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The mural in Oregon the Chinese government wants destroyed
September 20, 2012 8:18 AM   Subscribe

A colorful mural adorns Chao Tsung-song / Tibet House in Corvallis, Oregon. Commissioned by Corvallis businessman, David Lin, the 100 foot long mural depicts at one end, a cheerful Taiwanese countryside scene, and at the other, police beating Tibetan protesters and a Tibetan monk in the process of self-immolation. The Chinese government has requested that the mural be destroyed. Mr. Lin and Corvallis city mayor, Julie Manning, say, "no."
posted by Phyllis Harmonic (44 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

 
You know, it really does seem like the Chinese government is unaware of the Streisand Effect. Or they just can't help themselves. I can't imagine how they thought this would turn out.
posted by selfnoise at 8:26 AM on September 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


Given how much this seems to grate the Chinese government, you could probably start a fairly profitable side business creating, and then painting over for a fee, pro-Tibetan and pro-Taiwan murals.
posted by leotrotsky at 8:26 AM on September 20, 2012 [13 favorites]


man when the police starting beating people in the process of self-immolation, you know you live in a sick society
posted by facetious at 8:28 AM on September 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Given how much this seems to grate the Chinese government...

This is a clever business model. It wouldn't last long, but you could probably make >100K on it if you were fast & used a variety of muralists to cover your tracks. Split the payout 50/50 with the property owners? Or should they get more, since they're the ones who are going to take the heat?

China is an obvious target, but you could probably find other groups who would be amenable to private payouts to obscure inconvenient murals. Might be best to aim at nation-states, since they'll (oddly) be less likely to simply shoot you. Would probably also be best to find property owners who are of the same ethnicity as the target nation, for PR reasons.
posted by aramaic at 8:47 AM on September 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Ugh, I really hope they don't end up caving to the Chinese goverment's shitty demands. I work in the Tibetan art community and unfortunately there are many US organizations who would not stick to their guns like this.
posted by tiny plastic sockpuppet at 8:47 AM on September 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


Come on, I mean those protesters aren't going to beat themselves are they?
posted by blue_beetle at 8:48 AM on September 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


I actually worked in that building, for David Lin, about 15 years ago. It's kind of surreal to me that this is going on.
posted by no relation at 9:03 AM on September 20, 2012


Ugh, I really hope they don't end up caving to the Chinese goverment's shitty demands. I work in the Tibetan art community and unfortunately there are many US organizations who would not stick to their guns like this.

David Lin absolutely will stick to his guns, if he's anything like I remember him.
posted by no relation at 9:10 AM on September 20, 2012


no relation: David Lin absolutely will stick to his guns . . .

Article: Nevertheless, Lin says he's scared for his safety. In his office in the building with the mural on it, a handgun sits within reach on his desk.

Evidently.
posted by The Bellman at 9:13 AM on September 20, 2012


Yeah, I posted that before I read the NPR article. Even more surreal.
posted by no relation at 9:16 AM on September 20, 2012


You know, Chinese-Taiwanese ties are getting stronger day by day but this obviously political statement by a Taiwanese immigrant in America on what a lot of the native Chinese sees as a domestic issue really churns up some already rough waters. I think this is closer to skirting that same, gray boundary as the one straddled by the Coptic Christian director and the subsequent consulate bombings. It's easy to say that it's the forces of the rational and the freedom loving against the forces of the assbackwards fascists and a hell of a lot harder to balance the ethical merits of a piece of art extolling well-trodden values and its potential political and possibly mortal ramifications.
posted by dubusadus at 9:16 AM on September 20, 2012


...I think this mural or this wall painting will actually hurt some Chinese people's feelings," Cheng says.

Freedom of speech can have thorns. Just like roses. Welcome to our garden.
posted by Thorzdad at 9:19 AM on September 20, 2012 [10 favorites]


As an American, I can deal with the existence of works of art that expose America's crimes; if I was living in another country and saw a mural denigrating America's treatment of the Native Americans I wouldn't assume I had the right to say much of anything about it. The Chinese are capable of doing the same. And if the Chinese government doesn't like it, too effing bad.
posted by emjaybee at 9:22 AM on September 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


If I was living abroad and saw something like that I would donate money to the artist, tbh.
posted by elizardbits at 9:29 AM on September 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm betting the Chinese officials hoped for something similar to what might happen in the PRC: someone makes a request to the right official, and the problem quietly goes away. The Western cultural emphasis on fighting for one's rights and the rule of law can lead to a lot of conflict with Chinese cultural emphasis on harmony and rule by person.

It's also interesting to see what the PRC sees as an internal affair ("don't interfere in other countries' internal affairs" is one of the most common slogans of PRC diplomacy) become an internal affair in the US. It's hard not to read this as the PRC trying to interfere in US domestic affairs.
posted by jiawen at 9:33 AM on September 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


As an American, I can deal with the existence of works of art that expose America's crimes; if I was living in another country and saw a mural denigrating America's treatment of the Native Americans I wouldn't assume I had the right to say much of anything about it. The Chinese are capable of doing the same. And if the Chinese government doesn't like it, too effing bad.

Well, when was the last time you were ridiculed for being part of the genocide following the War of 1812 and continuing indifference to Native American life on reservations? If someone, like me, a Chinese-American immigrant, called you out on your ignorance of the significant public health problems on these reservations along with continuing to badger you about the equally significant disparity between an average white American's and an average black American's quality of life?

You wouldn't care. Or you might. It wouldn't matter though because it's liable you're in the majority where you live. But it's weird for me, as a Chinese-American, to see the intense media focus on the country of my origin for its human rights violations and its heavy pollution and terrible working conditions but to also know how much day-to-day life has improved in just the last few decades for the average Chinese citizen. Going from millions dying of starvation to limited internet access is a goddamn wonder.

It's also weird to have American media compare the living standards it's comfortable with to that of other nations. The Western world modernized extremely quickly by building itself on a cycle of capitalistic abuse of those nations worse off than itself. It's hard, unless you really just adore history, to make the cognitive link between the horribly manipulative trade triangles perpetuated by Neo-Colonialists and the quality of life most Americans enjoy today. If you did so, you'd drown yourself in guilt, you'd cry every time you ate factory farmed meat, you'd shun things like smartphones not knowing where the PCB inside of it came from. It's like you expect everyone to have your quality of life but minus your centuries of human rights violations and atrocities. Aren't you guilty of your continuing indifference to where the parts from your TV or the wood from your furniture comes from? Are you positive that nobody was hurt along the way to your comfortable lifestyle?

This isn't to say that we should be wholly dismissive of the violations going on in China because those are serious issues. But in every thread, every article I read about China's abuses, there's this sense that the writer is shouting down from a very tall pedestal the he or she has no idea exists beneath them, much less how something so tall was even built.
posted by dubusadus at 9:55 AM on September 20, 2012 [12 favorites]


"I think this mural or this wall painting will actually hurt some Chinese people's feelings."

Yeah, heaven forbid anyone's feelings should be hurt over threatening to conduct a scorched-earth invasion of another country or the ongoing genocide of the Tibetan people. Jerk.
posted by 1adam12 at 10:07 AM on September 20, 2012


I don't think we're dealing with clueless Chinese apparatchiks here. They know that putting pressure on government officials sends a clear message: you try to criticize us and we will come after you, no matter where you live. Judging by the last link this intimidation works: Nevertheless, Lin says he's scared for his safety. In his office in the building with the mural on it, a handgun sits within reach on his desk.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 10:18 AM on September 20, 2012


Dubusadus raises a good point -- people in the US tend to have an awfully one-sided view of China: not a FALSE view, but one with limited scope.

What I'd like to see happen is for Americans to have a more multifaceted view of things. Which would mean continuing to talk about problems like the Tibet situation AND SIMULTANEOUSLY talking about things the Chinese government is doing right. But we seem to like our political narratives totally black-and-white, and I don't know whether that's a realistic goal.

But so basically I think in my perfect world the mural would stay up just as it is, but all the passersby who see it would already be well-enough educated to react like "Hmm, well, here's hoping their government keeps moving in the right direction" rather than like "OH YEAH, FUCK ALL THOSE HEARTLESS COMMIE BASTARDS."
posted by nebulawindphone at 10:23 AM on September 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Well, when was the last time you were ridiculed for being part of the genocide following the War of 1812 and continuing indifference to Native American life on reservations? If someone, like me, a Chinese-American immigrant, called you out on your ignorance of the significant public health problems on these reservations along with continuing to badger you about the equally significant disparity between an average white American's and an average black American's quality of life?

You're right about all of this, and yet...

You wouldn't care. Or you might. It wouldn't matter though because it's liable you're in the majority where you live. But it's weird for me, as a Chinese-American, to see the intense media focus on the country of my origin for its human rights violations and its heavy pollution and terrible working conditions but to also know how much day-to-day life has improved in just the last few decades for the average Chinese citizen. Going from millions dying of starvation to limited internet access is a goddamn wonder.

The USA isn't perfect, not by any stretch of any imagination, anywhere. We have a system that -- in theory at least -- is supposed to make everyone equal and protect everybody's rights equally. We've stumbled a lot on the way, and haven't always gotten it right.

But we've only been at it for 223 years. Everything in our system is designed to keep moving us forward and make things better for everyone. While it's been slow going, it has been movement in the right direction.

This is why, when somebody, especially when they are a piece of a system that is designed to actively oppress the people at the bottom, comes into the US, and tries to prevent criticism of their country, said criticism taking place in the US and by a fellow US citizen (whom I actually don't much like, personally -- David Lin is not a nice person to work for as an employer) I feel completely fine about telling them to go fuck themselves.

We've only been at it, like I said, for 223 years. China's been at it for five thousand -- exactly what is their excuse?
posted by no relation at 10:50 AM on September 20, 2012


Tibetan self-immolations over Chinese policies - interactive. Since March 2011, more than 40 Tibetans - monks, nuns and lay people - have set themselves on fire, reportedly in protest against Chinese policies in Tibet
posted by homunculus at 10:57 AM on September 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


In other news: Ai Weiwei YouTube Video Shows Protesters Harrassing U.S. Ambassador in Beijing
posted by homunculus at 10:57 AM on September 20, 2012


Hey China! Guess what? The mural is in Oregon.

So please buzz off.

By the way, feel free to make your own mural that shows the police hugging and kissing everybody.

Add some unicorns too, if you want.
posted by freakazoid at 10:59 AM on September 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


It might be a good idea to take it down since it is not very attractive as a piece of art...give me the murals of the WPA for nice work.
posted by Postroad at 11:07 AM on September 20, 2012


I can't believe I am even saying this (i have so many terrible ~feelings about art) but art does not have to be attractive to be important.
posted by elizardbits at 11:10 AM on September 20, 2012 [7 favorites]


the ongoing genocide of the Tibetan people.

The lamas were doing a much better job of that than the PRC.
posted by Tanizaki at 11:17 AM on September 20, 2012


We've only been at it, like I said, for 223 years. China's been at it for five thousand -- exactly what is their excuse?

What, did the Founding Fathers rise from a primordial soup and piece together language and civilization from bare nothingness? Or is there something keenly American about not paying their dues to classical antiquity?
posted by dubusadus at 11:19 AM on September 20, 2012


What, did the Founding Fathers rise from a primordial soup and piece together language and civilization from bare nothingness? Or is there something keenly American about not paying their dues to classical antiquity?

What exactly does that have to do with... um... what I said?
posted by no relation at 11:27 AM on September 20, 2012


It's been interesting to watch this kind of spiraling out of control for China over the last week or so. Despite the Chinese foreign ministry defending the action by its diplomats, some people in Congress are taking a vehement stance against it. Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon wrote a letter to Zhang Yesui, the Chinese ambassador, about it, and Representative Peter DeFazio (Oregon 4th District) spoke out against it on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives.

I doubt it will have much staying power as an issue, but maybe it will create some good discussions.
posted by gemmy at 11:29 AM on September 20, 2012


If someone, like me, a Chinese-American immigrant, called you out on your ignorance of the significant public health problems on these reservations along with continuing to badger you about the equally significant disparity between an average white American's and an average black American's quality of life?

I'd nod and agree and ask what you, as a voting American, are doing to change it?

More to the point, it was wrong when the US used ethnic suppression against its own citizens, and continuing inequality is a real social problem that needs to be addressed. "See? Johnny's doing it, too!" isn't really a good excuse - it's a piss poor excuse, because China, being a rapidly modernizing society, has access to American and European history, and can see how morally corrupt and damaging to the fabric of society it was - and they're going ahead and doing it anyway.
posted by Slap*Happy at 11:40 AM on September 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


@no relation: To say that the Constitution doesn't borrow from Western traditions dating back thousands of years would be akin to saying that the modern Chinese state is a far cry from the Qing Dynasty that predates it (if we exclude the few years of Nationalist rule). You can't hold one country to one standard of historical precedent and then simply sweep the other into one ethnic mold because, as historians would have it, narratives are a lot more complicated than the boundaries drawn on a map.
posted by dubusadus at 11:42 AM on September 20, 2012


In his office in the building with the mural on it, a handgun sits within reach on his desk.

Some famous guy once said "Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun."

His name is on the tip of my tongue ...
posted by ZenMasterThis at 11:54 AM on September 20, 2012


as a voting American

And which of the two primary political parties in the United States am I supposed to vote for that has openly addressed these issues?

Anyway, this mural is so much less about holding China to a standard of human rights than it is about a Taiwanese immigrant doing something to purposefully piss off the Chinese government because of his own national pride. And the reason why this works and why it's got everybody all up in the same old anti-Red China flames is due to the power of this journalistic cliche that dates all the way back to Nixon. I'll repeat myself here and probably for the last time since I'm kind inundating this thread with my gibber: I'm not saying that China shouldn't be held accountable. I'm criticizing the portrayal of China in media and the perpetual hoorah, patting-of-the-back most American writers and readers do after another human rights violation occurs in China while they blow off their own issues because their media regularly ignores them for the simple sake of revenue.
posted by dubusadus at 12:00 PM on September 20, 2012


Excellent.

Dear Chinese government: REAP it.
posted by Twang at 12:16 PM on September 20, 2012


@no relation: To say that the Constitution doesn't borrow from Western traditions dating back thousands of years would be akin to saying that the modern Chinese state is a far cry from the Qing Dynasty that predates it (if we exclude the few years of Nationalist rule). You can't hold one country to one standard of historical precedent and then simply sweep the other into one ethnic mold because, as historians would have it, narratives are a lot more complicated than the boundaries drawn on a map.

And if the things Mr. Lin was calling them on had happened hundreds or thousands of years ago, then you'd be right. His mural is pointing out things the Chinese government is doing and continues to do.

Anyway, this mural is so much less about holding China to a standard of human rights than it is about a Taiwanese immigrant doing something to purposefully piss off the Chinese government because of his own national pride.

And you know this how?

And the reason why this works and why it's got everybody all up in the same old anti-Red China flames is due to the power of this journalistic cliche that dates all the way back to Nixon. I'll repeat myself here and probably for the last time since I'm kind inundating this thread with my gibber: I'm not saying that China shouldn't be held accountable. I'm criticizing the portrayal of China in media and the perpetual hoorah, patting-of-the-back most American writers and readers do after another human rights violation occurs in China while they blow off their own issues because their media regularly ignores them for the simple sake of revenue.

Everything on his mural happens to be true.

That aside, we don't ignore our own issues. More importantly, and this was my point, when someone calls the US on the things it has done, we don't shut that person down. When someone in our own country does it, we let them be. We might disagree with it, we might agree with it, but we let them have their say. When a private citizen in another country criticizes the US on the things it has done, we recognize that it would take an unbelievable amount of nerve to have our diplomats in their country try to shut them down.

When it's China, trying to interfere with free speech in the US that is in fact calling China on, among other things, its lack of free speech... it is chutzpah, and it is irony, and it is insulting. I lack the vocabulary to describe precisely just how much of each of those it is, but it is quite a lot.
posted by no relation at 12:28 PM on September 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


And which of the two primary political parties in the United States am I supposed to vote for that has openly addressed these issues?

Howabout finding a local candidate that best represents your interests and convictions as an American, and campaign and for them in your neighborhood. That local politician then influences which candidates run for state office, and they influence the national races.

Politics begins right in your home town, right on your street. You can influence how the political parties behave with your vote and your political advocacy - you've just chosen not to get involved.

I'm criticizing the portrayal of China in media and the perpetual hoorah, patting-of-the-back most American writers and readers do after another human rights violation occurs in China while they blow off their own issues because their media regularly ignores them for the simple sake of revenue.

I'm calling baloney on that one - the press, nationally and locally, constantly reports on domestic issues involving the suppression of minorities. I'm talking daily. We get a story about political repression, corruption or pollution in China, one of our largest trading partners, I might add, maybe once a month, if that.
posted by Slap*Happy at 12:37 PM on September 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


dubusadus, I don't think you're gibbering, and I get what you're saying (that over here, the only time you hear about China is about what it's doing wrong, and that it kind of plays into a nasty form of self-congratulation that we tend to have as Americans).

But. BUT. Chinese officials are attempting to restrict the rights of expression of an American citizen on American soil. That is not ok. It's a huge overstep of boundaries. What the expression is irrelevant. What you or I think of Tibet or this guys' message is irrelevant. This guy has the right to do this, China does not have the right to try to intimidate him into removing it and yes, it makes me pretty angry to think that Chinese officials don't understand that. What's next, tracking down people with Free Tibet bumperstickers and knocking on their doors?

Chinese citizens, as far as I'm concerned, are more than free to blame my country for the War of 1812 or the Iraq War or whatever they please. They can hate me and my country if they want. Because I think they should have that right, even if they hurt my feelings.
posted by emjaybee at 12:38 PM on September 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


Hey China! Guess what? The mural is in Oregon.

Exactly. They probably heard about the FBI's recent shenanigans and thought their request would be received more sympathetically.
posted by homunculus at 12:38 PM on September 20, 2012


But we've only been at it for 223 years. Everything in our system is designed to keep moving us forward and make things better for everyone. While it's been slow going, it has been movement in the right direction.

We've only been at it, like I said, for 223 years. China's been at it for five thousand -- exactly what is their excuse?


The United States has a lot of progressive and awesome achievements under it's belt, especially given it's less than 300 years history. But one must remember that these achievements are due as much to luck and fortunate circumstances as they are to American beliefs, ethos, or "American exceptionalism". Basically, just like how the rich see pulling themselves up by the bootstraps as all of their own doing, we must also be equally as suspicious of an America that claims all of its successes and progress as proof that American methods are the Best way to do things.

I don't think the correct way to go about telling people to change is "We're better after 223 years, and you suck after 5,000, so you should copy our ideas and shut up." Even though there may be good intentions behind this, this will come across arrogant, ignorant, and result in the opposite of what Americans want people to do.

Those of you who bother to look through my posting history know I've always been tough and critical of China. It's not because I'm an American that wants to seek an enemy. It's because I know China can and has to do better. It can do better because it has the potential, and it has to because if it fails, the world will definitely be in a more difficult position in the challenges we face as part of the human race.
posted by FJT at 12:52 PM on September 20, 2012


But. BUT. Chinese officials are attempting to restrict the rights of expression of an American citizen on American soil. That is not ok. It's a huge overstep of boundaries. What the expression is irrelevant. What you or I think of Tibet or this guys' message is irrelevant. This guy has the right to do this, China does not have the right to try to intimidate him into removing it and yes, it makes me pretty angry to think that Chinese officials don't understand that. What's next, tracking down people with Free Tibet bumperstickers and knocking on their doors?

This. A thousand times, this.
posted by no relation at 12:55 PM on September 20, 2012


China does not have the right to try to intimidate him into removing it and yes, it makes me pretty angry to think that Chinese officials don't understand that.

I'm sorry if we're retreading ground, but was there any intimidation involved? From everything I have read, it sounds like there were definitely requests to David Lin and Mayor Manning, but I don't see any threats or use of fear by the Chinese government or foreign ministry. So, it does strike me as a bit of journalistic embellishment when that article ends on David Lin keeping a firearm close to his person.

I mean, the Chinese government and it's various state affiliated apparatuses (like the mis-named Confucian Institutes) have been known to make requests (and sometimes succeed) to various Western governments similar to the one made in Oregon. And they have been known to use pressure, including canceling summits and withholding pandas when they have not gotten their way, but I don't recall any government condoned use of intimidation against citizens of Western governments.
posted by FJT at 1:42 PM on September 20, 2012


My parents are immigrants from Taiwan, and Julie Manning has now become a famous and lauded person in the Taiwanese-American community. My mom specifically called me to tell me about this way before I saw it on the blue.
posted by Pocahontas at 12:49 AM on September 21, 2012


"I think this mural or this wall painting will actually hurt some Chinese people's feelings."

I don't have any more sympathy for these special snowflake Chinese patriots than I do the jingoistic American patroits who get all bent out of shape when crowds in countries we've exploited for generations burn American flags or put anti-U.S. murals in public places.
posted by aught at 6:55 AM on September 21, 2012


The political psychology of self-immolation: A simple act of protest that can take on mythical proportions.
posted by homunculus at 2:23 PM on September 27, 2012


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