Tag Archives: Injustice

Chen Guangcheng Escapes, But Chilling Signs for His Family

For those of you who live in the wrong hemisphere or don’t have a Twitter account, here’s the big news: Chen Guangcheng has escaped. According to activists, he is now somewhere “100% safe” in Beijing, though it’s not clear where. There has been some speculation that he might be inside some embassy; so far, the US Embassy has declined to comment and as far as I’m aware no one else has been asked.

The news of Chen’s escape is fantastic, and it’s important to note here that since Chen was released from prison years ago, there’s nothing illegal about this “escape”. The fact is that Chen and his family were being held illegally, and talk of Chen’s “escape” implies he’s guilty of some crime or evading the law in a way that might be misleading. But Chen is free, reportedly, and that’s a good thing. It should have been true years ago.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for Chen’s family, who are mostly incommunicado. Most concerning is the story of Chen Kegui, Guangcheng’s nephew. Yaxue Cao has written an excellent post and interviewed Chen for Seeing Red in China, so I highly recommend you read his full remarks there, but the short version of the story is this: Last night, thugs who did not identify themselves as police burst into Kegui’s home and began beating people. Kegui grabbed two kitchen knives to defend himself with, and probably after slashing some of them, scared the assailants away. Then, terrified, he called the police to turn himself in. While he was waiting for the police, he spoke with Yaxue Cao, and described his situation as clear-cut self defense. (If you speak Chinese, I highly recommend listening to the audio recording of this conversation).

Chillingly, the local government has since released this short news bulletin on the incident, via the Yi’nan County People’s Government Public Information Net:

On April 26, Dongshigu village resident Chen Kegui injured local government officials and staff workers with knives. At present, Chen Kegui has fled, the injured parties are being treated, and the local public security organs are on the hunt for Chen Kegui. The relevant parties will be dealt with according to the law.

That’s the entire report. Unsurprisingly, it mentions nothing of Chen Kegui’s motivations, or that the incident occurred within Chen’s home, which the cadres had entered violently and without warrants. Mentions of this report seem to be being deleted from Sina Weibo, but that likely doesn’t mean much. These will likely be deleted soon, but comments are pouring in on Sohu’s reposting of this story, and they seem overwhelmingly skeptical of the government’s official story, and very supportive of Chen Kegui:

Why would he stab them, why would a commoner want to go stab them, release the facts.

How can you not mention Chen Guangcheng? Please release the location and motive for this incident.

Why would he stab them? Please reveal the truth….

Too bad he didn’t stab them to death.

News items need to have some key elements. A news story like this, without head or tail [missing important details], is obviously covering something up, there’s no way for people to believe it. Does everyone believe in rumors? Because from the completeness of this story, it looks like most rumors are much more thorough than the official reports.

Sohu, please leave the comments up so that the officials in Shandong can see: the people [Chinese people] aren’t that easy to trick.

You’d better release the truth soon, or everyone will just hop the wall [circumvent the GFW] and find out even more truth, and that would be bad!

Is this [Chen Kegui] the hero of legend?

Good, stab these dogfucking rural cadres to death.

Well done citizen, I support you.

You [Chen Kegui] must stay safe. The common people won’t rat you out. These cadres are a band of tyrant thugs.

This is a true hero! The people support you!

Although this shouldn’t be much of a surprise to anyone, it’s clear from the report that the local government has already deemed that Chen’s actions were not in self-defense. It’s also probable that they’re lying about Chen Kegui having fled, as Chen himself says he called the police and was waiting for them while talking to Yaxue Cao. (And, indeed, fugitives intending to flee arrest don’t generally stop for half an hour to give phone interviews).

So, help from the local government is out of the question. Without intervention by some higher authority, Chen Kegui has no hope for justice. And Chen Guangcheng’s other family members may not be much better off, as they remain in Dongshigu village and reporters and activists haven’t been able to get in touch with them.

Will a higher authority intervene? Chen Guangcheng has already posted a video appeal to Premier Wen Jiabao on Youtube, and it has even been making the rounds on Chinese social media sites, although copies of the video are deleted swiftly when they’re discovered. But if the past ten years have taught us anything, it’s that Wen Jiabao talks a good game when it comes to political and legal reform, but he doesn’t do much of anything.

I will be following this situation as closely as possible in the coming days and weeks, and I strongly urge members of the foreign press as well as foreign diplomats to look into the case of Chen Kegui and find out what is happening to the other members of Chen Guangcheng’s family. The media spotlight will not necessarily help, but if the Linyi government is allowed to pursue its own interests in the Chen Kegui case without any sort of oversight, Chen is well and truly screwed.

(Side note: Now might be as good a time as any to remind readers that American film company Relativity Media has cooperated with Linyi officials, despite full knowledge of Chen Guangcheng’s situation, to film the buddy comedy 21 and Over in Linyi. Relativity Media should absolutely be held accountable for its cooperation with these people.)

The Siege of Wukan, Part III: Making Martyrs

(See Part I, Part II)

UPDATE 3: With regard to the video links below, my connection to the first file was dropped, but I was able to watch the first few minutes. It appears to be a documentary of sorts on Wukan; however, my file ended while the film was still introducing the town’s history. I’m now trying to download both files again.

UPDATE 2: Just spotted the following weibo post from one of the Wukan connections. Not sure exactly what it’s referring to, but it was just posted a few minutes ago:

Just now a person [or people ((Chinese doesn’t always distinguish between singular and plural, and there’s not enough context here to know which was meant))] from the government came to our school and forced students to sign something pertaining to the selling off of the Biguiyuan land. When the villagers learned of it they became agitated and sprayed them [the government person or people] with urine. Running dogs!

UPDATE 1: Information in the first paragraph corrected. Additionally, I have downloaded the second video file linked below, but get an error with any software I try to open it with. The first file is still downloading. Also of note: Malcolm Moore’s explanation of why they opted to leave Wukan (again, I think you probably need a G+ account to see that).

Malcolm Moore has left Wukan. To my knowledge, there are now no reporters in the village. Based on Weibo posts from Wukan residents, it appears there is at least one Hong Kong reporter still in Wukan.

Surprisingly, though, many of the Weibo accounts I found yesterday remain open. I suspect this is in large part because their networks are quite small. None of them are verified users, and most have only a few dozen or a couple hundred followers. It may be difficult for Sina to find them.

In any event, their posts over the past few days have elucidated what a crucial error the government made in detaining five of the villagers’ leaders and in likely killing ((According to two Chinese media reports I spotted yesterday, the government claims two different parties have examined the body and determined he wasn’t beaten to death, but they have failed to determine why he did die, which makes me quite suspicious. Meanwhile, Xue’s family — who was needed to identify the body — says his body was covered with wounds)) Xue Jinbo.

It’s no secret that Xue has become a martyr in the village, and in almost all the Weibo posts I’ve seen, he and the others who were arrested are being referred to as heroes [英雄]. Moreover, the government’s attempts to propagandize their detention and use them to quell the villagers is, if Weibo is any indication, a complete failure.

Take, for example, the video below. In it, Zhang Jiancheng (one of the five village leaders arrested) meets with his sister (according to the video’s timestamp, this happened on Tuesday afternoon). In the video, after a strange moment when the audio completely drops out, Zhang tells his sister he’s being treated well, he hasn’t been beaten, the food is great, the government is good, and that the village should “trust the leaders” to resolve this problem. In short, he says exactly what the government would want him to say.

http://www.tudou.com/v/mRU9K4Vxyqc/v.swf

So, how is this video being interpreted by folks in Wukan? Here’s a quote from one Wukan user I’ve also seen retweeted by several others. ((To make finding these people more difficult for Sina’s censors, I will not provide the original Chinese text))

Ruichao, Jiancheng, and Liehong [three of the arrested “heroes”] have given us words with hidden meanings, and teach us that in a time of crisis you must be clever. Some of our Wukan heroes have been arrested and treated maliciously by the government; from their words we can tell that the government is treating them ‘specially’, and is also telling them to memorize lines [to recite on camera] but they have a secret understanding with us, [so] they speak calmly. The clothes they’re wearing cover up the cuts and bruises all over their bodies.

Although personally I found Jiancheng’s performance suspicious myself — his “lines” were a little too perfect, and why did the sound drop out when his sister first arrived — I’m inclined to suspect that at this point, there’s nothing any of these men could say while in police custody that would lead the villagers to surrender. There is simply zero trust in the government there, and that people are being tortured and beaten by the police seems to be a baseline assumption.

So, even as the government attempts to use the arrestees for propaganda purposes within the village (see the video above) and outside it (see the news stories about the “five criminal suspects” arrested in Wukan), Wukan villagers are hailing the men as heroes.

I will update this story or post additional stories as the situation warrants. One of the Wukan users has posted two video download links to his Weibo account, and I am currently attempting to download them, but given the speed of my internet, it may be some time before I can properly see what they are.

If you have a faster connection than I and would like to download the videos for yourself, here at the links. I suspect they’ll be deleted soon. I have no idea what they contain, but the user who posted them requested that they be spread and reposted. His weibo post with that request has since been deleted, so the links will likely follow soon.
Part 1 1.1 GB (appears to be a documentary of sorts on Wukan)
Part 2 213 MB (content unclear, file wouldn’t open)

The Siege of Wukan, Part II: Weibo Impressions

(This post will likely be updated repeatedly throughout the day tomorrow, so do check back frequently or follow @ChinaGeeks on Twitter for notifications about updates.)

UPDATE 1: Added video (h/t to CDT), see bottom of post.

Earlier today I wrote a long post about the Wukan protests and siege, which was based primarily on these two articles by Malcolm Moore. If you haven’t already, please read them both now:

Inside Wukan: the Chinese village that fought back

Rebel Chinese village of Wukan ‘has food for ten days’

As I have no way of getting to, let alone into, Wukan, I began to search Sina Weibo for updates from people in that area. Unsurprisingly for a town of more than 10,000 people, there are plenty of them on Weibo. As discusses yesterday, some of their accounts have been deleted, and specific posts about the protests and the siege are being deleted rapidly. But there’s still plenty of interesting stuff worth pointing out.

First, as to how we got here, one user posted this image from earlier in the year, before police had been driven out of the village. In it, you can clearly see (despite the regrettably small size limitation imposed by Weibo) several different instances of uniformed police and what appear to be soldiers beating citizens on the streets, in broad daylight.

Another thing that has struck me reading through these accounts ((I’m not going to link any of them as I don’t want to tip off Sina’s censors, but they’re really not too difficult to find if you want to check for yourself.)) is that these people are not dissidents, at least not in the same sense as someone like Liu Xiaobo or Ai Weiwei. Most of the Weibo accounts I found belonged to young people, and interspersed with the political messages about their hometown and what’s happening there, there are normal posts about all the things you would expect: the weather, school, cute girls (or boys), funny animations, etc.

I feel certain that somewhere after this is over, there will be people who will be looking to write these people off the way they write off any dissident activity in China. But these are not, by and large, dissidents, or even people who seem to be particularly politically inclined, from what I can tell of their Weibo histories. They’re just people who’ve been forced into an extreme political situation and have chosen to stand up for themselves rather than backing down. Good for them. Don’t let anyone tell you they’re being funded by the NED or being misled by Western propagandists. That’s bullshit.

They also are very aware of the thin ice they’re walking on. It seems clear the decision to rise up was not one they came to lightly. Rather, they were pushed to it, it seems, by the wanton greed and utter stupidity of the local authorities.

Being particularly frightened by how that stupidity might well play out as this situation moves toward some kind of resolution, I was moved by this weibo post from one young man in Wukan. He wrote:

It’s dangerous here. I want to get out.

Still, their collective spirit appears to still be strong. Here’s a video from a few days ago; according to the description it says that the same video was also uploaded to Sina and deleted in less than an hour.

The Siege of Wukan

UPDATE 4: Malcolm Moore has posted a new story on this, which I highly recommend you read in its entirety right here. Also added another image from Weibo.

UPDATE 3: Additional images from Weibo added, section on Weibo censorship added at the end of the post.

UPDATE 2: One of the accounts posting images from inside Wukan — a young man who lives there — has been closed by Sina. Clearly, they’re taking this pretty seriously. I know of two other Weibo accounts from users inside Wukan, but I wonder how quickly their accounts will be closed, too. Also, Malcolm Moore tweeted that the villagers estimate they have food enough left for ten days.

UPDATE 1: Malcolm Moore has posted some more details on his time in the village — and how he got in there — here (you may need a Google Plus account to see that. I have also added an additional large image to the selection of photos from Weibo.

wukan-rebellionThe Telegraph’s Malcolm Moore published an explosive story today about Wukan, the village in southern China that is now in open rebellion against the local government. This story has been developing for several months, but Moore’s piece from inside the blocked-off town (no idea how he’s managed that) is one of the best and most comprehensive pieces I’ve seen yet. I highly recommend that you click this link right now and read the entire story. I’ll wait here.

Ok, finished? Great. Beyond that, Moore has been live updating this morning via his Twitter account, posting additional photos and information. As of this writing, the most interesting of those is this tidbit, from around 11 AM this morning:

The rumour in Wukan is CCTV may be coming on Dec 16, so the police may try and reassert control before then

I don’t think I need to explain the ways in which this event is amazing, and I mean that in the literal sense of the word. Anyone with a funtional brain and half an eye on the Chinese media is aware that local government land grabs are a huge source of discontent, but if you’d told me a few months ago that a Chinese town would band together, run the local officials out of town, resist a force of 1,000 police officers intent on entering the town again (but, thankfully, not willing to use lethal force to do so, at least not yet), establish their own makeshift government, and keep the whole thing running even this long, I would have told you you were nuts.

Before we go any further, I want to get this out of the way: no, this is not the first spark in some nationwide rebellion that will see the national government overthrown. In fact, it’s not even a rebellion against the central government, as you can tell from the pleas for help from Beijing in Moore’s article.

Still, it puts Beijing in an awfully interesting position. As I see it, they have three basic options:

  1. Come to the rescue of the down, declare the local government officials corrupt, put them on trial and restore order peacefully. This is, I suspect, exactly what the people in Wukan want.
  2. Come to the rescue of the officials and provide them enough manpower to completely crush the rebellion. This would be easy, but would attract a lot of negative attention internationally, and there’s a risk of it leaking online domestically, too.
  3. Do nothing for the time being, and see if the officials can regain control on their own, or if the rebellion spreads.

The last option seems by far the most likely to me, which is good and bad news for the protesters in Wukan. No help is coming from Beijing, but at least that means the PLA probably isn’t coming either.

Of course, the central government isn’t really doing nothing, as mentions of Wukan
are being scrubbed from the media and deleted online. As you would expect, searching for “Wukan” on Weibo gives you the classic “According to the relevant laws, these results can’t be displayed” message. But weibo is a tough thing to keep completely clean, and there are some folks giving updates from inside the town. Here, for example, are some photographs from the past few days that I found on Sina Weibo:

wukan-rebellion

wukan-siege

How exactly the siege will play out isn’t yet clear, but I’ll be keeping as close an eye on it as possible, and if you’re not already following Malcolm Moore, that’s something you’re going to want to do. I truly hope this situation can be resolved in a way that gives justice to the villagers — especially the family of the deceased — without further bloodshed, but I’m not sure how likely that is.

If the police do attempt to enter the village again, I’d guess they’ll be using something a bit more serious than tear gas. And the villagers may not have the firepower to compete with guns, but that doesn’t mean they’re not trying. Another update from Malcolm Moore around noon reads:

I’m sitting on a balcony, looking over the village, and above a tidy pile of steel-tipped bamboo spears.

Censorship

Citizens of Wukan are attempting to spread news of their movement via Weibo, but unsurprisingly, posts and accounts are being deleted with great speed. The account through which I found several of the photos above has already been entirely deleted by Sina — attempting to access it suddenly returns a “user does not exist” error. The pages of other Weibo users in Wukan look an awful lot like this young man’s page, in which every single thing he’s retweeted over the past few days has since been deleted:

deleted

In addition, at least one Wukan resident was seen complaining on Weibo that Tencent had shuttered his QQ profile, presumably because it included information about what’s happening in Wukan.

[First image via the Telegraph]

Thoughts on China’s Big Child Trafficking Bust (and Comments Policy Revised)

child-kidnapping-china

Thoughts on the Child Kidnapping Bust

For the past few days, news of China’s big kidnapping bust has been making the rounds. In case you’ve missed it, here are the basic details, via Shanghaiist:

Chinese authorities have arrested over 600 individuals related to child trafficking in a joint operation which involved more than 5,000 agents in 10 different provinces. 178 children were rescued in the bust, and are currently residing safely in different orphanages while authorities are trying to reunite them with their families.

Police unwittingly stumbled upon a child trafficking group while investigating a traffic accident on May 5th in the province of Sichuan. The youngsters were allegedly either purchased or abducted by the group and distributed from Sichuan to clients in central China’s Hebei province and elsewhere.

Because I’ve been working on a documentary film about this very issue for the past year, a few people have asked for my thoughts, so here they are.

The good: First of all, even one child getting rescued is good news. 178 kids getting to return to their real homes is great news, and 600+ traffickers off the streets is great news too. So regardless of everything else, there’s plenty to celebrate here.

Secondly, it appears from the news reports that once they had gotten the initial clue, the police did exactly what they need to do to solve cases like this — pooled resources, collaborated across large distances, cooperated with police organs at different levels in different areas, etc. From one angle we’ll discuss in a second, it’s kind of bad that this bust came from a chance traffic stop, but on the other hand, it’s good news that the local police handled that well enough to know what they had, and the higher-ups were smart enough to listen to them and begin coordinating to accomplish something real.

Finally, since July the government has implemented a new policy that states kidnapped kids whose original families can’t be found cannot be returned to the families who bought them, and must instead be put into government care. Unfortunately for the kids, the care they’re likely to get from many of these government homes isn’t great, but I still think this is a necessary measure to stamp out the idea, still prevalent in some parts of China, that it’s OK to purchase children (and that if you get caught doing this, the worst that happens is you pay a fine).

The bad: That said, it is a bit disconcerting that this huge bust, coming amidst a bunch of high-profile crackdown campaigns, came to the police almost entirely by luck, and I don’t think that’s a coincidence. Among other issues, one thing we’ve seen in all the cases we’ve looked at is that local police are (to put it nicely) slow to respond to initial reports of kidnapping, and don’t tend to do much of anything until the first 24 hours — by far the most crucial time in a kidnapping case — have already elapsed.

Moreover, while 178 sets of parents may get a happy ending, there are hundreds of thousands of parents out there who won’t. Even by the Chinese government’s official numbers there are around 10,000 children kidnapped in China each year. Realistically, the number is higher than that. 178 kids rescued is great, but it’s a small drop in a big bucket.

Anecdotally, over the course of shooting we’ve had direct contact with around a dozen sets of parents, who themselves are connected via their own networks to hundreds of others. Over the past year, we’ve heard of exactly one family getting their child back. None of the families we’ve talked to have even heard anything new about their cases from the police since we first spoke with them.

So, in short, this is case is a good sign, but there’s still a long, long way to go.

New Comments Policy

On an unrelated note, followers of this comments thread will already be aware, but I have finally had enough of the bullshit that has been occurring in the comments here. It’s stupid and unproductive, and if I have to I’ll just close the comments permanently, but first, we’ll try out this new, harsher regime. So be warned. I’m going to be reading all the comments again, and I will be deleting comments and banning people like it’s going out of style (if they violate the comments policy).

So, read the comments policy. If you’re already familiar with it, please take note of the following additions, effective immediately:

  • Comment with a spirit of productiveness and openness, and support your points with evidence and reason. (Yes, this is subjective, but in actuality, it’s very simple to abide by this rule.) Failure to make productive comments will result in deleted comments and eventually the blocking of your account.
  • Comments along the lines of “But [Western country] does [object of discussion] as well….” are generally irrelevant, and will be considered off-topic spam, except in discussion of posts that explicitly invite comparison between China and other countries.This is a blog about China. The Western world has many social problems, but generally speaking, this isn’t the place to discuss them.

Note that nothing has been removed from the comments policy, so all the other rules remain in effect. To read the full thing, click here.

New Tactics to Rally Around Blind Activist Lawyer

For months, netizens, journalists and ‘adventure tourists’ have been trying to visit blind lawyer and human rights activist Chen Guangcheng, who has been detained at his home at Linyi, Shandong province since late 2010. Not a single one of them have succeeded in breaking the defense held up by local officials, police and thugs, who are not shy to use brutal violence.

But Beijing netizen and experienced ‘grass mud horse’ Xiao Cuo (twitter: @zokio) does not think this is a dead end. Quite the contrary, he encourages netizens to use their imagination and design new tactics to rally around Chen’s cause. He sees Chen’s case as an opportunity to nurture the civil society and citizenship concepts in China.

On 27 November, he blogged about (as expected, the original is being deleted) his experience of distributing and putting up notices about Chen Guangcheng’s cause around Linyi city and Chen’s village. Rather than trying to approach him, they attached notices to electric poles, village house walls and even notice boards in Linyi University. These notices have attracted attention from students and local villagers. Perhaps the thugs responsible for holding up Chen are amongst them?

Xiao Cuo dubbed his project “Operation Old Military Doctor”. Back in the 1980s, roving doctors in China often boasted themselves as experienced “military doctors” who could cure many diseases in advertisements they put up on electric poles and street walls.

He thinks that violence should be avoided, and a new mode of operation is needed. Reaching Chen should no longer be the movement’s aim. Rather, netizens should extend the battle zone to a wider area, and raise the awareness of local villagers and the very people involved in the crime. Here are Xiao Cuo’s thoughts in his own words (translated):

  1. From the perspective of citizenship education and strengthening of the civil society, no lesson is better than the one offered by Chen Guangcheng, which is pure, simple, low-risk and sustainable. Whether legally, rationally or emotionally speaking, our opponent is in a disadvantaged position. Rogue is all they are left with. Chen has sacrificed himself for us. We should not waste the lesson offered by him.
  2. Let us not focus our attention on cases like Little Yueyue which have no sustainability. What Chen Guangcheng’s enemy hope for is victory by the passage of time. If we are distracted by other buzz and let the temperature on Chen cools down, we let our enemy’s wish comes true.
  3. Some people portray Chen with a weak image of being insulted and hurt. This is a misinterpretation. As a blind individual, he is giving the central and local governments, which have mobilized hundreds of people and millions of dollars, sleepless nights. Can we find another blind man as brave?
  4. Some people think that Chen’s situation is a dead end without solution. Wrong! Whether there is a solution depends on Chen himself. Now Chen does not want to let the government off the hook, thus creating this dead end. Chen shouts: “Open fire on me!” So brave. Those who think that Chen is being harassed and persecuted are wrong.
  5. Unless constrained by time, or physical or financial reasons, every grass mud horse should at least go there once, even if you only pass by there on a car. This is the bottom line of being a grass mud horse, if you regard yourself as one.
  6. I admire those who went there and endured violence. Their heroic behaviour started this battle. But we should put an end to violence because it is not sustainable. Not every one has the courage to endure being beaten up. This will scare away new comers, and affect the morale of the participants and audience alike. Civic actions should proceed along sustainable paths, which are low-cost, low-risk and fun.
  7. Chen’s village is now a formidable castle. We cannot hope for breakthroughs by direct confrontation. Entering Chen’s village should no longer be our aim. We need to extend the battle field to surrounding areas, and replace fists with pens. Only by raising the awareness of local villagers can we exert moral and public pressures on the thugs.

Tactically speaking, he advises netizens to adopt a low-profile, be swift in action, dress as locals and avoid going in large groups. Having a well-planned route is also important. To sustain public attention, he suggests disclosing operational results bit by bit first, before publishing a complete record. Sharing the route taken is also a good idea, so that others can plan different ones. Of course, his idea is only one possibility among many. He challenges netizens to use their imagination and implement even more brilliant plans.

Update: Xiao Cuo was subsequently questioned by the police for his action. This is extracted from the daily briefing by Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) for November 28-29:

Beijing netizen Xiao Cuo (小撮) was questioned for seven hours, from the late evening of November 28 to early the next morning, about advocacy efforts made for activist and lawyer Chen Guangcheng (陈光诚), who lives with his family under house arrest in Shandong Province. Officers from the Dongsheng Police Station interrogated Xiao after netizens, including Xiao, pasted materials about Chen around the periphery of Dongshigu Village on November 19, and just after Xiao posted information and suggestions online about a “new method” for going to see Chen. Taken away by two police officers, was told to agree to not to post further about Chen’s situation, an order he reportedly refused.

An Open Letter to Relativity Media

These people aren't allowed to leave their house. Hilarious!
Dear Relativity Media,

Let me start by saying that I have no grudge against your company. You guys have made some great movies! Blood Diamond? I enjoyed that. The Social Network was great. Granted, you also made Doom, but everybody makes mistakes. So I want you to know it’s not about the movies.

It’s not even about 21 and Over, although let’s face it, if I wanted to watch The Hangover again, I could just watch The Hangover, and if I wanted to watch a shitty version of it, I could watch The Hangover II, so I’m not sure what market you’re shooting for with this film. But hey, that’s why I don’t work in the film business.

No, my concern is not with your terrible-sounding movie, which I’m sure will gross a bazillion dollars. It’s with the place you’ve chosen to shoot it: Linyi, Shandong, China.

Now, I suspect you had reasons for choosing this location. Probably even a lot of reasons. And it certainly seems like you’ve made good friends with the local authorities, who are more than happy to have you visiting Linyi:

The Chinese Communist Party Secretary of Linyi’s Municipal Committee, Zhang Shajun, who ranks above the local mayor, issued a statement welcoming the production to his city and adding that he “particularly welcome(s) my good friend (Relativity CEO) Ryan Kavanaugh and his great company” to his “historic city,” adding: “We promise to provide the best service possible in order to help make the movie successful worldwide.”

And you guys are excited too, clearly:

Tucker Tooley, Relativity’s co-President said the Sky land partners love this “hysterical film and it’s gratifying they want to build a foundation immediately alongside our cast and crew. We are very much looking forward to shooting in China, especially in a place as amazing as Linyi.”

Linyi is an amazing place, and what’s more, it makes total sense to shoot an American buddy-comedy there, especially these days when the US is full of icky poor people whining about how they don’t have jobs because American companies have taken all the work overseas.

I wonder, though: do you guys know who you’ve hopped in bed with?

It’s a rhetorical question; even if you didn’t know before, after yesterday’s media firestorm you certainly do. So you know that those same local officials praising your decision to come to Linyi are probably the ones paying teams of thugs to surround Chen Guangcheng’s village and beat anyone who tries to get near it. You know that they’re the ones who’ve been holding an innocent ((Convicted of a crime, yes, but served his time and was released; by Chinese law he should be free)) man and his family hostage, without charges or any kind of legal proceedings.

Until recently, your Linyi government pals were the same ones preventing Chen’s six-year-old daughter from attending school. But hey, good news on that front! They’re letting her go to school now, as long as she never leaves the sight of a couple of their agents. After all, you never know what kind of trouble a six-year-old could get up to! In fact, that sounds like it could make a hilarious movie! Six and Over! There you go, guys, that one’s a freebie. Use it for the prequel.

So anyway, yes, Linyi is an “amazing” place, in that it’s currently at the center of a human rights firestorm, and its government is clearly complicit in something that’s completely indefensible even by the sometimes-Orwellian laws of China. Sounds like a great place to film a comedy. And I’m sure all the money you’re paying those Linyi officials is being used only for, you know, tourism or something. I’m sure none of it goes to paying the thug army they’ve got surrounding Chen’s village.

Now, to be fair, you probably didn’t get yourselves into this on purpose. My guess — and this is just pure speculation — is that you were offered a ridiculously cheap place to shoot with some extra perks and you said yes without looking into it. And yes, in doing that, you placed your foot squarely into the PR bear trap that you’re in right now.

Because now, you’re kinda fucked. If you stay in Linyi, it’s a PR nightmare. My little blog is one thing, but I have a feeling we’ll see this story in some Western papers come Monday.
My guess? That’s just the beginning.

But if you leave Linyi, you’re definitely going to piss off local and perhaps national government officials. My guess is you’d be giving up any chance to shoot in China again for a long time. These guys don’t like being criticized, and they don’t like being embarrassed by Western companies that grow a conscience.

So, what should you do? I’m no expert, but let me help you weigh the options here. You can either piss off the American media and whatever percentage of your audience chooses to pay attention, or you can piss off some government leaders who are giving you a great deal on shooting your hilarious movie so long as you keep quiet about how they’re using your money to hold a blind man hostage.

Personally, I’d say leave Linyi. Like, tomorrow. Or hey, even today! It certainly seems like the moral choice, and I don’t understand why you’d want to shoot an American buddy comedy in China anyway (well, except for because of this).

no-commentWe know you’re aware of the issue (see image). And while I understand the “no comment” response — you probably need some time to get your ducks in a row — please be aware that people are not just going to forget about this if you choose to do nothing. People haven’t forgotten about Chen and his family, and even though they’re beaten and robbed, people keep trying to visit him. Relativity Media needs to seriously consider which side of that equation it wants to be on.

Because maybe it’s just my sense of humor, but holding an innocent blind man and his family in their house, beating and robbing well-intentioned net users trying to visit him, and then lying about it to the world does not sound like a great premise for a hilarious buddy comedy. And every day you’re in Linyi shooting 21 and Over, you’re funding that, too, whether you want to be or not.

Do the right thing here.

Sincerely,

C. Custer

Update: Who to Send This To

If you’d like to send this letter to Relativity Media or people associated with the film, Artists Speak Out has collected a good list of people and ways to contact them.

I recommend you check out their whole post, which also includes sample messages to send, but excerpted below are a bunch of contact details from their post:

Send Tweets to the Lead Actors in 21 and Over

Miles Teller
@miles_teller

Justin Chon
@justinchon

Skylar Astin
@SkylarAstin

[…]

Call, Fax or Email Relativity Media

Phn: +1 310 859 1250
Fax: +1 310 859 1254
pressrequests@relativitymedia.com

Greg Forston
SVP, Theatrical Distribution
greg.forston@relativitymedia.com

Matt Garelick
SVP, Theatrical Distribution
matt.garelick@relativitymedia.com

Wendy Merry
Vice President, Field Marketing
wendy.merry@relativitymedia.com

Jernei Razen
Director of Development
jernejr@relativitymedia.com

John Sinayi
SPV, Theatrical Distribution
john.sinayi@relativitymedia.com

Rob Springer
Senior Vice-President, Sales & Operations
rob.springer@relativitymedia.com

UPDATE: Relativity Media Responds:

Their official statement:

“From its founding, Relativity Media has been a consistent and outspoken supporter of human rights and we would never knowingly do anything to undermine this commitment. We stand by that commitment and we are proud of our growing business relationships in China, through our partnership with Sky Land, its strategic alliance with Huaxia Film Distribution Company. As a company, we believe deeply that expanding trade and business ties with our counterparts in China and elsewhere can result in positive outcomes.”