Magna Carta in China: Guangzhou 'displays' historic' document.
These words are from the Magna Carta, the historic British document that some see as inspiring the rise of individual liberties over the past 800 years. By signing it in 1215, England's King John gave in to powerful barons who wished to curtail his power. It did so by calling for trial by one's peers and, an end to arbitrary taxation, aspects taken to heart by America's Founding Fathers in drafting the Declaration of Independence and Constitution.
On Oct, 19-20, one of the four surviving versions of the 1217 Magna Carta revision was displayed in the visa hall of U.S. Consulate General Guangzhou, attended by thousands of Chinese visitors. Guangzhou was one stop on the document's 65,000-mile journey across seven countries, including the cities of Beijing and Shanghai.
It came to be at the Consulate General Guangzhou after a Chinese landmark in Guangzhou declined to display the document, leaving the British without a venue just three weeks before the show. At the end of September, their consulate in Guangzhou asked the U.S. Consulate General for assistance. Since Guangzhou's visa hall hosts several thousand visa applicants per day, it had enough room for visitors to an exhibit of this magnitude, and Consul General Chuck Bennett agreed to partner with his British counterpart by converting the space to showcase the document.
Visa operations were canceled for the two-day display, and a flurry of planning began regarding such matters as security requirements. The Magna Carta had to be under 24-hour line-of-sight watch; post's regional security officers spent six straight days and nights on guard, In the end, the visa area, Lincoln Hall, was transformed into a museum with 19 display panels describing the document's history and importance and a massive tent to display the Magna Carta and the King's Writ, a note from 1215 announcing the document's signing.
A week before the Magna Carta went on display in Guangzhou, international media reports surfaced that the planned location for the Beijing viewing, a Chinese university, would no longer host the document. The British Embassy in Beijing had to move the event to their ambassador's residence at the last minute, limiting the number of visitors. By hosting a public viewing at the U.S. consulate, Guangzhou not only demonstrated the close ties and shared political history between the U.S. and the U.K., but also provided a venue for more Chinese visitors to see the politically sensitive document. The position of the Chinese government is underscored by the fact that searches for "Magna Carta" are blocked on Sina Weibo, China's version of Twitter,
During its run, the Guangzhou exhibit hosted more than 4,000 visitors, mostly Chinese citizens. Crowds clustered around Canon Chancellor Christopher Pullin of England's Hereford Cathedral, where the documents are otherwise housed, to ask which clauses were still in effect and debate the principles of limited government. In the final hour before the public viewing concluded, nearly 400 Chinese elementary school children entered the hall, scribbling notes. Several asked: "Why is it in Latin? Don't British people speak English?" In total, more than 80 consulate staff members helped with the viewing and its follow-on reception, including setup, security, museum guides and interpreters.
A full 250 guests attended the reception to honor the Magna Carta's 800th anniversary. British Consul General Matthew Rous thanked the Americans for hosting, and Consul General Bennett spoke of how America owes a debt to the Magna Carta's architects. "For the United States, the Magna Carta remains a greatly respected symbol of independence, civil liberty and rule of law, and is considered the catalyst for the development of our system of governance," he observed.
By Alisa Modica, vice consul, U.S. Consulate General in Guangzhou, China