Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Free Hao Wu

Hao Wu
Originally uploaded by Other Lisa.

I met Hao Wu a few years ago. At the time he was an aspiring screenwriter working for an internet company. From Sichuan via Beijing, Hao had been in the US for over a decade. He had a screenplay, his first, and needed a collaborator to reshape it into a more commercial structure.

Our collaboration didn't last all that long. In spite of his inexperience at that time, already it was clear that Hao is a guy with his own vision and a unique way of looking at the world. My only real advice to him was, rather than trying to write something commercial, he should follow his passion, tell a personal story, something true and close to his heart. Mostly, he should keep writing. I was really impressed by the quality of his prose and his insights.

Hao followed his dream in spades. He decided to return to China, to Beijing, to see what had happened to the city he'd once known and experience China's changes first-hand. He took a month long trip along the Silk Road and sent back regular dispatches. Then he produced his first film, Beijing Or Bust, a documentary about the lives of Chinese Americans trying to navigate contemporary Beijing. He then started a blog by the same title, in which he writes about his own navigations through today's Beijing. There are some truly wonderful essays: evocative, original and informative, covering aspects of contemporary China that you will rarely find elsewhere.

One continuing thread was Hao's search for a new documentary subject. He'd finally settled on "family churches," not quite legal but not really underground religious congregations - go here for Hao's vivid and scary post about his visit to one such church when the police show up.

The last email exchange I had with Hao was on Feb. 21st. I'd owed him an email. We chatted about the novel I'm working on, his new position as editor for Global Voices Online.

Then, silence.

Last week, I found out why:
Hao Wu (Chinese name: 吴皓), a Chinese documentary filmmaker who lived in the U.S. between 1992 and 2004, was detained by the Beijing division of China’s State Security Bureau on the afternoon of Wednesday, Febuary 22, 2006. On that afternoon, Hao had met in Beijing with a congregation of a Christian church not recognized by the Chinese government, as part of the filming of his next documentary.

Hao had also been in phone contact with Gao Zhisheng, a lawyer specializing in human rights cases. Gao confirmed to one of Hao’s friends that the two had been in phone contact and planned to meet on Feb. 22, but that their meeting never took place after Gao advised against it. On Friday, Feb. 24, Hao’s editing equipment and several videotapes were removed from the apartment where he had been staying. Hao has been in touch his family since Feb. 22, but judging from the tone of the conversations, he wasn’t able to speak freely. One of Hao’s friends has been interrogated twice since his detention. Beijing’s Public Security Bureau (the police) has confirmed that Hao has been detained, but have declined to specify the charges against him.

The reason for Hao’s detention is unknown. One of the possibilities is that the authorities who detained Hao want to use him and his video footage to prosecute members of China’s underground Churches. Hao is an extremely principled individual, who his friends and family believe will resist such a plan. Therefore, we are very concerned about his mental and physical well-being.
For more information on Hao and on the efforts being made on his behalf, go here.

It's hard for me to know what to say, except that Hao is a great person, with talent and heart and vision, and that for the Chinese government to detain him is yet another sign of how the CCP still squanders the talent of its own people, how it is destroying China's future in the name of "social harmony," which more than anything else seems to be a figleaf of ideological cover for the exercise of raw power and untrammeled authority. Hao never challenged the CCP. The only way in which his work could be considered "political" is that he does not censor his own observations, that he thinks freely and isn't afraid to say what he thinks.

If these are the kinds of characteristics that the Chinese authorities find so threatening that they respond with detentions and repression, then I really do fear for China's future.

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