Another work in question was a 2011 painting of 12 schoolgirls in uniforms wearing gas masks, which Ms. Liu said was originally based on a historical photograph of an air raid drill during World War II.
“The message is antiwar so I thought it was O.K., but when I talked with my Chinese artist friends about it, they just said one word: Hong Kong,” Ms. Liu said.
Ms. Liu said that after the authorities voiced objections, she reluctantly agreed to withdraw the nine works in question from the show.
The final show would also have included some of Ms. Liu’s more recent works, based on the Depression-era photographs of Dorothea Lange as well as some works that had been exhibited in China before, like a painting of a Chinese mother and daughter pulling a barge upstream.
But in a sign of the fast-shrinking space for expression in China, the authorities decided in the end to effectively kill the show altogether by refusing to issue the approvals required to import the remaining works.