In late August 1966, during the incipient stages of the Cultural Revolution (1966–1976) in China, students and teachers of the prestigious Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing smashed with axes and shovels the school’s plaster cast collection of established sculptural masterpieces.1 Used as models from which the school’s students made sketches as part of their basic training, the plaster cast collection included Michelangelo’s David, the Venus de Milo, and the Apollo Belvedere, as well as Buddhist sculptures from various renowned cave temples in China. With the demonstrative destruction of the plaster casts of what were deemed canonical artworks, the scales for measuring artistic value in the still young Communist nation were symbolically and definitively overturned. A month later the large-scale exhibition of one of the most important works in Chinese modern art, Rent Collection Courtyard, opened in Beijing in the room once dedicated for ancestral veneration in...

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