I’ve had several articles up at Asia Times in the last few weeks.
Ghosts of Wenchuan marks the third anniversary of the Wenchuan earthquake of May 12, 2008.
Two of China’s best known dissident artists, Ai Weiwei and Liao Yiwu, make Wenchuan an important part of their critique of the Chinese political system.
Ai focussed on the apparently disproportionate number of deaths of children who perished when shoddy “doufu dregs” schoolbuildings collapsed. He organized citizen investigators to come up with a list of children killed, organized a reading of their names, and created an installation on the facade of a museum in Munich spelling out the phrase “She lived happily on this earth for seven years” (the phrase of a mourning mother of one of the victims) using 9000 children's backpacks.
9000 may well be chosen to represent his estimate of the number of schoolchildren who actually died. His count and official statistics are at the 5000 level, but it is alleged that the death toll was twice that.
Wenchuan is close to the center of Ai’s criticism of the political and moral rot he sees in Chinese society under the CCP.
Liao Yiwu, a writer, has become more and more well known in the West for his reportage on the marginalized citizens of China that the government doesn't want you to know about. He went into the quake zone and compiled a record, Earthquake Madhouse: A Record of the Big Sichuan Earthquake, of what he saw and heard.
A lot of it apparently did not reflect particularly well on the government’s response, especially its policy of treating the local populace as blame-placing and compensation-seeking troublemakers and placing the quake zone under virtual military lockdown during the rescue, recovery, and early rebuilding period.
Both men labored under government hostility for their advocacy. Liao was denied the opportunity to go to Australia to accept an award for his eathquake book in 2009, and the Chinese authority recently pulled him off the plane just as he was about to embark on an international tour that would promote his latest book, The Corpse Walker.
As for Ai, he was punched in the face while in Chengdu attempting to testify at the trial of Tan Zuoren, an earthquake investigator who was sentenced to five years in prison for his activism. The punch apparently caused hemorrhaging in Ai’s brain, and he had a procedure in Munich a few weeks later to drain it.
In April, Ai was detained for suspicion of “economic crimes”, which is what I guess they call lese majeste these days.
The Chinese government would like everybody to remember the $1 trillion yuan it claims to have poured into the reconstruction of Wenchuan. However, a lot of people apparently don’t see it the same way. On the third anniversary of the quake, Southern Metropolis Daily ran a quickly-censored editorial invoking Ai’s art as a mourning offering to the dead schoolchildren.
For a lot of activists Wenchuan looks like one of those naked lunch moments, when they witnessed and were nauseated by what they saw to be the regime’s true nature.
I also wrote two Tibet-related pieces.
One was a quickie, Osama and the Real Dalai Lama, on the absurd media fuss that the Dalai Lama has “implied” that the killing of Bin Laden was “justified”. He said nothing of the sort, and the news reports that raced around the world on the wings of the Internet and little Tweetie feet were all drawn from a single piece of misreporting by the Metro reporter of the LA Times. The story was useful primarily as a lesson that newspapers behave just like blogs. They need to fill their screens and follow the buzz. A false controversy is just as good as a real fact—better, because there is no limit to the juiciness of a falsehood-- so they are happy to peddle BS first and ask questions later if at all.
The second Tibet piece, Tibet’s Only Hope Lies Within is built around McClatchy correspondent Tim Johnson’s new book Tragedy in Crimson. He argues that the Tibetan political movement is doomed by the power of China and the resulting indifference of all the nations that matter to Tibetan political aspirations. I take the somewhat different tack that local Tibetan identity—and activism--will survive the tsunami of investment and Han immigration moving into the region. In fact, marginalization of Tibetans in their own homeland seems to be evoking even stronger feelings of solidarity and grievance as many of the young find refuge in monasteries.
Finally, I wrote a piece China has tool-box to head off high-speed crash about Dr. Doom—Nouriel Roubini’s—prediction that the Chinese economy is due for a burst bubble and hard landing pretty soon. I agree! But posit that the Chinese government has an active Keynesian doctrine and capacity and will to intervene that the US apparently lacks, and therefore has some effective tools to deal with its problems.
photograph of Ai Weiwei installation by Zoltan Jokay from http://zoltanjokay.de/zoltanblog/2010/01/ai-weiwei-she-lived-happily-for-seven-years-int-his-world-ai-weiwei-she-lived-happily-for-seven-years-int-his-world/