Posts Tagged ‘politics’

Ai Weiwei/艾未未 Marches On – Portraits for Foreign Policy

Ai Weiwei poses for a portrait with one of his cats in his studio compound.

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of visiting Ai Weiwei in his studio to take portraits for Foreign Policy’s Top 100 Global Thinkers list where he appeared at #18 in the rankings. He was very amiable and open to me directing him about his compound where I posed him with some of his favorite cats. Ai Weiwei is all over the news again. After a short period of silence following an 81-day incarceration, he continues to lash out at authorities and decry the trumped-up charges of tax evasion brought against him in an attempt to silence his outspoken criticisms. A recent Newsweek piece he penned where he related Beijing to a “nightmare” was especially noteworthy. This renewed vigor and boldness seem in large part due to the outpouring of support shown by anonymous Chinese donors who rallied behind him to raise $1.4 million to challenge his huge tax bill which he refers to as ransom money. Other admirers are finding more brazen outlets to show support by posting nude photos of themselves online in defense of other spurious pornography charges brought against Ai Weiwei for a set of revealing self portraits released on the Internet. To make things even more controversial, high profile figures are weighing in on the situation, including Taiwan’s president Ma Ying-jeou who visited his current exhibition at the Taipei Fine Arts Museum. It’s all quite a mess, but I am sure Ai Weiwei is pleased with himself for creating an even larger fuss than before his arrest – another great case of censorship backfiring in the face of the Chinese state.

In a crazy sense I think the political space in China has truly transformed Ai Weiwei’s life into an interdisciplinary work of art or a “social performance” as he calls it. His invocation of the Chinese state’s ire came through a combination of critical sculptures, writings, photographs, videos and installations. While these separate pieces might not be interdisciplinary in nature, they have brought about a dynamic where every action or utterance of Ai Weiwei becomes performative in nature and open to intense analysis by journalists, officials, police and, increasingly so, the general public. His identity remains at the center and activates all of these mediums of expression, especially through the Internet which exponentially magnifies his impact. In a statistical sense, Ai Weiwei is not well known in China. Still, he is making waves where it counts and China’s intelligentsia is taking note. These are the people fashioning the new China, and his stand against censorship and political suppression is singular. By tapping into a populist sentiment with his donation drive, he is putting officials even more on edge. It’s a very crucial moment for Ai Weiwei right now. There is still a very distinct possibility he might disappear again.

In other Ai Weiwei news, my friend Alison Klayman’s documentary, Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry, is set to premiere at the Sundance Festival in January. Check out the trailer and her appearance on the Colbert Report. It is very timely and should be a great film.

Ai Weiwei poses for a portrait in his studio compound.

Ai Weiwei poses for a portrait with one of his cats in his studio compound.Ai Weiwei poses for a portrait in his studio compound.Ai Weiwei poses for a portrait in his studio compound.

Ai Weiwei poses for a portrait in his studio compound.Ai Weiwei poses for a portrait in his studio compound.Ai Weiwei poses for a portrait in his studio compound.

Ai Weiwei poses for Foreign Policy's Top 100 Global Thinkers

    “Red State” – Red China Rising in Time Magazine

    Red State clipping from Time Magazine featuring Red China Rising photographs

    I am definitely late in publicizing this, but Time Magazine used a bunch of photographs from my Red China Rising series in a recent article on red culture and Maoist thought promotion in China for the 90th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party. The foreign and domestic media frenzy surrounding the promotion of red songs and Mao quotes seems to have subsided now, but it certainly doesn’t mean old people won’t keep gathering in public parks to belt out “The East is Red” and other Cultural Revolution favorites. The whole campaign sort of turned into a joke by the end, and certainly never really caught on amongst the youth. The only real impact I could see is that couples dressing up for cheesy romantic portait sessions now like to don People’s Liberation Army garb covered in red stars. Intentional irony or not, march on!

    Red State clipping from Time Magazine featuring Red China Rising photographs

    Red State clipping from Time Magazine featuring Red China Rising photographs

      Gum Bleed Releases Revolutionary EP: No War But Class War

      Gum Bleed rocks out D-22 for the release of their new EP

      Gum Bleed just released a new EP, No War But Class War, on October 15. The evening also celebrated their fifth year anniversary as a band. Gum Bleed are, “the youngest and most revolutionary street punx in People’s Republic of China,” according to their website. The lead singer rocks a hardcore, deep-throated growl as he expounds on the problems of the working class and the socioeconomic excesses of a now globalized China. It’s hard to discern what he is singing on stage, but the lyrics are incendiary to say the least. I don’t usually see punk bands openly publicize such lyrical discontent to this extent. On the website they also post separate links to a host of both international (Myspace, iTunes, YouTube) and domestic (Douban, Youku, Renren) media sites – very savvy. Buy some of their badass t-shirts which are also on sale. Here is to another five years of fighting the system. Onward and upward with Gum Bleed!

      “Civilization Crime”

      Whoa.. Oh..Whoa Civilization crime
      Whoa.. Oh..Whoa Civilization crime

      We was born in hate and dark
      With this modern slavery
      Bank and law has bleed white us
      Hey what’s the hell, what’s going on

      99 for new colony capital
      Get paid 1 from the TNC
      World free market brings us endless debt
      Hey what’s the hell, what’s going on

      Welcome to the brilliant world factory
      Full of grandeur industrial parks and top airports
      Working class pay the liabilities for the whole country
      But die in private property social security system

      Globalization imperialism , Civilization crime
      Corporatocracy failed us, Civilization crime

      Hey! look at the country’s GNP
      Hey! why you still in terror n’ disease
      Hey! wake up the jobless and tear up the reins
      Hey that’s the future, keep going on

      Globalization imperialism , Civilization crime
      Corporatocracy failed us, Civilization crime

      “Economy is Fake Anyway”

      Struggle turns to market, Politic’s a business
      People on high level said: “That’s not enough!”

      Covered by the money, Covered by the profit
      Greedy meat eater said: “That’s the human nature!”

      Cheaper than the machines, Cheaper than the live stocks
      We were betrayed by nation but: “Enough is enough!”

      Used to be no words, Used to be no faces
      We were zero but: “We won’t be silence!”

      We won’t calculate anyway
      We won’t produce anyway
      We won’t buy you anything
      We won’t sell you anything

      Expose the truth

      Deferential to yield
      Enough for us

      We won’t buy you
      We won’t sell you
      We won’t buy you
      We won’t sell you

      Snow, lead guitarist for Gum Bleed, gives the stoic lookSnow, lead guitarist for Gum Bleed, gives the pyscho look

      Play: Gum Bleed – No War But Class War

      Play: Gum Bleed – Liberation Day

        Enjoy Your 60th Anniversary at Home

        Hu Jintao rides in his motorcade around Tiananmen on live TV

        The celebrations surrounding the 60th Anniversary of the foundation of the People’s Republic of China took over Beijing this past week. However, on the actual anniversary, October 1, people were cleared off the streets due to the high-profile military parade snaking across the head of Tiananmen Square. Everything was carefully orchestrated for this massive made-for-TV event. Even the sky miraculously turned a deep blue thanks to weather control programs. In the end, the only way people could really interact with the special occasion was complaisantly at home via televised programming or by cramming into Tiananmen Square over the next week to inspect the floats used in the parade. Despite all the control, everyone was stirred up into a proper nationalistic fervor.

        Locals pose in front of the Mao portrait at the entrance to the Forbidden CityGuards hold back crowds on Tiananmen during the flag lowering ceremony

        Locals flocked to Tiananmen to take photos with floats used in the 60th Anniversary ParadeLocals flocked to Tiananmen to take photos with floats used in the 60th Anniversary Parade

          2009 Modern Sky Festival: Foreign Acts Denied

          2009 Modern Sky Festival Rocks Chaoyang Park

          Modern Sky is definitely one of the pioneers in bringing large-scale music festivals to China and were planning something big this year. However, thanks to the sensitive nature of the sixtieth anniversary of the People’s Republic of China, all foreign acts were canceled last minute. This is going to be a huge blow to Modern Sky’s ticket sales and confidence in importing foreign acts in the future. It is also a bit of a scare tactic employed by the local government who like to let people know who is in charge every once in awhile. Nonetheless, the festival continued with its domestic lineup and rocked out Chaoyang Park to great acclaim. Maybe next year.

            Thwarting the Golden Shield

            Beijing University students get their fix at an Internet cafe

            Oliver August submitted a great article to Wired on the Chinese state’s imprudent attempts to monitor and filter domestic Internet content. The impractical task continues to disconcert the central government as millions of new users chip away at the “Golden Shield” on a daily basis. Still, nothing can stem the burgeoning flow of digital traffic and desire for unadulterated information access. Adaptive technologies such as proxy servers and encryption constantly spoil attempts to seal outside media from online denizens. The problem will only expand as a younger, tech-savvy generation comes to age. Restricting the Internet only seems to create a stronger urge amongst adolescents to devour the forbidden fruits beyond the “Golden Shield.”

            Although this does not mark the eminent demise of the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) iron grip on the Chinese state, the CCP is scrambling to revamp their ministry of disinformation (aka The Central Propaganda Department – 中共中央宣传部) and methods of pacifying perturbed social groups. Puppet strings amongst the masses are growing taut and sometimes snapping as the Chinese state loses ground in an increasingly influential online world. Bloggers and journalists now regularly flout bans on reporting events blacklisted by the Chinese state. As the masses continue to grow wary of the Chinese state’s official mouthpieces, they actively seek out alternative media outlets both at home and abroad. Even though only a tenth of China’s massive 1.3 billion population consistently access the Internet, these numbers are rising just as fast as China’s breakneck GDP growth.

            The greatest hope for this information revolution subsists in the Chinese state’s reliance on new communication technologies to drive economic expansion. They cannot simply unplug the masses. While Burma cut the Internet with ease during recent pro-democracy protests, the Chinese State would bring untold ruin to markets that increasingly depend on the Internet to drive business and communication. It would also represent a massive step backward in desperate attempts to present a polished facade for the world during the Olympics. In any case, the future political battlefield will certainly take place online where everyone can have an equal stake much to the CCP’s dismay.

            Link: The Great Firewall: China’s Misguided — and Futile — Attempt to Control What Happens Online

              All content © 2014 to Matthew Niederhauser