting renewed criticism of its BP sponsorship deal. Then today Sadiq Khan – the museum’s own local mayor – called on the government to find a way of sharing the highly-prized Elgin Marbles with Greece. In such circumstances, the British Museum needs all the friends it can get.
So it was no surprise therefore that two new names have been appointed as directors of the British Museum Friends, which serve as trustees of its collection. One of them is private equity chief Weijian Shan, who joins the star-studded board alongside the likes of Grayson Perry, Mary Beard and, er, chairman George Osborne. Intrigued, Mr S thought he’d peruse Shan’s past columns in the South China Morning Post. Among them include backing for Beijing’s crackdown on Hong Kong, defending China’s human rights abuses in Xinjiang as a ‘war on terror’ and supporting the country’s ‘territorial claims’ over Taiwan. Nice!
Professor Sean Roberts, the author of The War on the Uyghurs, has even previously accused Shan of using ‘CCP [Chinese Communist Party] talking points on Uyghurs and Xinjiang to deny atrocities in the Uyghur homeland’. Asked for comment about whether the British Museum supported such views, a spokesman told Mr S that: ‘The British Museum has a world-spanning collection and we believe that our trustee board should reflect this plurality.’
Chairman George Osborne of course was Chancellor during the short-lived ‘Golden era’ of relations between the UK and China; his deputy Lord Sassoon hosted the UK-China Business Summit during Xi Jinping’s visit to Britain. Since then relations between the two governments have cooled for the various controversies which Shan seems so keen to defend. So it’s good to see one part of the establishment at least is still keeping such an open mind about the company it chooses to keep.