CultureGrrl Goes to China


I have been reading Lee Rosenbaum’s excellent (and award-winning) blog of late.  I was not surprised earlier this month to note that she had visited China, particularly given the frequency of her posts regarding Ai Weiwei.

After some rather predictable (though eloquent) observations about China’s contemporary building boom (“architecture on steroids” apt indeed), she moves on to limitations on discourse and expression with the likes of:

It seems to me that the form of press censorship most dangerous to a dictatorship is partial censorship, allowing people to get a tantalizing taste of what they’re not supposed to see, and then frustrating and demeaning them by denying free access to the rest of the story.

But it is the essence of China’s thought control as practiced throughout the twentieth and now twenty-first centuries. As usual, I’d advocate a more complicated (or perhaps just the opposite?) view: in the current media/technology climate, TOTAL blackout is simply impossible, or at least not worth the effort.  Creating conditions whereby some information comes through while periodically and often randomly obstructing, deleting or suppressing other content flow slows the pace of inevitable change, allowing public opinion to be channeled in directions which seem (to bureaucrats sadly shackled with the task, anyway) “best” for society.  That Lee Rosenbaum cannot understand this method or deems it “dangerous” is really a function of provincialism–that one path to more open discourse experience is the only way to get there. Truth is, China is demonstrating an alternative as we speak.

And speaking of provincialism, I’m afraid I can’t let the following comment go without comment:

This brings us to the CultureGrrl Blackout: The first site that my tour group visited after arriving in Beijing was Tiananmen Square, perhaps best know today for the famous pro-democracy protests of 1989. We arrived there only a week after Liu had been awarded his Nobel Peace Prize—an honor decried by the Chinese government as rewarding a convicted criminal.

Truth is (for reasons I mention above) few Chinese are aware that “Tiananmen Square is best known for famous pro-democracy protests”.  In fact, a large portion of the Chinese population does not know that there were protests in 1989.  And more to the point, many of those who do don’t much care.  Whatever one thinks of this fact (well documented, by the way), it is important to remember that spaces/places have meaning, and that that meaning may not be universally understood.  Perhaps while Lee was there, she might have considered what else “Tiananmen” might mean.

And finally, I was in Tiananmen earlier this fall and, it so happens, there was a fire on the street.  It was in fact a burning trash can, the type used to deposit remains of cigarettes, one, apparently, not sufficiently extinguished.




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