Daniele Kowalsky showed me a very interesting interview with Jonathan Campbell in the L.A. Review of Books. Jonathan Campbell talks with Jeffrey Wasserstrom about 盤古 Pangu，崔健 Cui Jian，無聊軍隊 Wuliao Jundui and other details of rock music and punk in China.
Unfortunately, I can’t agree with Jonathan that yaogun 摇滚 (Chinese rock music) could galvanize China like Pussy Riot seems to have galvanized opposition in Russia. Cui Jian 崔建 did have some very memorable moments, and people in China do remember them, and they will tell you readily about the parts before 1989, mostly. But those moments in 1989 were so painful in the end that no one knows if there will ever be a similar broad-based protest movement again. 1989 brought hope in Europe. Risk, very risky change, and some very ugly violence in Romania. But overall there was hope, and whatever came out of it, 1989 is generally remembered as a year of wonder. In China it’s a trauma. A wound that is usually covered up, but even China is very much connected to the world nowadays, and the world knows. And there are much deeper and older traumata, which can be accessed and shared via 1989. So in that way, there is hope. Connected to underground music. Like the kind that Liao Yiwu’s 廖亦武 music comes from.
There are parallels, certainly. Parallels between Pussy Riot and Ai Weiwei 艾未未, in the pornography. Parallels in the way of some Ai Weiwei news or other embarrassing news everyone gets to know about, and the dark stuff below. The disappearances, the longer ones, see Gao Zhisheng 高智晟. And the corpses. I learned about the late attorney Sergei Magnitsky via Pussy Riot. He died in jail in 2009, and among people concerned with Russia he is as famous as Gao is in and outside China, which means not so many people want to talk about him or even admit they’ve heard of cases like that. Of course, there are corpses under the carpets in every country. Only China is the oldest 5000 year old one, of course.
2 years for singing in church. Perfectly absurd. Punk music, controversial art. Public space and religion. Russia, Africa, China. What is art? Depends where you are, what you are, who you are, who is with you. What you believe.
One week ago I read two books. A few months before I got to know a poet. Still haven’t seen her. A Jewish poet in Germany, soon to be teaching in Vienna. Esther Dischereit.
Last month I finally got around to pick up a book that contains many poems I translated. Freedom of writing. Writers in prison. A beautiful anthology, edited by Helmuth Niederle, currently head of Austrian PEN.
Connections. Connected to China. Punk music isn’t all that subversive, not in a big way, usually. What if musicians insult the government on stage. Well, I’ve been to about 300 concerts in China, said Yan Jun. Sometimes someone was screaming something in that direction. But they aren’t big stars. They can be ignored.
Christa Wolf. Stadt der Engel. The Overcoat of Dr. Freud. Long and convoluted. Gems in there. How she was loyal to the Party in 1953. And insisted on protest against Party policy. How and what they hoped in 1989. How and what Germany was and is.
2 years for singing in church. And many more arrested. It does sound more like China than Russia, doesn’t it? The case of Li Wangyang 李旺陽 （李汪洋） comes to mind. Li Wangyang died around June 4th 2012 in police care after being released from over 20 years of jail. He was a labor activist in the 1989 protests that ended with the massacre on June 4th in Beijing. Li Wangyang supposedly killed himself, but the police report was disputed in China and in Hong Kong, where tens of thousands of people protested. Li’s relatives and friends are still being persecuted. One has been formally arrested and accused of revealing state secrets, because he photographed Li’s body.
Parallels between Russia and China were drawn in media comments after the verdict in Moscow. One comment wondered whether Russia is trying to emulate China, where the word civil society is banned on the Internet. China has had economic success for decades. People put up with authoritarian one-party rule there, the comment said. But it won’t work in Russia, because the economy depends on natural resources, not on industry. The comment contained the old misunderstanding that in China, government policy and enforced stability have caused economic success. Beijing wants the world to think that, of course. However, the prominent law and economy professors Qin Hui 秦暉 and He Weifang 賀衛方 have been saying for years that the economic miracle of the 1980s depended on a consensus to move away from the Cultural Revolution, as well as on investment from Taiwan, Hong Kong and overseas. After 1989, there has been no comparable social consensus. After 1989, the social drawbacks and the gap between rich and poor may have grown faster than the economy. But the middle class has also grown. Regional protests are frequent but limited. Or the other way ’round. The Internet remains vibrant. With Weibo microblogs inside the Great Firewall, and very much Chinese going on outside. Not because the government initiates it. They let it happen. The economy, the art, the internet. Even protests, when they are against Japan, and/or not too big. And they profit. The oligarchy is the Party.
Religion and more or less independent art have been growing in China, about as much as the social conflicts. Art brings huge profits, so they let it happen. In Russia, Pussy Riot have succeeded in connecting independent art, oppositional politics and religion in a highly visible way. Art, political activism and religion are voluble factors, so much that societies where everyday news has been fixated on finance for at least four years now could almost grow jealous.
Pussy Riot were not mentioned in our church on Sunday, as far as I could tell. I had to look after the children. But the preacher drew on her experiences from jail work. She championed the rights of refugees and was a prominent anti-governmental figure in Austria in the 1990s. Direct relevance for religion in Austrian politics is rare. We had Catholic Austro-Fascism in the 1930s, paving the way for Hitler. Some Protestant Nazis as well. After the Holocaust, religion in Austria has a somewhat undead quality. A bit like traditional opera in China, which is rallying, hopefully.
For international discussion about the relevance of underground art, music and religion, China has Liao Yiwu 廖亦武. And Russia has Pussy Riot.
Photo by Vincent Yu/AP
Worldwide empathy for Pussy Riot is great. The trial in Moscow ends today, so I don’t know yet if three women have to remain in jail for years after singing in a church. There was a lot of worldwide attention last year as Ai Weiwei 艾未未 was abducted and detained by Chinese state security. He was released and voted most influential artist worldwide. I have seen graffiti in support of Pussy Riot here in Vienna in the last few days. One at newly renovated Geology Institute. Not very nice. And there was some kind of happening at the Vienna Russian Orthodox church, I heard. Church authorities not amused. Well, hopefully worldwide support can help enough this time. Quite recently, many political prisoners in China have been sentenced to more than 10 years. There was a lot of attention abroad in one case. And a Nobel.
Austria is a nice place, generally. Sometimes it’s uglier than Germany. Generally uglier, in terms of police abusing, even killing people, always getting away with it. Have been reading Vienna Review and Poetry Salzburg Review in the last few days. News and poetry. Many of our friends here in Vienna are not from Austria. Coming from abroad often provides a clearer perspective.
Read two good books. Not in Chinese. Ok, in Chinese I’m reading poetry. And other books, not enough. Anyway. Cornelia Travnicek and Manfred Nowak. Both in German. Non-Fiction and Fiction. No connection. Like Liao Yiwu 廖亦武, Bei Ling 貝嶺 and that Berlin novel, what was it called? Plan D. Ok, there was a connection. Taipei Bookfair 台北國際書展. Ok or not, no connection. A novel. Punks in Austria. Young and female. Male protagonists dead or dying. Ok, not all of them. Anyway, good novel. Vienna, occupied, death, youth, love, society, 1980s, 1990s, 2000s. 2012 exhibition at Wien Museum. Empathy. And the other book? Torture. Human Rights, UN, Austria, torture in Austria (see this newspaper report, also in German), Moldavia, Equatorial-Guinea or how do you call that country, Uruguay and so on. Neglect. Conditions of/for empathy. Ok, so both books are about empathy. Good. And in German. Oh well, maybe some people who read this read German. Or they’ll get translated. The books, not you. Manfred Nowak’s books and other written sources are available in several other languages than German. You can get some very useful stuff in English for free here.