The Basic Alternative Education of a Chinese Punk

The Basic Alternative Education of a Chinese Punk

Translation of an autobiographical essay by Tang Shui'en, mainland Chinese anarchist musician and activist, recounting his path from childhood in 1980s rural China to participation in Wuhan's pioneering punk scene since the late 1990s, interaction with overseas anarchists and other radicals, and experimentation with independent media and an autonomous youth center. Written in early 2009 for a forum on social space among the generation of Chinese mainlanders born in the 1980s, organized by the Shao Foundation. Original Chinese text here.

For those who are of the common masses, how many of us can say we are conscious of the forces of domination that push us to society’s margins? Apart from a small minority, most people—even if at every moment they feel discomfort—are unable to determine the roots of this pain. The word “marginal” itself is so abstract that it can only serve as a code of recondite academia and mass media. Just as the radical Brazilian educator Paulo Freire has shown, the masses are the “object” of development. We do not exist within the active process of naming things, but only within the theories of education and behavior created by our oppressor. This, in turn, has fostered a “culture of silence” among the people. In addition to silence, this has caused the marginalized “masses” to turn toward the mainstream and create markets for profit grabbing. Clearly, the vitality of present consumerism and the meaning of the word “materialism”—which under party dissemination has made an about-face from philosophical materialism to commercial materialism—are not without connection. On the other hand, because of this turn toward the mainstream activists and social movement organizers are attempting to rouse the masses’ sense of social participation. The obstacles that we face not only stem from the integration of a “culture of consumption” with a “culture of silence” but also from the shadow of violence and totalitarianism left behind by history, the left, and “utopianists”. In regards to this political elitism-slash-consumerism which plays the role of a savior helping people to obtain their material interest, the former is far more frightening than the latter. This is one of the reasons why our tradition of patriarchal education has only served to reinforce their warnings to “not discuss national affairs.” This point may be helpful in analyzing the current impasse of activism. Some “postmodern activists” have calmed down since the ferment of Seattle and Genoa. They’ve begun to stress Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed and are trying to set in motion a more fundamental movement—that of radical education. But what does the self-education of the oppressed entail? This article doesn’t attempt to sort out the various theories of radical education. Instead, I would like to talk a bit about my own story. As a “punk” I experienced a kind of alternative education that could never develop within a classroom. And it is this enlightening (and irrational) education that becomes the impetus from which the average person is motivated into action. Although this story is perhaps unique, it can nevertheless provide a kind of reference for those similar to myself who have made their own self-transformations. What I should first say is that only after attending college did I venture into the city—which had never aroused any feelings in me previously. Only in college did I come across punk music, the internet, and the library (despite the fact that in the Chinese literary world these channels of communication still serve to subvert alternative opinions). Before this I had spent my life in a tiny village in the countryside, intoxicated with nature. I had a small-peasant’s mentality of self-deprecation. Once I witnessed bell-bottoms being zealously cut by a squad of “red arm-banded chauvinists”. I would listen to the song Not Having a Thing in the World and be filled with a profound longing for a brilliant future.

A Punk’s Basic Alternative Education

For activists, our greatest dilemma at present is akin to what the scholar Hannah Arendt meant when she said actions speak louder than words. This pronouncement on the part of Arendt arose when despotism had already spread throughout every inch of the power structure. As a rational intellectual, Arendt advocated “civil resistance” to the Nazi occupation but was also concerned that utopian resistance would degenerate into an abyss of violence and lead merely to another form of totalitarianism. One might ask if there is a third path through which to change the world? The professor of sociology at the Autonomous University of Puebla in Mexico John Holloway, in his 2002 book Change the World Without Taking Power, insists we must rethink and resist the idea of revolution as a seizure of political power rather than an opposition to power itself. Experience with traditional methods of reform and revolution have shown that a reliance on power and government will lead only to another program of idolatry; to a recasting of social relations into forms more rigid and deified. New movements of social resistance should not walk down old paths. Instead, we must focus attention on trying to establish open, responsible communities and social relationships.

Holloway lives in Mexico. He has been on close terms with the Zapatista movement in Mexico’s southeastern jungle. In order to resist the “terroristic” encroachment of neoliberalism, the indigenous Mayans of Chiapas, under the guidance of their “spokesperson” Subcommodante Marcos, embarked on an utterly poetic “postmodern revolution”; a “guerilla war of symbolism” and “of cyberspace” (Dai Jinhua, Liu Jianzhi The Masked Knight), whose supporters can be found everywhere, spread throughout the four corners of the globe. In all likelihood it was the Zapatista revolution that inspired the various anti-G8 resistance movements into fruition. As for the dangers of institutionalization and idolatry, I think a reminder is in order not only to Marcos but even more so to his numerous followers and supporters. Marcos has already been likened to “the second Che Guevara.” This makes reflection all the more pertinent.

Although I had heard of the Zapatistas before, my first actual encounter with supporters of theirs was in 2004. That year my band and I went on a tour of Europe. Forty days, thirty-five locations—nearly all of which were anarchist punk squats set up in abandoned buildings or suburban lawns. Zapatista related pamphlets and posters, as well as information on the “anti-G8”, “no borders”, “feminist”, and “anti-racist” movements were all neatly arranged in the various infoshops available for people to read or purchase. In addition, through concert fundraisers and by adhering to the principles of “fair trade”, these infoshops were purchasing coffee beans directly from the indigenous peoples of Chiapas, thereby eliminating the tremendous usury profits usually accorded to middlemen. It seemed to us that these Zapatistas supporters involved in the squat scene were playing for keeps.

From Birmingham to Barcelona and from Copenhagen to Prague, not long ago I considered squats the beacon of crisis analysis and calls to action for anarchist punks. They were nestled throughout the large cities and small villages of the European continent, becoming one of the most important centers of social resistance. In Europe, particularly in England, there has been a tradition of “squatting”. (Apparently, fifty-four percent of English residents are the progeny of squatters. The reason for their forebears squatting was that they felt it was going against the laws of nature to turn land into a commodity.) People occupying unused buildings owned by the rich is in itself a kind of resistance intimately connected to land rights. Today squatting is different however. It is no longer condoned by flexible laws that leave room for dispute. Now the law uses all its strength to protect private property—to the point that even public property has today been privatized—because of their squatting activities anarchists naturally become a thorn in the police and property owners’s side. Often facing the threat of expulsion, all sorts of protests and confrontations regularly occur. The Xinhua news agency once put out a set of photo news reports on a confrontation in Germany. The words chosen for the title were simple and direct, “Police Suppress Rioting Teenagers.” Another even more sardonic incident occurred in Vienna when a group of anarchists stormed a building that was being put up for sale by the Austrian Communist Party. The anarchists took in and protected “illegal” immigrants who had either been displaced or were considered unwelcome by the government. I once personally witnessed how anarchists went about building fortifications to hide and protect these foreigners, safe-guarding them from police raids.

To me this was definitely something new. To righteously squat wasted real estate and turn it into a stronghold of resistance. Then from such a base to engage in social movements, aid the weak (punks themselves are a marginalized group), discuss, rethink, and act all simultaneously. To strive for open and equal social relations. The whole scene was pulsating with life. Ever since the pacifist anarchist punk band Crass, with its do it yourself attitude, got involved in serious music and social discussions (like the anti-war, anti-nuclear, and anti-authoritarian movements), there has opened up a new scene quite different from the romp of the Sex Pistols’ “culture shock.” This new autonomous scene blossomed throughout Europe and later South East Asia. Despite constant debates over issues such as the use of violent or non-violent tactics and ideological disputes between sects, generally speaking pacifist-activism has been vigorously pushing forward a deep bond between musical resistance and social resistance.

For a punk coming from an environment where DIY culture has been stripped of its initial aesthetic meaning and implications of social resistance by the various branches of industry and made into a tool of advertising and sales promotion, this new punk-DIY culture without a doubt opened for me a true window of understanding. I know now that punk is not merely noise. Instead it interweaves a profound alternative sociology with that of philosophy. The moment this window was opened, all sorts of ideas relating to activism and social resistance came rushing forth. These included: anti-authoritarianism, direct democracy, direct action, anti-consumerism, anti-neoliberalist economic globalization, “anti-expulsion”, and “popular media”. The geographical regions of Europe, South America, and South East Asia conjoin culturally in Hong Kong and Taiwan—areas separated from China by only a strip of water. I began to understand their history of social movements. More importantly, just before this I began to regain the individuality I had nearly lost to the clutches of patriarchal authority and social hierarchy. We all started to believe we could change this world simply by making changes in (or revolutionizing) our daily lives. At the very least, we could change ourselves through study and go from modern slaves to social actors with a sense of dignity.

We began by letting our imaginations run wild in the pages of DIY zines. Like the boundless hugs of affection I felt for punk music when I first encountered it, I harbored a similar enthusiasm for activism with its ideas of resistance so deeply rooted. I would seek out and translate whatever materials I could get my hands on. I started to be interested in all sorts of “new ideas” I had never heard of before—from “direct democracy” to “autonomy”—and through comparison I clarified my own positions. Finally, the social propositions of the pacifist anarchists and the concept of “I” promoted by certain media activists left the biggest impression on me. Inspired, I decided to explore the possibilities of passive acts of resistance. In China, the social system does everything in its power to prevent us from exploring even those fads that have already grown way out of proportion; it prevents us from effectively expressing ourselves in those public places that submissive powers tightly control—like avenues and parks. We must find a place within our own lives; a space to serve as meeting ground and intermediary, to circulate information, discuss the “symbols” of action we have encountered, share the connectedness of our plights, interpret, and attempt to the best of our ability to act. Certainly this place should not be a government built “youth center”. For such a place would only teach the youth obedience; while paying mere lip-service to peace and happiness. This place should not be a bar or coffee shop either. For such unbridled affection toward brand name consumption rather disturbs us. A squat would be even less realistic. The moment buildings are occupied in China both the servile landlords (materialism has already succeeded in destroying social confidence, moreover such people have no sense of security when it comes to their property) and the autocratic police (there is no way to ensure that you wont become another innocent victim of a hide-and-go-seek game) would get angry; and the consequences would be quite serious. But there is light at the end of the tunnel. A small crevice left behind that the authorities would show no interest in. The solution—a private building. If you want to find a place that you alone manage and control, your only choice is to rent. Fortunately, we were able to find a secluded house outside the city that had gone neglected. The rent was next to nothing.

Although the house was a bit old, the surrounding scenery had a natural beauty to it that left people with a sort of refreshing vigor. After cleaning out the dust and uprooting the weeds we decided on the various functions the house would serve. First, the house was to be an infoshop—a place to supply all the various alternative writings and information on social movements we could gather. Second, a conference room—from that day forth all workshops, debates, and video screenings would be held inside the house. Third, a stage (which we set up in the courtyard)—to provide a space for rock-experimental-wandering street artists to perform in. Fourth, a guest house—to provide free accommodation for those in need, an outdoor fire, and friends to relax with. Finally, on the pillars of the outer wall we mounted a half red half black five-pointed star and gave the house a name, “The Desiree Autonomous Youth Center.”

So long as you put forth the effort physical space will arrive rather easily; transformation will proceed smoothly. What we were unable to predict was the moment we hung up the sign “autonomous” entire social relations would have to be redefined. From that moment onward, the destructive and constructive sides of change began to collide with one other. New relations have no “blueprint”. We had already had no choice but to change our disorderly pace of action and become more serious. We discussed the question of relative freedom vs. absolute freedom; whether it was necessary in this mixed house of activists and hippies to have written rules; whether to rely completely on individual initiative when working together or to assign specific tasks; whether or not to have “restrictions”; whether or not and how to adopt consensus decision making, etc. But the peculiar name “autonomous” caused controversy within a mater of seconds. So much so that it was almost abandoned from the start. Because names associated with “collectivism” have plagued our history with bad memories it is very easy to cause misunderstandings. And these can be quite destructive. It was then that I realized what I had originally taken to be decor in those European squats and social movements, the same undercurrents of inner contradiction were now appearing in our own backyard; only we had taken things even further. We have our own history you see. In particular, that one catastrophic utopia where our songs of imagination went wild. In any event, the moment we entered into an autonomous “dynamic” the meaning of our actions, our collective form, and various other social relations contained in our new unfettered imagination all had to go through serious introspection and redesign. Otherwise we would continue to be suspended in the memories of past totalitarianism and enslavement with no way forward.

First, the word autonomy has linguistic implications that relate to politics. The German journalist and professor of literature Victor Klemperer, as early as the Third Reich period, understood the political implications of language. He wrote diary entries which analyzed how language had been manipulated and dehumanized by the National Socialist Party—who had turned language into “an authorization code in the subconscious communication of victims, criminals, and spectators.” But regardless of it being the Third Reich or a modern empire upholding the words “democracy” and “republicanism”, these kinds of political techniques have always proven extremely useful. Our parent’s generation endured such hardship. The “violent storm” that was the Cultural Revolution tragically redefined everything related to power and politics (this of course includes terms associated with critical thinking as well). As for our generation, manufactured consensus and thought control have not only continued unabated, but through the use of material incentives and public relations techniques have become even more severe. Thus regardless of whether communication is being carried out within our collective or with outsiders, we have no choice but to put our energy to work redefining terms that we will inevitably have to use—the most important being the word “politics”. Politics is not the natural rule of the party; nor is it state administration by special interest groups. It is not even fascist totalitarianism. Instead, it is us as subjective beings participating in the building of social relations. The most unfamiliar term in need of redefinition is “autonomy”. Autonomy does not suggest a “secession” from the whole but a release from outside authoritarian control. At both the individual and collective level autonomy is the realization and upholding of self-administration. Perhaps the most common term in need of redefinition is “DIY”. DIY is not only about economic mutual aid and cooperation, and resistance to a kind of inhumane, industrialized conception of beauty, it is also a form of organization for grass-roots social action. Other terms in need of redefinition are: “anarchy”, “utopia”, “freedom”, “democracy”, “public”, “society”, “citizen”, “consensus decision making”, “hierarchy”, “revolution”, “mutual aid”, “education”, “consumption”, etc. At almost every level there are terms that must be redefined in accordance with the restoration of our subjective dignity. This task is not just the duty of conscious minded intellectuals but the obligation of everyone to perform in their daily lives.

Of course this enormous and lengthy project will not succeed on the first attempt. Even if the meaning of such terms—while possessing a degree of loose, common understanding—was repeatedly explained and communicated, still the political terrors of the past have successfully stopped people from attempting to live as anarchists. The subjective “call” to activism is always ignored. Yet those who take an interest in such things are equated to the coercive “ralliers and mobilizers” of the past. Thus in the small inner room of autonomy, those who enjoy expressing themselves are suspected by the silent of harboring plans to force a kind of ideology on them.

An “observer” (most people prefer to be observers and not participants—at least in the beginning this is the case) once noted that nihilistic hippies and battle-ready activists make for a bad partnership. At first glance such a statement seems not unreasonable. There is an ancient proverb that states “those with different principles will not make common cause.” However thinking a bit more on the matter, are we not all seeking a purer kind of freedom? If those who’s goals are so similar cannot find common ground, then how will those who’s goals more obviously differ ever cooperate? If not even a small collective can tolerate dissent, how can we hope that a society of 1.5 billion can truly respect cultural diversity? Another observer once noted that while the goals of activism may be positive one’s style of writing should not be too austere. This too has truth to it. But the models this observer held up as example were merely the most recently praised foul-mouthed bloggers. This leaves people with no choice but to consider her suggestion with caution. Its not that I disdain crude language, I just feel a bit regretful. Why does “serious” expression make people so uncomfortable? Why do we take self-conscious reflection to be a burden? Extending this forward even further, perhaps this is not simply a question of language but something that should be traced back to the idea of “utopia”. Recently I have been looking through the thick pile of yellow-tinged Red Flag newspaper clippings that our old landlord left behind. Inside are pasted words such as “fraternity, camaraderie, solidarity, struggle” and other novel utopian phrases—the sense of design and drama is superb. The moment communist utopia was discovered in China it was converted into a totalitarian moster. Who would not completely detest it? To throw the baby out with the bath water could not be a more normal human behavioral trait. So it appears this may require some time, using action itself, to explain.

But political opinions and the meaning of language are not the only obstructions to “the third path.” Other hidden dimensions of society—closely woven and tautly stretched—may thrust up a sword of greater or lesser brightness in order to injure those anarchists who are criticized for delusively wanting to be “god”. One such example is our social reproductive mechanism. Us wanting to get rid of corrupt power relations by adhering to a logic that has already been institutionalized is like “the royalists” (dramas glorifying the emperor and various other heroes have been very popular as of late) trying their hardest to resist change, incessantly scheming to re-thrown the emperor, messing up, and sending themselves to a guillotine of their own creation. Take for example the ideas—whether apparent or not—of masculinism, patriarchy, and hierarchy. These ideas creep up on us, causing those who strive for innovation to fall under false charges the moment they drop their guard; becoming untrustworthy. This is so despite the fact that such innovators are more susceptible to authoritarian control and have tried so hard to eliminate it. Our reproductive mechanism is similar to a bomb making assembly line. It produces and accumulates a constant stream of bombs, eventually causing an explosion and a thick cloud of smoke. No matter if you are inside or outside of the cloud you will be thrown into a situation where you can’t see. This is not one of those demolition scenes from the movies that can be dismantled. No, this will inflict a substantial permanent injury. But according to those who want to be “god”, such is a fact that is not entirely unavoidable. The way to avoid it is not to search out a non-existant god who can carry out reproduction, but to understand how to learn through listening; and through learning to change.

Once during a workshop on “sexual freedom”, a homosexual comrade forced us so-called free anarchists to take a bit of a stumble. A few of us felt that a portion of lesbians in China were confusing homosexuality with a kind of Asian cultural fad and were acting excessively flamboyant. We assumed this to be a negative result of the muddled state of personal values in China. This immediately received an irate dismissal from the workshop’s chair. “Who are you to doubt and criticize the sexual orientation of others? Even if it is a kind of act, it is within their freedom do so. First of all, they have not interfered with your life in anyway. And second, they most certainly have their own reasons for behaving in such a way; maybe they are undecided about their own identity.” The chair continued, “Excessively flamboyant? Imagine if we didn’t display our inclinations, how would we find a partner? Surprised and ashamed, I felt as if I was being mocked by my own words. So-called active “disciples” of freedom could not even lend the necessary freedom to those more passive followers. What was the difference between ourselves and those guys in the bars who slander people for their homosexuality? But if we look to the positive side of this face to face collision, such an experience is actually one of the most typical forms of “radical education”. As Paulo Freire has said, “the more radical one is, the more he will engage reality, the more he will understand reality, and the better equipped he will be to change it. He will no longer be afraid to face, listen to, and observe the world around him.” At the very least, we now have a better understanding of our shortcomings and have been given the opportunity to improve.

What is of interest is that those who participated in the discussion on sexual freedom were all male, while the participants in the discussion on Serpica Naro and the Milan Fashion Week—with the exception of one guy who came with his friend—were all female. Perhaps this is merely a coincidence. Or perhaps there is no need to intentionally use gender in drawing distinctions. Either way we were left with a feeling that we need to create more appealing activities and encourage women to use their own ways of participating in “hard political” activism. But this is getting a bit off subject. We can return to this later.

In regard to workshops, people are either afraid they will result in political disaster or criticize them for being too disorderly (words left by a reader at the bottom of one of our activity flyers). Others pessimistically suspect workshops dealing with indy-media, social media, globalization, feminism, migrant workers, and other similar topics may cause a bit of commotion but will never bring about any real change. For those who would like to quickly plan a blueprint for the future, discussion forums (originally we were holding “lectures”, then after a brief debate we changed to a form that seemed more equal—“discussion”) appear as merely a chessboard for games of language. Such people ignore the forces of activism that can be evoked through human cognition. Whenever we touch upon the meaning of so-called radicalism certain problems arise. These problems are no longer relegated to history but instead become a reference for our current reality. From the perspective of an activist, such problems go one step further in drawing forth the forces of action. But from the perspective of those less resolute, at the very least these people can receive a kind of understanding they could not anywhere else. The sad part is that many people my age have been duped by a mass media which pretends to be omniscient. They think they know everything. One of the effects of the mainstream media’s rather scary reportage is that people feel satisfied at the level of “knowledge”. This is also one of the reasons why “mobilization” efforts are often ineffective. While we complain about public indifference toward political participation, Paulo Freire’s attempts at radical education in South America (it is the opinion of some that China should learn from the experiences of South America) remind us that “education”—the most basic social bond—has largely been ignored by activists. This not only casuses us to get caught up in the traps of isolation, but also guarantees that the results of action will sink into a state of passivity. Thus, there is a pressing need to focus our attention and efforts on education—whether that be an education of self-reflection or one of dialogue with others. It follows that workshops are extremely helpful in the redefinition of terms as well as engaging in self-introspection. Workshops are themselves a process of reconstructing meaning through self-reflection.

For instance, its hard for people to avoid associating the word “radical” with “violence”. Even if you clearly profess to pacifist principles but you pose new concepts and call on the people to change their own state of affairs, still the word “radical” is easily equated with “coercion” and “oppression”. Even if its mere discussion, the word seems to evoke the language and thoughts of violence. Those involved in indy-media are often seen as radicals. People’s understanding of independent media has never been able to escape the horrific shadow of the historically violent left. Its whole ethos of fraternity (perhaps trust in one another has already completely vanished; thus not only do people not believe in each other but “the tragedy” that is love is simply laughed at) is hard for most to relate to. How can we get indy-media to attract more people and have it be accepted? Based on experience, the radical independent media seems only able to get people’s attention during big events (for example the anti-G8 summits in Seattle and Genoa). But such events that attract the world’s attention don’t occur every day. Is it possible to create our own events, and with the help of indy-media make them a part of people’s every day agenda?

At our second gathering, a media activist from Genoa named Simone chaired a workshop called Don’t Hate the Media, Become the Media. He left us with some inspiring things to reflect upon and an experience to draw lessons from. What’s worth mentioning is that this workshop was divided into two parts and held in separate places. The first part was held in a university, the second in our infoshop. At a time when the corporate media is fighting “vulgarity” getting an opposition group such “indy-media” into a university lecture hall is quite difficult, but not impossible. Although the professor seemed a little scared, we were able to use the label of “left wing media” as a disguise, bringing the ideas of independent media before students who knew nothing about the subject. It would seem that students, through their own efforts, carry out a degree of autonomous education in the university. Thus, to guide them in an attempt to move in a more cognitive direction is not impossible. But getting back to the workshop, Simone’s experience with Italian indy-media was not exactly a success. This may have been do to the combined influence of Italy’s history of violent anarchists and the death of Carlo Giuliani in Genoa. Italian indy-media was not only wiped out by the government, but was feared by ordinary citizens and gradually became reduced to a small circle of “isolated” radicals. This left them with no choice but to change their strategy. They began using mass symbols that people were more accustomed to in order to give indy-media a new orientation and endow it with (or perhaps we should say wrestle back from the mainstream media) a new image and meaning. In a country with such a deep seated religious atmosphere as Italy, they first had to invent a character by the name of St. Precario to serve as the guardian of precarious workers. Then they substituted the twelve horoscopes of the zodiac with the subsistance problems and forms of resistance of these precarious workers. They made statues and cards and handed them out in supermarkets. This successfully attracted a number people who had previously remained unpoliticized. It enabled such people to be exposed to a realistic analysis of labor conditions in Italy. Later, they invented another character—the half British half Japanese fashion designer Serpico Naro (a rearrangement of the letters of San Precario) that uses symbols of resistance as design elements—who after receiving a bid became a participant in the 2005 “Milan Fashion Week”. At the same time they launched a protest against Naro as a way of criticizing the exploitation of underprivileged groups by fashion designers. Without a doubt, these types of incidents are the stuff mainstream media adores. Thus, the mainstream media from Italy and other European countries as well as Canada and Japan all began to report on this “theatrical event”. In the process, the problems of precarious worker groups that the mainstream media had once ignored became spread out on the table for the average person to see. This ground breaking cultural activism (or as the Italian media activists have dubbed it: “a strategy of popularizing the precarious worker brand name”), the ingenious use of mainstream media publicity aside, can avert the animosity and barriers that exist between the politicized and the unpoliticized. It can also highlight social problems through everyday forms of struggle.

We as well are trying to perform these kinds of actions. Although the problems we face are not the same, we are nevertheless trying to use cultural activism to communicate ideas and turn over former stereotyped opinions. For example, getting rid of the tacky electronic character of our stage and setting it up in the yard, under the shade, near the vegetable garden. Aside from becoming closer to the earth, such an act proves that not all art requires commercial investment capital; that we can organize our own community activities. Before a concert we try to plan a discussion. Usually, independent musicians and the audience will talk about music and its social significance. Otherwise we will ask bus singers to come and perform. These singers are often from the countryside. They come to the cities where they squeeze onto crowded buses and play pop music. Thus, they receive a small income from passenger donations. Because there is a degree of coercion to it, such performances—which are viewed as a form of begging—are usually despised by people and seen as contributing to the destruction of the urban social order. We had planned to invite a woman to come give a performance and talk with the audience about her life in both the countryside and the city. This way people hopefully would no longer view these kinds of performances as acts of greed undertaken by lazy people and would trace their origins back to the more latent cause of unfair social production and distribution. In addition, the village we are living in had been plagued with garbage problems for the past four years. No one had done anything about it. So we decided to do a “garbage concert”. We gathered together some money to repair dumpsters and we cleaned up piles of old trash. This was by no means on a par with the chivalrous behaviour of Zoro, but was more of an attempt to urge people to pay attention to the increasingly serious garbage problem; to care about the increasingly paralyzed responsibility of the grass roots under the party’s rule; as well as our social responsibility as citizens. Finally, this was our way of merging with “the village as a community” (before this the villagers had taken us to be college students, artistic youths, thieves who were stealing their firewood, or some other kind of bizarre and dangerous outsider; in a word: folks to be cautious of).

The redefinition of terms mentioned above—or what we call the transformation strategy—has been the first step in our attempt at activism. It is also a step that cannot be avoided. Whether it is for ourselves or for those who are interested but uncertain, this redefinition is the basis of developing a common understanding. The promotion of a common understanding cannot rely upon direct action alone to “mobilize” the masses. Of equal importance is the transformation of old terms, old habits, and old meaning. This seems to already be the consensus among activists involved in the current global justice movement. Thus, Freire’s “radical education” and its attempt to transform the symbolism of and give new meaning to corporate logos such as Nike’s has been understood as a new strategy. We as well must move from the rather innocent experience of memorizing books to that of our current reality. We must get in touch with the natural language of the earth and understand the forces and pitfalls of power behind our activism. Precisely because of this, direct democracy and consensus decision making seem so pertinent. Because of this the opinions of Asian media activists on issues such as the internet, anti-globalization, anarchism, activism, and land rights will be listened to. Because of this alternative cooperative ventures (such as cooperative publishing and community participation programs, etc.) can actually be put into practice.

In a recent workshop a young guy who had spent his life only listening to rock music and had never asked questions about world affairs came by. He was just like I was originally—things felt wrong but he wasn’t sure why. We played the documentary The Old Man Leaves His Cave to Wish the Sage Well and then began our discussion. The guy seemed a little embarrassed, and a little upset—just like I was in the beginning. All of a sudden he asked, “but why should we be opposed to globalization?” ...Why?


Dec 19 2010 09:59