Category Archives: Video

Two China Documentaries to Support

Many of you know that I’m currently working on my own documentary with the ChinaGeeks team. Some of you even gave me money (but we spent it all already, and need more)! Anyway, mine is not the only cool documentary project around. In fact, here are two that are cooler and more professional than my own. At the very least, take the time to check them out, and if you like them, pony up a little cash to show support!

(Note: the text below is copied from the projects’ respective Kickstarter pages).

UPDATE:
Never mind about that first one!

Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry

Two years, seven countries and eleven cities later, I know Ai Weiwei. He is the ultimate prankster: simultaneously an international art star and a “dissident artist” in the Western press, with tens of thousands of Chinese netizens following him online and the government keeping almost constant tabs on him.

I have over 200 hours of footage (some of it viewable here) that includes never-before-seen interviews with Weiwei’s family, friends and fellow artists, and chronicles his preparation for major museum shows at the Haus der Kunst and Tate Modern, and a public sculpture work for New York’s Central Park. The two years I spent filming him really mark his rise to international renown, both for his art and his online activism. He is probably the fiercest and loudest internal critic of China, yet somehow he is not in jail. ((This is from her original pitch; obviously, there’s also an update about Ai Weiwei’s current situation.))

Weiwei’s story is extraordinary, but I need your help bringing it to the world.

http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/alisonklayman/ai-weiwei-never-sorry?ref=spotlight

Comments

These both look like really cool projects, so please check them out! I have only copied parts of their pitches here, so check out their Kickstarter pages for the full deal and the rewards you can get for donating.

Note: I am opening the comments in this post so that people can express their support for these cool projects. OFF TOPIC COMMENTS WILL BE DELETED. Please read that sentence a couple times before you hit “Post comment.”

“Little Rabbit, Be Good” A Subversive New Years’ Video Card

If you haven’t seen the video yet, here’s a copy via Tudou. That will probably be blocked soon, so here’s a Youtube link as well.
http://www.tudou.com/v/PRunrM4l5rI/v.swf

Translation

It’s a little tough to translate a video, so we’ll go by time code here.

0:00: Disclaimer: 1) This film may make people uncomfortable, and children are forbidden to watch it. 2) This film is meant as an adult fairy tale, and has no connection to real life. 3) This film is only meant to be shared during the 2011 New Years’ (Spring Festival) Greetings period, so please don’t pass it around after that.
0:00-0:06: Opening titles: A 2011 Spring Festival Greetings Card
0:14: Kuang Kuang: Wishing you a happy Spring Festival, from Xiao Hong.
0:17: Book cover: “Little Rabbit Kuang Kuang”
0:21: Text in book: Far far in the future, there was a beautiful forest…
0:21-0:26: Singing: “Little white rabbit, white as snow, two ears standing upright”
0:27-0:29: Side of truck reads: “Three Tiger Milk ((This name sounds very similar in Chinese to Sanlu, the name of the company that made the tainted milk powder.)). Good tiger milk so rabbit moms can relax.”
0:27-0:36: Singing: “They jump and bounce around, so cute, they like eating carrots and vegetables, they like eating vegetables.”
0:42-0:50: Singing: “Little rabbit, be good, open your mouth, open it up quickly, and drink up your happy future.”
0:52: Text on cave wall: Big Tiger Cave. Serve the rabbits. Build a harmonious forest.
0:55: Text on red banner: Build a Harmonious Forest ((Slightly different wording from the previous one, but same meaning.)).
1:00-1:03: “No one move. Let the leaders go first!” ((This is a reference to the Xinjiang fire.))
1:05-1:13: Singing: “Little rabbits, be good, get out of the road, quickly get out of the way, the leaders will exit first.”
1:10: Speech bubble text: “Help!”
1:15: Text on buildings: “Demolish.”
1:17: Text on slot machine: “Demolish.”
1:19: Text on TV screen: Tiger leader: “Condolences” Rabbit: “Thanks”
1:20: Text on house: “Demolish.” ((These are all references to the many instances of illegal demolition that have occurred recently, as well as several self-immolations in protest. See this report for more info.))
1:25: Text on old rabbit’s face: “Protest”
1:27-1:35: Singing: “Little rabbit, be good, quickly demolish the house, demolish it faster, we must put the new one up.”
1:47: Speech: “My Dad is Tiger Gang!
1:49: Text on rabbit in car’s face: “Son, drive!”
1:49-1:55: Singing: “Little rabbit, be good, get out of the way, get off the road, Gang’s son wants to drive over here.”
2:02-2:10: Singing: “Little rabbit. Be good. Listen! Be good. Don’t just say whatever you want.” ((The image of the rabbit crushed under a truck at the end of this segment is a reference to the Qian Yunhui incident.))
2:15: Growling: “Be careful or accidents will happen.”
2:30: Text on rabbit’s face: “Kill”
2:30-2:54: “Little white rabbit, white as snow, two fangs standing upright. Don’t make me angry, when I’m pushed ((i.e., forced into doing something, forced into a position)) I can bite hard, too. When I’m pushed I can bite hard too.”
3:00: Speech: Kuang Kuang, Kuang Kuang!
3:07-3:14: Singing: “Little white rabbit, white as snow, two ears standing upright”
3:15: Kuang Kuang: This is a really meaningful year!
3:18: Kuang Kuang, come help your mom make dumplings!
3:22-3:25: The song is ending: “…like eating carrots and vegetables. They like eating vegetables ((This is a bit of a double entendre, as 吃菜 can also just mean to eat a meal or eat a prepared “dish” of any kind. Given the red background, it seems to also imply that the rabbits like eating tigers, too.)).”
3:28: Text: “The year of the rabbit has come. Even rabbits bite when they’re pushed.”

Anaylsis

This video has been being passed around today on Twitter, Weibo, and other Chinese social networking sites. Most of my Chinese friends have seen it, although they almost all also work in media. Still, it’s fair to say the video is pretty widespread.

Regardless of what the disclaimer says ((Presumably, it’s just there for the sake of plausible deniability, although I can’t imagine it will save them.)), it is probably obvious even to those who don’t speak Chinese that this video makes repeated and explicit reference to real life events. The milk powder death, the fire, the illegal demolitions, the beating of protesters, the self-immolation, the “Tiger Gang” car accident, etc. are all references to real-life events that any Chinese viewer would be immediately and intimately familiar with.

Of course, sarcastic animations and other web jokes about these incidents are common. What is not common is the end of the video, which depicts a rabbit rebellion where masses of rabbits storm the castle of the tigers and eat them alive. For viewers who have already gathered that in this picture, rabbits represent ordinary Chinese people and the tigers represent the government/the powerful, this is a revolutionary–literally–statement. The clip ends with what seems almost like a call to arms for the new year, with Kuang Kuang saying it will be a meaningful (有意义, could also be translated as “important”) year and then the end title reading: “The year of the rabbit has come. Even rabbits bite when they’re pushed.”

This isn’t the bullshit so-called “inciting to subvert state power” that Liu Xiaobo was given eleven years for. This video is actually inciting people to subvert state power. I don’t know whether the animation studio is foreign or domestic, but if they’re in China, I imagine they’ll be hearing from the local PSB very, very soon. [And with that said, I urge readers to be extremely cautious in spreading this around on domestic websites, and even foreign ones. Remember that person who was arrested for a (sarcastically) subversive tweet a couple months ago.]

[Further research seems to indicate that they’re a domestic group. Their website is registered in China with the requisite ICP number and contact info that includes Beijing phone and fax numbers.]

On that note, I should make it clear that while I find this video fascinating, I deeply hope it is not an omen. Obviously, I have many issues with the Chinese government, but I think there is still a chance for a peaceful path to reform, and open rebellion would be a disaster for ordinary Chinese people and the government alike. So, to the Chinese censors reading this, for once I’m on your side. Let’s not have a rebellion. That is a decidedly bad idea.

Speaking of censors, I feel certain this video will be erased from all domestic websites within 24 hours, probably much less. To suppress discussion of it, though, censors will have a very difficult time. Will “rabbit” become a “sensitive word” that returns zero search results just as the Year of the Rabbit is upon us? Perhaps. That would be a serious embarrassment for the government, but they may calculate that the alternative is even worse.

Netizen Comments

Here are some comments translated from Baidu Tieba threads like this, this and this. In all likelihood, these threads will have been deleted by the time I finish translating them.

Chinese forum users love to use animated gifs, but I found them especially prevalent in these threads. Very few people, it seemed, wanted to say much of anything about the video, and many of the comments were just animations of a rabbit that says “ding” (i.e., vote up, support, etc.)

I fear this will be harmonized soon…

It really is a meaningful year….ding….

In response to a question about why the video was deleted, one netizen posted this picture, which reads: “1+1=??” “It’s…it equals 2.” “Bang! You knew too much.”

Gun in hand……

How frightening…ding.

The moderator will delete this, it’s already been deleted once.

A single spark…..

Totally covers most of last year’s “sensitive words”

I’ve really been bitten by a rabbit before…so, don’t push them.

I watched the whole thing in silence.

I’m suddenly so angry! That last part really helps let off steam!

The person who posted this has been “trans-provinced” [refers to police traveling across provincial borders to arrest someone].

We are all rabbit people.

[In response to the above comment] You’ve typed it wrong, you mean “wronged” peoples. [The character 冤, which means “wronged” and is often written on signs by protesters, is very similar to the character for rabbit, which is 兔]

The rabbits’ weary howls are truly painfully moving, those who watch can’t help but cry…a howl, a soft howl….What is posted here is not a video, it’s anger.

It’s so satisfying….

Looks like this is the last episode for Kuang Kuang [this studio has produced a series of animated shorts before under the Kuang Kuang name, but nothing openly subversive like this.]

This needs to be spread [around]

This is already beyond anger…

Well, that got deleted fast…

A ChinaGeeks Original Documentary: Kedong County

A few months ago, I took a brief trip to China’s rural northeast. With the speed of China’s urbanization evident every day I passed in Beijing, I had begun to wonder what China’s rural villages looked like. Was it just opportunity drawing millions of migrant workers to China’s cities? Or was something pushing them out of the countryside, too? Here’s what we found:

http://www.viddler.com/player/31eb0c61/

(Viddler direct link)

If you enjoyed that, please consider helping us with our next project. We’d like to take a lot more time and make a film about the kidnapping and selling of children in China, and the ways those kids find their way home. The project is called Finding Home, and if you’re interested you can find out more information about it and make a pledge to help our project get off the ground. We would be very, very grateful!

(We’re accepting donations through Kickstarter, a rather unique website. Basically, we set a goal and a time limit. If we get pledges that total that amount or greater within the time limit, we get the funding. If we don’t, then all the people who pledged to donate their money can keep it. Making a pledge is easy; if you’ve bought something from Amazon before in your life, the process will be a breeze.)

Let us know your thoughts on Kedong County in the comments. And please, tell all your friends about it and about our next project!

A Minor Inconvenience

While we were up in dongbei shooting a documentary last month, we ran into this situation completely unintentionally. We walked to this street, Kedong’s main thoroughfare, in the hopes of catching a cab, only to discover there were no cars on the road. We shot a good bit of it; here’s what happened:

Passing of the Governor from ChinaGeeks on Vimeo.

I didn’t bother editing this video for color or anything, but it’s not going into the documentary, so I thought it might be worth sharing and discussing here. Obviously, as official transgressions go, this is quite insignificant. And it wasn’t a huge hassle for us to wait half an hour before being allowed to cross the road, since we didn’t have anywhere we needed to be anyway.

I’m posting this because I think it’s indicative, more than anything, of an attitude that plagues Chinese officials. How much of an inconvenience would it really have been for the provincial governor to drive through town with other cars still on the road? Surrounded by an army of police cars and with police standing guard up and down the street, he certainly wasn’t in any physical danger. And it’s not like Kedong, which has remarkably wide streets for its tiny population, was going to have a traffic jam at three in the afternoon.

I’m also wondering what people think. In the evening, I mentioned this to the family that I was staying with, some of whom are devout government supporters, expecting them to say that the governor deserved special treatment. To my surprise, not a single one of them said that. “You should have filmed it so you can post it online and expose him,” someone said. Everyone agreed that closing the road for hours so that the governor could drive through Kedong (a process that took about 30 seconds, as you can see in the video) was ridiculous, and they wondered why I was told not to film it (it’s not like they were trying to travel undercover, after all…)

So what do you think?

The 9.18 Protest: a Show of Force

Much like Tom Lasseter, I had never been to a protest in China before yesterday. Unlike him, though, I’m not a professional reporter, and I got to the scene late, so I was mostly confined to the outskirts with the Chinese media, some expelled protesters, and a few curious onlookers.

I happened to have a camera, and created this video. Nothing about it is particularly good from a videography point of view–virtually everything that could go wrong did at every stage of its production–and to top it all off I got the date wrong. Not the most auspicious start to our plans for adding video content to this site. But I’m going to post it anyway, because I think there are aspects of it you will find interesting.


(Here is a direct link to the video on Youtube. If you live in China, you will need a VPN or some kind of proxy to see it.)

It was especially idiotic of me to get the date wrong, considering that it wasn’t exactly an accident the protesters chose September 18th.

But, as Mr. Lasseter said, it wasn’t much of a protest. It was rainy, there weren’t many people there, and I don’t think Japan is going to leave the Diaoyu Islands or return the Chinese captain just because somebody baked a cake.

Han Han recently wrote a blog post on the subject that was quickly deleted in which he expresses his thoughts on the protest:

People without their own land fighting for someone else’s land; people who aren’t respected demanding that someone else should be respected…how much per kilogram do people like that cost?

But anyway, protesting [something like this] is safe, fun, and makes you look cool. The key is that after the protest is over, you can still work and study as usual, in fact it might even look good on your resume.

[…]

Anyway, none of that is important, what’s important is that if I was allowed to protest for Tang Fuzhen and Xie Chaoping today, I would gladly protest for the Diaoyu Islands or the Olympic Torch tomorrow. But it’s a paradox, because in a time when you could protest for Tang Fuzhen and Xie Chaoping, you wouldn’t have problems like the Diaoyu Islands or [people trying to snuff out] the Olympic Torch to protest about. Protests of external issues are meaningless to a people who can’t protest peacefully about domestic ones, it’s all just an act.

What was impressive was the show of control put on by the police, especially given that the protesters were there in support of the official government line. By the time we got there in the afternoon, police had cordoned off at least a one-block radius in every direction around the Japanese embassy. The streets to the north and east of the embassy, outside of the police tape, were lined with PSB officers, one standing every five feet or so for several blocks. There were easily a hundred of them, and obviously many more inside the police tape.

At the northern entrance to the cordoned-off area on Ritan Road, People’s Armed Police officers in green camouflage guarded the area, but most of the other police there were regular PSB officers, milling about and sometimes photographing or filming the crowds outside their lines. Police vehicles were entering and exiting the scene regularly.

By the time we got to the Western approach to the embassy, where a small crowd had gathered on the intersection of Xiushui St. and Xiushui North St., there were reportedly no protesters left inside the cordoned off area, just some Western reporters and a whole lot of police. It was a show of force, a demonstration of control.

The reporter you can hear in the video above was not the only one complaining bitterly about how the Chinese media wasn’t allowed in. After our camera was turned off, another reporter came up and asked how to get in. “Good luck,” the first reporter said, “they’re not letting anyone Chinese in.” “I’m from Taiwan,” the second reporter said, but he, too, stayed outside the lines. A team from another domestic media outlet circled the scene with us (coincidentally), filming down each street towards where the protesters had been, but were never allowed to pass through police lines.

As I spoke to the protester you hear in the video, one of his friends circled us, photographing me repeatedly. I have no idea why, but it underscored the mood amongst the crowd at the Western entrance — angry, suspicious, and mostly all armed with cameras.

The police, on the other hand, were calm. They directed people around the blocked off area, they stared, and they waited. After all, there were so many of them that nothing was going to happen. And there’s only so long one can spend filming police cars before it’s on to the next story.

Zhang Wen: “Strong Authorities, Weak Media”

In this blog post, Zhang Wen calls on Chinese media to stand up for their rights when faced with unlawful hassle from authorities, going so far as to criticise journalists for being weak in the face of oppression.

Zhang’s post was inspired by a video of a journalist who eventually abandoned his live broadcast after being hassled while reporting on the explosion of a chemical factory in Nanjing. The video seems to have been harmonised from Youku, but here’s the Youtube version for those who can see it.

Translation

The explosion of a chemical plant in Nanjing city centre resulted in many casualties. When Jiangsu TV’s City Channel made a live broadcast from the scene, an official rumoured to be a provincial secretary came forward and asked “What work unit are you from? What’s your name? Who permitted you to broadcast live?”

Faced with this unanticipated questioning, the journalist was obviously somewhat panicked, but still tried to divert the topic, saying: “Xinhua are over there, go and ask them, OK?” The reply that came was “No no no, you, the provincial channel.” (The hidden meaning here is obvious: “If I can’t control Xinhua, then I can’t control you, either.”) The official then continued to demand the journalist’s work unit phone number.

It’s worth pointing out that the title of the live broadcast program was ‘Provincial and City Leaders Personally Conduct the Scene’ (this was the general idea, there may have been a slight difference in the wording). As far as Jiangsu TV’s City Channel was concerned, all they wanted to do was to broadcast the explosion scene to the viewers, and probably had no intention whatsoever to canvas public opinion.

Despite this, the journalist who suffered “menace” had no choice but to rapidly cut off the broadcast signal. After having watched the entire video, I only have one feeling: Officials “have the courage of their convictions”, media “feel the guilt of a thief”.

In Western society, media has been called “the fourth power”, and when compared to administrative, legislative and judicial powers, media isn’t at all frail. You could even say that it has the advantage. Media frequently expose the “poor records” of the foregoing three, criticising their failures to do their duty. But except for the ability to take the latter to court (generally unwinnable), [the foregoing three] have no other methods of retaliation, causing officials to be a little afraid of the media.

But in China, the situation is completely opposite. Officials are full of psychological superiority, especially over state-controlled media, who they basically treat as an underclass, yelling and bossing them about. Any media or journalist that has the gall to disobey will face all sorts of different punishment consequences: replacement of editors, firing of journalists, even discontinuation of printing.

From watching the video, you can feel that when the Jiangsu TV journalist faced interrogation, he was panic-stricken. The same panic happened to Economic Observer News journalist Qiu Ziming. For having exposed the “poor behaviour” of Kai En, a warrant was put out for his arrest by the local police (Suichang County Police Station).

Suichang County police station’s logic was similar to that of the Jiangsu official: who permitted you to report? The hidden meaning is the same: How dare you report something that isn’t beneficial to us?

The only difference is, Jiangsu TV is under the supervision of the Jiangsu provincial committee, and the Economic Observer News is in the domain of Suichang County, which lead to different results: the warrant for Qiu Ziming’s arrest was quickly repealed, whereas those responsible at Jiangsu TV may have met with disciplinary action.

A representative of the News Publishing Bureau declared its position today, saying that it continues to support the legal conduction of surveying of public opinion, and would not tolerate retaliatory attacks on journalists. This declaration is worth affirming, but a policy alone is not enough; it must be conscientiously safeguarded by law.

It’s very obvious, in the China of the present, attacks that meddle with journalists’ right to canvas public opinion and the carrying out of retaliatory attacks on journalists are inextricably linked with [civil] rights. Whether it be like the barefaced “arresting” and “capture” in Xifeng and Suichang, or like the implicit malevolence of officials in Jiangsu and Zhengzhou: who permitted you to broadcast live? Who are you speaking for?

When compared to those that come from the authorities, “retaliatory attacks” on media that come from companies and individuals are a small annoyance. These “retaliatory attacks” [from companies and individuals] can still be reported to authorities and taken to court, but there’s often no way to file a complaint about “retaliatory attacks” from authorities; there are no emergency channels to speak of. But now, there’s a trend that is making people more and more anxious, it’s that authorities are often reduced to being “local gods”, and media meet with a dual danger.

Because of this, if there is no legal protection, this fear among journalists will never be eliminated. Luckily, these days there exists the “collective effect” of the internet, good things are spread far and wide, and bad things are spread even further. This year’s “go to Beijing to capture a journalist” and today’s Suichang “journalist arrest”, both led to great opposition and critical voices on the internet, forcing the “troublemaking” authorities to quickly correct their mistakes.

Looking from the perspective of the recurrence of this type of event, simply correcting errors is insufficient, apologising is also not enough, we must investigate the abuse of the rights of the public, and deprive wrongdoers of their posts. Only then we can truly enact an effect of prevention through fear.

It’s obvious from the current situation that despite having been discussed for many years, how to go about defending the media’s right to report and protecting the personal safety of journalists is still a difficult problem that urgently needs cracking!

Note

Following the Qiu Ziming case, where the Economic Observer continually fought against the warrant for Qiu’s arrest, the Supreme People’s Procuratorate has released a statement condemning the issuing of “low-quality or incorrect arrest warrants”, meaning that journalists may in future be less likely to be bullied into switching off their cameras.