Thursday, 23 January 2014

Tiananmen Square

Lots of people won't remember the momentous events of 25 years ago in Tiananmen Square when Chinese students staged a protest in support of freedom of speech and greater democracy in their country. 

The peaceful protest was put down with considerable force by the Chinese Red Army and the iconic image above is of a single young man standing in front of a row of tanks - blocking their way with nothing more than his spirit and courage. 

I think China is a fascinating country, one I'd like to visit sometime, but I suspect that just like the Soviet Union China will fall apart unless it embraces political change and much greater freedoms for its people. 

China protest singer Cui Jian pulls out of TV gala

Cui Jian is known as China's "father of rock"

Chinese singer Cui Jian, one of whose songs became an anthem of the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests, has pulled out of a major show on state TV.

He had been due to play at China's Spring Festival Gala, which draws a TV audience of hundreds of millions.

His manager You You said that he withdrew after organisers tried to censor his performance.

In 1989, he had performed to protesting students in Tiananmen Square, who took up his song Nothing to My Name.

Cui Jian had wanted to sing the song during the gala, but the organisers said he would have to choose another, You You told AP.

"It is not only our regret, but also the gala's,'' she said.

The Chinese New Year TV gala show is one of the most watched programmes anywhere on the planet and is best known for its patriotic songs, comedy sketches, and dance routines.
Cui Jian has said he was "on the students' side" in 1989

With the 25th anniversary of Tiananmen Square just a few months away, Cui Jian had appeared to be a risky, political choice for such a primetime performance, correspondents say.

During the protests, he performed in the square to thousands of students. But on 4 June 1989, China's Communist party ordered the military to end the demonstrations - hundreds, if not, thousands were killed.

The singer has made no bones about his allegiances during that time. "I was really clear about standing on the students' side," he told the BBC back in 2010.

Following the protests, he was barred from playing large venues. But in recent years the musician - who has sold millions of records - has once again been playing in front of big crowds.

He is still a household name in China.

His manager says that he has been asked to perform on national TV before.

But she adds these events sometimes fall through because Cui Jian refuses to lip sync.

Democracy Rules (9 January 2013)

Here's an interesting artcle which appeared in The Times newspaper recently - written by Ai Weiwei - a well-known artist and campaigner for freedom of speech in China.

Now democracy is an unusual beast in China which can best be summed up as follows:

China has a population of 1.3 billion people - but democracy is reserved to members of the Chinese Communist Party which claims an impressive 80 million members.

Now these 80 million members represent just over 6% of the population - so the vast majority of its people (94%) are completely disenfranchised - unless they all join the Communist Party, of course.

But think of the number of trees that would have to be cut down - just to issue all those new membership cards. 

Every ten years the 80 million members of the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) send 2,000 delegates to the CCP Party Congress - which is only held once a decade - and elects the party leadership for the next 10 years.

The Party Congress also elects a central committee comprising 25 or so leading party figures - which in turn elects a small kitchen cabinet of the most trusted and powerful  politicians.

Yet almost all of this furious activity - which claims to be representative democracy - takes place behind closed doors and without any public debate or effective scrutiny.

So, I'm with Ai Weiwei - the next stage of China's growth and development - requires a different mindset from the one that has dragged much of the country out of terrible poverty.

Because representative democracy is not such a big deal - when it's both unrepresentative and non-participative - as far as the vast bulk of the Chinese people are concerned.

No wonder that some brave people in China - including journalists at the Southern Weekly newspaper in Guangdong - are beginning to take a stand by demanding more freedom of speech and that their country begins to face up to the need for change. 

China’s growth cannot last without freedom

by Ai Weiwei 

The suppression of individual rights and civil voices is incompatible with modern times

In China those in power are more afraid of the people they wield power over than ever before. The powerful try to avoid any confrontation, or even discussion, at all costs. This was apparent during the 18th Communist Party of China National Congress. To avoid flyers being distributed in public, taxi drivers were ordered to remove crank handles from car doors so that the windows would stay shut, and bus windows were sealed with screws. The irony is that by smothering individual rights and silencing opinion, China suffers. Its young people have no passion, imagination, or creativity. They show no ability to digest different perspectives or to even recognise that there are differences in viewpoint.

The new Politburo Standing Committee is a product of the system. The personalities and their faces are unfamiliar, their backgrounds barely known to the public. How can we talk about signs of change when we have no clues to understanding the thinking of China’s most senior government leaders? These leaders are detached from reality, and do not recognise what they should be doing or what the nation needs. Their promises are mere slogans.

The Communist Party possesses full control of the media, and the press is only a tool for propaganda and censorship. No meaningful discussions can take place over Chinese social media other than those about entertainment and gossip. During the recent congress, all discussions on the microblogging website Weibo were heavily monitored. Rigorous approval processes were introduced for posting comments, making it a time-consuming act.

On the Chinese internet any mention of my name, even negative criticism, was censored to avoid any public attention. Any image or comment made about me would be deleted immediately and anyone who posted them would risk having their internet accounts shut down. Access to blocked foreign websites was possible using technology such as virtual private networks (VPNs), but even these were severely attacked during the congress. Under such pressure, people turned away because of the potential risks of using the internet, as any show of personal opinion could easily lead to prison or enforced disappearance. They get scared and the discussions stop.

Even though China’s economic growth is bringing rapid changes to its society, it has not become any easier for individuals to participate in social matters. It is still forbidden to express social opinion, to start a non-governmental organisation or just to be a volunteer for social causes. There is no room for expressing different views, or introducing initiatives that run parallel to the Government’s policies or compensate for areas where the Government fails. Any attempt to participate in public affairs is considered a challenge to the Government’s legitimacy.

Over the past six decades or so, those who tried to exercise their rights commonly dealt with police harassment, enforced disappearances and incarcerations. These caused extreme hardships in the daily lives of those who dared to speak, as well as severe physical and mental damage. China has become a place where civil voices are silenced. Intellectuals, or any individual for that matter, cannot reflect on their feelings or ideas.

China’s growth has not benefited its citizens. On the contrary, its existing growth hinders the country’s ability to change. It is impossible to make any significant adjustments without changing the Government’s structure completely. Yet the Government lacks the creativity and independence to foster a stronger society. It is afraid that any change would interfere with growth, leading to social upheaval and disorder. This has become an excuse to crack down on private individual rights.

This approach renders the system incompatible with modern times. Our times are very different from the Cold War period. All nations are facing economic challenges and global competition. China cannot win without the free flow of information and civil participation. It will never become a modern society without taking up this challenge.

We are now living in difficult times and at a critical moment. Although there are no indications of improvement, we can only hope that the conditions will not continue to deteriorate. I am, however, always optimistic about the future. For the younger generation to meet the challenges in their lives, they have to be free individuals, able to take on the burden of responsibility, and involve themselves passionately in social matters.


Ai Weiwei, aged 57, is an artist and outspoken critic of the Chinese Government and its suppression of free speech. He is best known in Britain for his installation Sunflower Seeds at Tate Modern in 2010. Last year he was detained by the Chinese authorities for 81 days that he called a living hell of interrogation and isolation. On release, he was told that he owed £1.5 million in taxes and fines