Yue Minjun’s paintings censored on Weibo

Source: China Digital Times (5/24/23)
Yue Minjun’s Iconic Paintings of Grinning PLA Soldiers Being Censored on Weibo

If the lesson last week was “Don’t laugh about the PLA,” this week’s message seems to be, “Don’t even crack a smile.”

First, stand-up comedian Li Haoshi (stage name “House”) was accused of defaming the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) because of a joke he made that referenced a PLA slogan and seemed to liken stray dogs to soldiers. House was deplatformed, pressured to apologize, and placed under police investigation, while the Shanghai comedy studio that employs him was fined nearly $2 million dollars and had their performances suspended indefinitely. At least one of House’s online defenders was arrested.

Now it appears that one of China’s most renowned contemporary painters, Beijing-based Yue Minjun (岳敏君), has been targeted by online nationalists who accuse him of “insulting the military” and “defaming revolutionary heroes and martyrs.” Painting in a style has been dubbed “Cynical Realism,” Yue is well known for his colorful, off-kilter, and instantly recognizable paintings of wide-mouthed, toothily grinning or laughing men—all of whom bear a close resemblance to the artist himself. Many of his works are sold at auction, exhibited in museums, or held in private collections. At a 2007 auction at Sotheby’s London, his painting “Execution” sold for £2.9 million pounds ($5.9 million U.S. dollars), “making it the most expensive Chinese contemporary artwork sold on the secondary market at the time.” Continue reading

CCP smear campaign targets the Dalai Lama (2)

I expand this discussion of the Chinese propaganda against the Dalai Lama, and the stunning gullibility of the Western audiences that fell for it, in this new online interview with the new website Global Order, based out of New Delhi–Magnus Fiskesjö <nf42@cornell.edu>

Source: Global Order (5/24/23)
How the Chinese Communist Party ran a global propaganda campaign against the Dalai Lama

The Chinese Communist Party is running a global propaganda campaign to destroy the credibility of the Dalai Lama. The most recent example of this, says Magnus Fiskesjö, Associate Professor of Anthropology and Asian Studies at Cornell University, was the crude and brutal ‘suck my tongue’ controversy where an innocuous Tibetan gesture was attacked by trolling mobs, and even celebrities, around the world as sexual exploitation – all led by propaganda teams of the Chinese Communist Party. Fiskesjö talks to Hindol Sengupta about propaganda, cultural differences and misunderstandings and the redemptive power of compassion.”

China ramps up scrutiny of culture

Source: NYT (5/24/23)
As China Ramps Up Scrutiny of Culture, the Show Does Not Go On
Performances across the country were canceled last week after Beijing began investigating a stand-up comedian.
By Vivian Wang, reporting from Beijing

A person walks in front of a building with bright yellow facade and a sign saying “You are part of the show.”

The Beijing venue of the stand-up comedy company Xiaoguo Culture Media Co., which was fined around $2 million after one of its performers was accused of insulting the Chinese military in a joke. Credit…Tingshu Wang/Reuters

The cancellations rippled across the country: A Japanese choral band touring China, stand-up comedy shows in several cities, jazz shows in Beijing. In the span of a few days, the performances were among more than a dozen that were abruptly called off — some just minutes before they were supposed to begin — with virtually no explanation.

Just before the performances were scrapped, the authorities in Beijing had fined a Chinese comedy studio around $2 million, after one of its stand-up performers was accused of insulting the Chinese military in a joke; the police in northern China also detained a woman who had defended the comedian online.

Those penalties, and the sudden spate of cancellations that followed, point to the growing scrutiny of China’s already heavily censored creative landscape. China’s top leader, Xi Jinping, has made arts and culture a central arena for ideological crackdowns, demanding that artists align their creative ambitions with Chinese Communist Party goals and promote a nationalist vision of Chinese identity. Performers must submit scripts or set lists for vetting, and publications are closely monitored.

On Tuesday, Mr. Xi sent a letter to the National Art Museum of China for its 60th anniversary, reminding staff to “adhere to the correct political orientation.” Continue reading

CCP smear campaign targets the Dalai Lama (1)

Thanks to Magnus Fiskesjö for providing a reading for the Dalai Lama’s interaction with the child in April. I wasn’t aware of the linguistic and cultural aspects of this meeting, reductively sexualized and sensationalized in Western anglophone media. When I saw the clip, memed with a sort of gleeful meanness, the first thing I thought of is the trope of Buddhist monks and nuns in Chinese culture as lascivious, a sort of a parallel to Catholic clergy in European gothic literature (Lewis’ The Monk is the most well-known version but of course, the Catholic Church has its own historical cross to bear in this regard). The opera “The Little Nun Goes Down the Mountain,” a story of desire for the secular life, is one version of this. A fish-plank beating Buddhist monk is murdered by Shi Xiu in Outlaws of the Marsh for seducing a brother’s wife. And a similar lascivious Buddhist monk trope gets repeated when grandpa murders his mother’s Buddhist monk lover in Mo Yan’s Red Sorghum centuries later.

Maybe we need a social analysis of cancelling, which operates like a secular form of shunning in contemporary media, minus the semblance of consistent moral rationale, and with a multiplicity of actors possessing varying degrees of clout.

Sean Macdonald <smacdon2005@gmail.com>

The Specter of Materialism review

MCLC Resource Center is pleased to announce publication of Wenqing Kang’s review of The Specter of Materialism: Queer Theory and Marxism in the Age of the Beijing Consensus, by Petrus Liu. The review appears below and at its online home: https://u.osu.edu/mclc/book-reviews/wenqing-kang/. My thanks to Nicholas Kaldis, our literary studies book review editor, for ushering the review to publication.

Kirk Denton, MCLC

The Specter of Materialism: Queer Theory
and Marxism in the Age of the Beijing Consensus

By Petrus Liu

Reviewed by Wenqing Kang

MCLC Resource Center Publication (Copyright May, 2023)

Petrus Liu. The Specter of Materialism: Queer Theory and Marxism in the Age of the Beijing Consensus Durham: Duke University Press, 2023, x + 239 pp. ISBN 978-1-4780-1942-8 (paper) / ISBN 978-1-4780-1679-3 (cloth).

Queer theory emerged in the early 1990s to challenge social norms and move beyond LGBT identity politics. In recent years in the US, however, it has become a tool for advocating gender and sexual diversity and equal representation. Petrus Liu’s The Specter of Materialism: Queer Theory and Marxism in the Age of the Beijing Consensus is an imaginative intervention that aims to transform the field into a Queer Marxist critique of capitalism on a global scale.

Since its inception with Michel Foucault and Eve Sedgwick, queer theory has tended to treat the non-western world such as China as “the other” and deny its coevality in order to establish modern western sexual identity as the historical vanguard. In an earlier work, “Why Does Queer Theory Need China?”, Liu pointed out this blind spot and provided a trenchant critique of this Orientalist and Western-centric mode of thought.[1] Although queer theory should not use China as the other, the field still needs China to expand its geopolitical scope and make queer theory a tool that can provide a critical understanding of gender and sexuality in contemporary global capitalism. In this new book, Liu makes a persuasive case that China’s recent rise in the capitalist system (i.e., the Beijing Consensus) “presents an opportunity for queer theory to develop a more analytically precise vocabulary (and politics) for deciphering the matrix of gendered life and political economy” (5). Continue reading

CCP smear campaign targets the Dalai Lama

Source: The Diplomat (5/20/23)
How a CCP Propaganda Campaign Targeted the Dalai Lama
The latest smear campaign succeeded beyond China’s wildest dreams by playing into Western ignorance about Tibetan culture – and self-righteous “cancel culture” on social media.
By Magnus Fiskesjö

How a CCP Propaganda Campaign Targeted the Dalai Lama

Credit: Depositphotos

On April 8, 2023, a new global smear campaign against the Dalai Lama was unleashed on social media.

This, in itself, wasn’t news. The Dalai Lama, Tibet’s spiritual leader, has lived in exile in India since 1959, when he was forced to flee his homeland, occupied by Mao’s China. He remains deeply loved in Tibet, but the Chinese regime has made it a criminal offense even to have a photo of him. And ever since 1959, Chinese officials have been vilifying him in every medium possible.

But while this latest round is almost certainly also disinformation “Made in China,” it represents a new approach: Attempting to paint the Dalai Lama as a pedophile. The trick succeeded beyond belief, with millions of people in the United States, Europe, and beyond – due to prior prejudice coupled with the self-righteous tendency to jump to conclusions, combined with widespread ignorance about Tibet.

As the Tibetan exile activist Lhadon Tethong pointed out in a recent public conversation, the goal was very likely also to distract the world from the new dramatic oppression inside Chinese-occupied Tibet. U.N. human rights experts just issued a warning that Chinese authorities are detaining large numbers of both children and adults in Tibet, to erase their culture and turn them into Chinese-speaking laborers – modeled after the massive parallel genocide against the Uyghurs. Continue reading

Comedy studio fined for insulting the military

Source: NYT (5/17/23)
No Joke: China Fines a Comedy Firm $2 Million for ‘Insulting’ the Military
阅读简体中文版 | 閱讀繁體中文版
The penalty came after a popular comedian joked about a military slogan often used by China’s leader, Xi Jinping, who has strictly curbed expression.
By Chang Che and 

The entrance to a theater features comic drawings on its front wall.

Xiaoguo Culture Media’s theater in Shanghai on Wednesday.  Credit…CFOTO/Future Publishing, via Getty Images

Beijing fined a Chinese comedy studio around $2 million on Wednesday for a joke that compared China’s military to stray dogs, a reminder of the ever-narrowing confines of expression under the country’s leader, Xi Jinping.

The Beijing Municipal Culture and Tourism Bureau accused a popular comedian, Li Haoshi, who is employed by the studio, of “severely insulting” the People’s Liberation Army, China’s military, during two live performances in Beijing on Saturday. The authority said his joke had a “vile societal impact.”

“We will not allow any company or individual to wantonly slander the glorious image of the People’s Liberation Army,” the statement read.

The authority also said it indefinitely suspended all Beijing performances hosted by the studio, the Shanghai-based Xiaoguo Culture Media. The bureau also confiscated roughly $180,000 worth of what officials described as illicit income uncovered during the investigation, which was started on Monday. Officials in Shanghai followed suit, suspending all Xiaoguo performances there and ordering the company to “deeply reflect” on the lessons from the incident, according to a government social media account. Continue reading

Picun Museum to be demolished

The Museum of Migrant Worker Culture and Art 打工文化艺术博物馆, in Picun, on the outskirts of Beijing, will be demolished in the very near future, to make way for urban development. The Migrant Workers Home 工友之家, of which the Museum is a part, is organizing a get-together on May 20th to bid the Museum farewell. Here’s an announcement from the community, with beautiful single-shot video and beautiful, carefully paced voice-over by someone who sounds like they are poet Xiao Hai 小海:  https://mp.weixin.qq.com/s/FJ7P9LMwcWInU2hk2dclrw

The Picun Museum of Migrant Worker Culture and Art. Source.

Founded in 2008, the Museum has been a unique monument to migrant worker culture, produced by migrant workers for migrant workers (while welcoming others as well) to document and reflect on the migrant worker experience. The announcement mentioned above says it has seen over 50.000 visitors over the years.

The Museum is a shining example of the cultural education 文化教育  that is a key element of the Home’s mission to advance migrant worker rights (other designations of this social group include “new workers” 新工人 and “battlers” 打工者). Alongside achievements in music, literature, theater, digital video, and so on, it embodies the rich and complex force field in which migrant worker culture emerges: socioeconomic insecurity, political constraints, class-based hierarchies of aesthetics, DIY infrastructure, media interest propelled by a mix of social concern and engagement with voyeurism and othering. Continue reading

LGBT Center closes

Source: Washington Post (5/16/23)
Beijing LGBT Center closes its doors, a blow for diversity in China
By Christian Shepherd
and Vic Chiang

A student stands in front of rainbow blinds in Beijing. In the latest blow to same-sex rights in China, a well-known LGBTQ+ advocacy group announced it had closed its doors. (Pak Yiu/AFP/Getty Images)

A well-known LGBTQ+ advocacy group in Beijing has closed its doors, sending a shiver through China’s embattled movement to support and protect sexual minorities.

Almost immediately after the Beijing LGBT Center announced it was halting operations due to “unavoidable” — and unexplained — circumstances, lawmakers in Taiwan passed an amendment allowing same-sex couples to adopt, in the latest recognition of gay rights.

These two events came in the lead-up to the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia on May 17.

For China’s LGBTQ+ community, the confluence underscored just how difficult it has become to secure recognition and rights for sexual minorities, even as Taiwan, the self-governed island democracy that Beijing claims as its own, has made strides toward equal rights for couples of various sexual orientations. Continue reading

New sources on cotton slavery in China

A new report on cotton industry slavery in China has been issued by the noted China anthropologist Adrian Zenz, who has been working mainly with Chinese government documents to reveal the staggering scale of the Chinese government’s ongoing mass atrocities launched in 2017 against the Uyghur and Kazakh peoples, in whose homelands most of China’s cotton is gathered. The report “dissects the evolution of China and Uzbekistan’s systems of state-sponsored forced labor and exposes an inside view of their brutal nature, scale, and motivations.”

Key findings include: Never before seen Chinese internal state documents show that despite some mechanization, Uyghurs continued to be sent to pick cotton through coercive labor transfers in 2021 and 2022, and such seasonal labor transfers continue to be part of Xinjiang’s Five-Year Plan for 2025 as premium-grade long staple cotton grown in southern Uyghur regions still cannot be harvested by machines.

Xinjiang now produces 90 percent of China’s cotton, up from 85 percent in 2020. This expansion was partly enabled through large-scale land transfer arrangements whereby Uyghur farmers are forced to surrender their land rights to large private or state-led entities, then subjected to state-arranged labor transfers. Hence, even when mechanically harvested, Xinjiang cotton is produced through exploiting the rights of ethnic groups. Continue reading

Appeasement at the Cineplex

Source: NY Review of Books (4/6/23)
Appeasement at the Cineplex
By Orville Schell (Orville Schell is the Arthur Ross Director of the Center on U.S.-China Relations at the Asia Society in New York. He is a former professor and Dean at the University of California, Berkeley Graduate)

Performers at a promotional event for Iron Man 3 before its Chinese release, the Forbidden City, Beijing, April 2013.

Red Carpet: Hollywood, China, and the Global Battle for Cultural Supremacy
by Erich Schwartzel (Penguin Press, 380 pp.)
Hollywood in China: Behind the Scenes of the World’s Largest Movie Market
by Ying Zhu (New Press, 370 pp.)

Although Beijing and Hollywood inhabit political and cultural universes that have little in common, they are similar in one important respect: both have expended vast amounts of energy, time, and capital confecting imaginary universes. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has long proselytized for sundry versions of its Maoist/Marxist/Leninist revolution through state-sponsored propaganda campaigns that have even airbrushed large chunks of its unsavory past from the historical record. Hollywood has engaged in its own escapist mythmaking by producing films filled with fantasy and backing them with promotional campaigns irrigated by galaxies of movie stars and inexhaustible reserves of PR and advertising. Both have wantonly employed wishful thinking, mendacity, and deception to create alternate realities that have managed to distract their respective mass audiences from the actual circumstances in which they have been living.

Despite the fact that these engines of fiction are otherwise so dissimilar, when China began “reforming and opening up” in the 1980s under Deng Xiaoping, the CCP started sniffing around Hollywood, because its cultural overlords wanted to see if they could get some of Hollywood’s seductive storytelling magic to rub off on their turgid propaganda efforts to “tell China’s story well,” as the country’s current leader, Xi Jinping, later put it. For example, realizing that the word “propaganda” sounded indelibly malign to Western ears, the Propaganda Department changed its name (but only in English) to the “Publicity Department.” At the same time, encouraged by Washington’s policy of “engagement,” which sought to transform the Sino-U.S. relationship through the alchemy of increased interaction, Hollywood executives began to be enticed by the potential of China’s immense and still-unexploited film audience. Continue reading

Extinguishing a scandal at Zhengzhou U

Source: China Media Project (5/10/23)
Extinguishing a Scandal at Zhengzhou University
A post going viral late Tuesday night on Weibo could be seen as proof of the crucial role social media can play in exposing wrongdoing by those in positions of power. But its subsequent treatment in the media more broadly is a lesson in how authorities in China effectively exercise controls on public opinion.
By David Bandurski

Zhengzhou University

Last night, in a harrowing post to Chinese social media, an anonymous user laid out serious accusations against a male professor at Zhengzhou University, the country’s largest public university, alleging that he raped and manipulated her 11 years ago when she was just 16 — and that he later accompanied her to the hospital for an abortion.

“Hello, Professor,” the post read. “It’s been 11 years. Are you surprised I’m still alive? I’m so sorry to disappoint you. Do you still remember me? I’m the girl you brainwashed, that you mentally controlled for two and a half years, that you violated, that you destroyed.”

The original post from “UnclePeterPan” on Weibo accuses a professor at Zhengzhou University’s School of Marxism of rape and abuse.

The professor was identified in the post as a faculty member at the university’s School of Marxism, who taught courses on contemporary Chinese Marxism and the theory and practice of socialism with Chinese characteristics. His accuser wrote that she had not previously come forward because she had been gripped by fear, shame, and hopelessness. “I know that justice will never come,” she wrote. “I compose this letter with the certainty of death, knowing that once the heat has passed, he will still be who he is. He will be the same professor who writes so well about socialism with Chinese characteristics.”

The post trended rapidly on social media. By early Wednesday, a chat thread for “Zhengzhou University Wang _____,” identifying the accused by name, had received more than 100 million views. A related thread on Weibo reached number eight on the list of hottest searches nationwide, gaining 1.2 million views and listed as “boiling” (沸) — marking it as one of the hottest trending topics on the platform [archived hashtag]. Continue reading

May 4th call for resistance deleted by censors

Source: China Digital Times (5/4/23)
May Fourth Anniversary Call for ‘Resistance against the Powers That Be’ deleted by censors
Posted by 

A WeChat essay on the “sore need” for a continuation of the May Fourth Movement’s legacy of “resistance against the powers that be,” published on the eve of the movement’s 104th anniversary, was taken down by censors. The essay, by the public account @新新默存, was a reflection on the broader movement that included not just the student protests of May 4, 1919 but also the intellectual awakening that spanned the New Culture Movement, labor movements, and an intellectual-led attempt to transform China’s political and social cultures. It offered a sharp criticism of modern Chinese patriotism, which the author claims emphasizes “collectivism and despotism” and thus is out of line with the original May Fourth spirit of patriotic “individualism and liberalism.” The exact reason any given essay is censored is never revealed by the censors. However, in this case, the culprit (in the censors’ eyes) seems clear: the direct criticism of modern Chinese patriotism and a stirring final two paragraphs that call for the construction of true homes for “Mr. Science” and “Mr. Democracy,” the iconic personifications of the movement’s core ideals. These form a blunt challenge to the Party’s aggressively asserted monopoly on the May Fourth Movement’s legacy.

Today, reviews of the broader May Fourth Movement have reached the common consensus that democracy and science are the most important inheritances it bestowed us with. Au contraire. Just as Yu Ying-shih once said, although Messrs Democracy and Science have long since become naturalized citizens, they’ve yet to find themselves a secure home in China. “Science” is primarily manifested through “Technology,” which is form and not essence. The scientific spirit of truth for its own sake has yet to be fully established. Democracy’s position is such that “it is shown honor but not affection.” Therefore, May Fourth isn’t quite finished yet.

As I see it, the most important inheritances of the May Fourth Movement were the active participation of the masses in politics, resistance against the powers that be, yearning for new discoveries, and the pursuit of equality and freedom for individuals. This is the May Fourth Spirit that is truly worth cherishing. It is a spirit we sorely need right now. [Chinese] Continue reading

HK’s memory is being erased

Source: NYT (4/25/23)
Opinion: Hong Kong’s Memory Is Being Erased
阅读简体中文版 | 閱讀繁體中文版
By Louisa Lim (Ms. Lim, who was a journalist in China and Hong Kong for 13 years, is a senior lecturer at the University of Melbourne.)

A man, his back to the camera, looking at a foggy Victoria Harbour in Hong Kong. A small Hong Kong flag flies on a short pole nearby.

Credit…Jerome Favre/EPA, via Shutterstock

The group of about 80 protesters wore numbered lanyards around their necks and cordoned themselves off with tape as they marched, like a crime scene in motion.

This odd spectacle last month was Hong Kong’s first authorized protest in three years — highly choreographed, surveilled and regulated, even though it was not an explicitly antigovernment demonstration, and a world away from the crowds that thronged streets in 2019 to protest China’s tightening grip on the city. One participant said the protesters, who were opposed to a land reclamation project, were “herded like sheep.”

It was just one example of how Hong Kong, a global, tech-savvy city whose protests were once livestreamed around the world, is being transformed. But authorities aren’t merely choking off future protest; they are attempting to rewrite Hong Kong’s history.

Revisionism — with its ancillary altering or obliteration of memory — is an act of repression. It’s the same playbook China used after violently crushing the 1989 pro-democracy demonstrations in Beijing. Then, state-induced amnesia was imposed gradually. At first the government churned out propaganda that labeled those protests as a counterrevolutionary rebellion that had to be suppressed. But over the years, the state slowly excised all public memory of its killings. Continue reading

Some indigenous people in Taiwan want to drop their Chinese names

F y i — btw, since the genocide, I’ve also dropped my Chinese name i used to have, … in my case, just can’t stand it thinking of those masses of people force-fed Chinese language and force-renamed with Chinese names, in the Uyghur concentration camps …. so I can understand the Taiwan aborigine people who do this. Magnus Fiskesjö <nf42@cornell.edu>.

Source: LA Times (5/2/23)
Some Indigenous people in Taiwan want to drop their Chinese names: ‘That history has nothing to do with mine’

Indigenous performers pose for photos during a traditional annual performance

Indigenous performers in Taipei, Taiwan, pose for photos during an annual traditional performance at the Dr. Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall on Aug. 20, 2022. (Sam Yeh / AFP via Getty Images)

TAIPEI, Taiwan — The name on his government ID when he was growing up — and how his classmates, teachers and baseball teammates knew him — was Chu Li-jen.

At home, however, he was always Giljegiljaw Kungkuan, or “Giyaw” for short, the Indigenous name bestowed on him by his grandmother.

By the time he was a teenager, he wanted to go by his Indigenous name all the time, as a matter of pride. But his parents worried that abandoning his Chinese name would only cause him trouble in a Chinese-dominated society.

In 2019, he finally made it his legal name with the Taiwanese government after Cleveland‘s MLB franchise — grappling with its own name issues — invited him to spring training. He wanted to ensure that come the next season, the letters emblazoned on his jersey would read: “GILJEGILJAW.” Continue reading