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Harmonious Society
November 9, 2010 8:15 AM   Subscribe

The Crab Party that got China's most famous artist arrested.

Faced with the seizure and demolition of his studio, China's famous Ai Wei Wei decided to throw a party on the eve of demolition, promising to serve 10,000 River Crabs, which symbolize Harmonious Society. Ai Wei Wei has recently been in the news for helping design the Birdnest Stadium and his Sunflower Seeds installation at London's Tate Modern Museum. Ai Wei Wei is currently under house arrest in Beijing.
posted by Heliochrome85 (50 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

 
related (MeFi post by Rory Marinich on Ai Wei Wei's sunflower seeds installation)
posted by bitteroldman at 8:22 AM on November 9, 2010


The sort of rhyming slang that's evolving online in China — héxiè for "river crab" because it sounds like héxié for "harmonious" but the characters are totally different — just fascinates the hell out of me.
posted by nebulawindphone at 8:25 AM on November 9, 2010


"Hopefully [the police] will learn from this that they cannot just use this old way to deal with new conditions," Ai told The Guardian, while under house arrest in Beijing. "I think with the Internet you don't need to be there to communicate so well. I have spent all day talking to people there [online]."

I do love that he was under house arrest and doing newspaper interviews at the same time. A virtual presence sometimes has more reach than a physical one in this day and age.
posted by hippybear at 8:26 AM on November 9, 2010


"China currently lacks the rule of law and I hope that we can build a society that is ruled by law."

It's already got laws. You may not like them, esp. when they are applied to prevent you from doing something you like/want to do, but saying there is "no law" is bullshit.
posted by Old'n'Busted at 8:28 AM on November 9, 2010


I think the "rule of law" comment refers to the fact that a government official told him to build a studio, then later the government has told him they have to tear down the studio. The initial dispute. It's pretty crazy.

Beautifully genteel protest, though. I wonder if it carries any weight?
posted by Nelson at 8:31 AM on November 9, 2010


The close-up picture of the diners at the table pretty much looks like one taken from any Chinese banquet -- people are there to have a good meal, first and foremost.
posted by of strange foe at 8:33 AM on November 9, 2010


It's already got laws. You may not like them, esp. when they are applied to prevent you from doing something you like/want to do, but saying there is "no law" is bullshit

The term "rule of law" doesn't refer to the mere presence of enforceable laws, though. It refers to a system of governance in which laws are applied fairly and uniformly, in which even high-ranking officials are subject to the laws, and in which the government's application of the law is unbiased and predictable.

This is simply not how things work in China.
posted by mr_roboto at 8:35 AM on November 9, 2010 [14 favorites]


I really respect Ai Wei Wei a lot. As a renowned artist, he is free to go anywhere he wishes, but I genuinely believe that he's staying in China to make a difference. Not an easy thing to do considering his father was the famous poet Ai Qing who also got screwed by the government and was exiled several times. Takes balls to stick around like that.
posted by reformedjerk at 8:38 AM on November 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


Love Ai Wei Wei's works. I've seen a few of his exhibitions over the years and they are always awe-inspiring, beautiful, and much more complex than they first appear.

Hope he comes out of this OK.
posted by jet_manifesto at 8:41 AM on November 9, 2010


This is simply not how things work in China.

Nor here, nor anywhere else. But it's China, so it's automatically evil. Hell, 50 years ago it was Russia, and 50 years from now it will be Canada.
posted by Old'n'Busted at 8:52 AM on November 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


This is simply not how things work in China

"My father is Li Gang!"
posted by Pseudoephedrine at 8:54 AM on November 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


This is simply not how things work in China.

Nor here, nor anywhere else. But it's China, so it's automatically evil. Hell, 50 years ago it was Russia, and 50 years from now it will be Canada.


Yes, clearly those Chinese dissidents, born in China and raised in China and living in China, are just tools of the American hegemony trying to keep the poor downtrodden CCP down.
posted by kmz at 9:00 AM on November 9, 2010 [2 favorites]


The sort of rhyming slang that's evolving online in China — héxiè for "river crab" because it sounds like héxié for "harmonious" but the characters are totally different — just fascinates the hell out of me.

My knowledge of Chinese is only rudimentary, but I believe these kinds of homophones are not uncommon. I remember protesters against Deng Xiaoping using small bottles, since "Xiao Ping" sounds like small bottles. There's another term that Chinese students use to describe PhDs that return to China, which has been jokingly referred to as "sea turtles" due to similarity in how the terms sound.
posted by jasonhong at 9:01 AM on November 9, 2010


so killing 10,000 crabs to make a point is cool ?
posted by Ad hominem at 9:03 AM on November 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


I remember protesters against Deng Xiaoping using small bottles, since "Xiao Ping" sounds like small bottles.

In fact the Xiaoping in Deng's name is exactly the same (including tone) as the xiaoping that means small bottles, though the ping2 in Deng's name is a different character from the ping2 that means bottles.
posted by kmz at 9:04 AM on November 9, 2010


Are there Chinese phonetic characters? How do the Chinese write about pronunciation?
posted by empath at 9:09 AM on November 9, 2010


The most popular system is pinyin, which is the system I'm familiar with. We were taught pinyin before actual Chinese characters in elementary school.

Pinyin is also where all official Mainland romanizations of Chinese names comes from. (Zhang vs Chang, Li vs Lee, Beijing vs Peking, etc.)
posted by kmz at 9:14 AM on November 9, 2010


10,000 crabs? That must have been a hell of a vending machine.
posted by maryr at 9:15 AM on November 9, 2010 [3 favorites]


It's already got laws. You may not like them, esp. when they are applied to prevent you from doing something you like/want to do, but saying there is "no law" is bullshit.

Why so serious?

There are statutes written down. Not only are the statutes not applied, but trying to move the courts to have them applied can cause one to be arrested, again with no statutory legal authority to do so. In what way do you consider this "law"?

In Chinese, 法治. rule of law, is distinguished from 人治, rule of men, which is generally accepted to be what China has now. The distinction is not in whether statutory laws exist, but rather in who or what is actually determining, on a case by case basis, what happens to people.
posted by 1adam12 at 9:16 AM on November 9, 2010 [4 favorites]


Channel Four interview (audio).
posted by Kattullus at 9:22 AM on November 9, 2010


The most popular system is pinyin

Yeah, but those are roman characters. Was there nothing at all before the introduction of roman characters? Like, if you needed to write down how to pronounce a new word for which there wasn't a character yet.
posted by empath at 9:24 AM on November 9, 2010


Nor here, nor anywhere else. But it's China, so it's automatically evil. Hell, 50 years ago it was Russia, and 50 years from now it will be Canada.

Look, there's a real and substantive difference between how laws are applied in China versus how they are applied in developed democracies. Are you saying that there are not serious human rights abuses in China? Or that since there are human rights abuses in the United States, the human rights abuses in China are not serious?

I don't know what to make of your "automatically evil" language. It seems reductionist.
posted by mr_roboto at 9:25 AM on November 9, 2010 [3 favorites]


The sort of rhyming slang that's evolving online in China — héxiè for "river crab" because it sounds like héxié for "harmonious" but the characters are totally different — just fascinates the hell out of me.

My knowledge of Chinese is only rudimentary, but I believe these kinds of homophones are not uncommon. I remember protesters against Deng Xiaoping using small bottles, since "Xiao Ping" sounds like small bottles. There's another term that Chinese students use to describe PhDs that return to China, which has been jokingly referred to as "sea turtles" due to similarity in how the terms sound.



Bush, Colin, Dick.
posted by I love you more when I eat paint chips at 9:25 AM on November 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


so killing 10,000 crabs to make a point is cool ?

Crabs are totally the most important victims here.
posted by AdamCSnider at 9:32 AM on November 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


Yeah, but those are roman characters. Was there nothing at all before the introduction of roman characters? Like, if you needed to write down how to pronounce a new word for which there wasn't a character yet.

There's an older system invented in 1910 called Zhuyin, which is still used in Taiwan. It doesn't use the Latin alphabet, but is instead based on strokes and other sub-character elements. Before that, there was no phonetic system of writing. If a Chinese person needed to indicate the sound of an obscure character or of a foreign language, he would approximate it using other, more commonly-known characters.
posted by 1adam12 at 9:34 AM on November 9, 2010


Yeah, but those are roman characters. Was there nothing at all before the introduction of roman characters? Like, if you needed to write down how to pronounce a new word for which there wasn't a character yet.

Ah. Hmm... I know my grandparents used Bopomofo, but even though that doesn't use a Western alphabet, it's still relatively young. No idea how Chinese phonetics was written about before then, other than maybe comparisons to commonly known characters.
posted by kmz at 9:35 AM on November 9, 2010


Bush, Colin, Dick.

Ren and Li not
Ren and Stimpy.
posted by clavdivs at 9:44 AM on November 9, 2010


so killing 10,000 crabs to make a point is cool ?
Well, he also fed 500 random people, which is pretty cool.
posted by poq at 9:49 AM on November 9, 2010 [2 favorites]


promising to serve 10,000 River Crabs, which symbolize Harmonious Society

Except for the fact that they don't symbolize "Harmonious Society," but are rather a punning protest against the policy (which is fundamentally an excuse to quell protest) . . . so basically, the exact opposite of this.

But anyhow, 500 guests, 10,000 river crabs? How big are those crabs? Twenty per person seems like a lot.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 9:59 AM on November 9, 2010


so killing 10,000 crabs to make a point is cool ?

Crabs are totally the most important victims here.


Sorry, I don't care who you are or what point you are trying to make, killing 10,000 complex living organisms is not necessary or justified.
posted by dhalgren at 10:08 AM on November 9, 2010


No, killing 10,000 complex living organisms to make a point is delicious.
posted by Nelson at 10:09 AM on November 9, 2010 [3 favorites]


Sorry, I don't care who you are or what point you are trying to make, killing 10,000 complex living organisms is not necessary or justified.

How much more complex is a crab than, I dunno, a cockroach, really?
posted by empath at 10:51 AM on November 9, 2010 [1 favorite]




No, killing 10,000 complex living organisms to make a point is delicious.

How much more complex is a crab than, I dunno, a cockroach, really?

Oh sorry, you guys are right. I forgot that compassion towards animals is a joke on the internet. Who cares as long as they aren't too much like humans and are delicious?

As long as artists aren't suffering, kill 'em all!
posted by dhalgren at 11:50 AM on November 9, 2010


It is weird that this has become about vegetarianism.

That is all.
posted by mr_roboto at 11:51 AM on November 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


It is weird that this has become about vegetarianism.

I'm not trying to derail, so this will be the last I say about it, but it's not about vegetarianism. It's about killing 10,000 living creatures to make an artistic or political statement.

My disgust with this choice of expression seemed germane to the post. I usually let the "HURF DURF VEGETABLE EATERS" stuff around here slide off my back, but I find this example of the destruction of life too disgusting to let pass without comment. Please don't give it another thought.
posted by dhalgren at 11:57 AM on November 9, 2010


It's about killing 10,000 living creatures to make an artistic or political statement.

They were eaten. As food.

Also, I think that the 10,000 number was likely a poetic exaggeration.
posted by mr_roboto at 12:01 PM on November 9, 2010 [2 favorites]


I'm not trying to derail, so this will be the last I say about it, but it's not about vegetarianism. It's about killing 10,000 living creatures to make an artistic or political statement.

You are aware that vegetables are also alive. I mean, it's not like he killed 10,000 puppies. Crabs are just underwater bugs, really.
posted by empath at 12:27 PM on November 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


anyone else have more info on artistic crab consumption and the modern usage of pinyin
posted by clavdivs at 12:36 PM on November 9, 2010


My knowledge of Chinese is only rudimentary, but I believe these kinds of homophones are not uncommon. I remember protesters against Deng Xiaoping using small bottles, since "Xiao Ping" sounds like small bottles. There's another term that Chinese students use to describe PhDs that return to China, which has been jokingly referred to as "sea turtles" due to similarity in how the terms sound.

That's beautiful. I don't speak or read any Chinese at all, so I only find out about this stuff when it turns into a big-ass internet meme and there are suddenly pictures of alpacas all over the place. And then some nice culturally literate person still has to take pity on me and explain what the alpaca means.
posted by nebulawindphone at 2:07 PM on November 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


> But it's China, so it's automatically evil. Hell, 50 years ago it was Russia, and 50 years from now it will be Canada.

Are you serious? Do you have any idea what you're talking about? If you think all the bad things said about Russia and China under communism are slander by bourgeois capitalist imperialist [insert your epithet of choice here], I have some remedial reading for you. I'm in the middle of a couple of books about Stalin's purges, and I have to take a break to read about poetry because otherwise my mind feels like it's drowning in filth. If you think the U.S. and/or Canada are somehow "just as bad" ... well, you're either educable or not, I don't know which. In any case, you're wrong.
posted by languagehat at 2:18 PM on November 9, 2010 [2 favorites]


It's not "about killing 10,000 living creatures to make an artistic or political statement". It's about killing 10,000 crabs to feed people at a party. The party itself is the political statement, and the choice of meal carries extra ironic weight. Are you're prepared to argue that all public meals with any political or artistic intent must be vegetarian? Honestly, you read a whole story about a Chinese artist and his Internet fans defying the government and what you take away from it is they eat invertebrates? Wow.
posted by Nelson at 3:06 PM on November 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


so killing 10,000 crabs to make a point is cool ?

I'm pretty sure it's called dinner. A big dinner, to be sure, but yeah, dinner.

Lady Gaga wearing a dress made of meat? If you'd like to call that disgusting and wrong, please, feel free.
posted by Ghidorah at 3:14 PM on November 9, 2010


I went to his traveling exhibit when it was in Portland. I spent the first half hour in stunned horror. Here's what I saw:

First exhibit: drab patterned jars partially dipped in bright acrylic paint. Striking, I suppose. Also, a video of him moving about a factory floor dipping one jar after another.

Hey, what's that on the floor?
A giant pile of sunflower seeds? Huh. Where's he going with this?
Those are awfully large sunflower seeds
Oh, they're made of pottery.
Oh god, they're made of pottery!

Third exhibit: a glass jar filled with reddish dust. According to the sign, it was dust from Neolithic pottery that he'd smashed and ground to powder.

That first exhibit? Yup. It's a video record of him slowly and systematically vandalizing dozens of Neolithic vases.

Video of him casually dropping one.

OK, deep breaths.

Upstairs, some ornate replica Ming dynasty pottery he'd made. The man's not just a conceptual artist -- he's a craftsman. From his notes: he'd wanted to emphasize that these vases which we now consider art objects were originally mass produced consumer goods, and that even today there are black market factories turning out replicas. He made his point with yet another disturbing expenditure of effort. A gorgeous, gigantic urn, blank on the outside, richly patterned on the inside (a traditional form). Sitting next to it, a near-identical copy. He'd made it twice.

It took me ten or fifteen minutes of pacing slowly around one a display case (a neolithic vase on which he had garishly painted the Coca-Cola symbol) before I could stop hating him. I slowly came to see his point: the reverence we have for ancient artifacts can often blind us to seeing them for what they are. It's like the difference between idealized romance and love for a real person. His goal (I take it) was to hammer that point home on something deeper than a conceptual level. In the end, it was one of the most moving artistic experiences I've ever had.


so killing 10,000 crabs to make a point is cool ?

Feeding a big group of people a delicious dinner is not a waste. Even if it were, no man on earth is as good at wasting things as Ai Wei Wei.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 4:19 PM on November 9, 2010 [10 favorites]


"We go around telling each other, I do this, I do that ‑ but how do we know this "I" really has any "I" to it? You dream you're a bird and soar up into the sky; you dream you're a fish and dive down in the pool. But now, when you tell me about it, I don't know whether you are awake or whether you are dreaming. Running around accusing others is not as good as laughing, and enjoying a good laugh is not as good as going along with things. Be content to go along and forget about change and then you can enter the mysterious oneness of Heaven."

-Chuang Tzu, (Confucius to Yen Hui)



The Potters Kiln

Leer at the enamel bowl
wait for it to animate then
dissipate
precison fired from nothingness trapping
an unwound time x
dried grape seeds
worn mercury dime
all like gradfather memory
only occupy the vessel

smash the bowl.

-1992
posted by clavdivs at 5:01 PM on November 9, 2010


dhalgren, you've failed completely to make your point, whatever it was. You've failed to show that killing the caloric equivalent of cattle, swine, and chickens would be any better. Even other, passionate vegetarians wouldn't necessarily agree that killing other food animals would be better, nor would these people have (mostly) otherwise eaten vegetarian, so the net harm of this feast was nil. As with so many before you, your anti-meat-eating vitriole has weakened the public image of your cause.

Ai Weiwei, OTOH, has succeeded beautifully. He has transcended the physical limits of the oppressive Chinese regime, and his voice, and intentions, were only amplified by their efforts to stifle him. Beautiful.

A masterpiece.
posted by IAmBroom at 5:15 PM on November 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


This reminds me of an anecdote from John Waters' first memoir, where he mentioned that back in the old days when he was on welfare, he bought tins of crab-meat for a cocktail party with food stamps, and everyone at the supermarket check-out was outraged.
posted by ovvl at 8:14 PM on November 9, 2010


quite.
posted by clavdivs at 8:16 PM on November 9, 2010


Another example of Chinese punning to dodge censorship, in this case visual rather than sound-alike, is described here: Decapitated Democracy, Headless Liberty
posted by logopetria at 11:10 PM on November 9, 2010


kmz: No idea how Chinese phonetics was written about before then, other than maybe comparisons to commonly known characters.

I'm no expert on Chinese, but I do know that Buddhist scholars around the 5th and 6th centuries in China used a form of phonetic notation to transcribe the oral sound of Sanskrit sutras based on standard characters with similar sounds. Those transcription characters were later used by Japanese scholar-monks studying in China to transcribe the Chinese readings of the Sanskrit sutras into Japanese, and in time, the laborious copying of thousands of texts led to a kind of shorthand version of the characters which eventually evolved into what is now the Japanese katakana syllabary.
posted by jet_manifesto at 3:14 AM on November 10, 2010


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