Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Hao Wu article in Wall Street Journal

Journalist Geoffrey Fowler has written an in-depth report on Hao's situation, linking it with the larger issues of artistic freedom and the phenomena I like to call "the invisible line" — the line between what is acceptable and what is not, that you won't see until you accidently cross it:
Mr. Wu's story illustrates how blurry the boundaries of personal freedom have become in China. In surprising ways, China today is far more liberal than it was in the years following the 1989 student protests in Tiananmen Square. In an old Beijing munitions factory that's now full of galleries, artists sell sculptures lampooning Mao Zedong and depicting Tiananmen Square covered with plastic army figures. The country has its own feed of MTV, encourages students to travel overseas and allows a small but growing group of human rights lawyers to practice within its legal system.

Yet Chinese authorities have also moved aggressively in recent years to censor the Internet, suppress political protests and stifle the press. The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists counts 34 Chinese journalists behind bars at present, including 16 Internet writers. Over the past year, the government has closed or tightened control over several newspapers, Internet blogs and publications that have made a name for themselves writing about corruption and other sensitive topics. Last Friday, the official Xinhua news agency announced that China would further tighten controls on blogs and search engines to "purify the environment" by blocking "illegal and unhealthy information."

The government's reluctance to spell out precisely what is and isn't forbidden has created a gray area. Most Chinese censor themselves amid the uncertainty and vague intimidation. Elite artists, writers and filmmakers who push the boundaries do so with scant legal security.
The irony with Hao's case, as has been often remarked, is that Hao did not consider his work political and believed that with time, the Chinese government would continue to evolve into a more democratic, representative system, counseling patience as opposed to confrontation.
Friends say Mr. Wu felt he was protected by his own journalistic standards. "He really believed that because he himself was being objective about all of this, that he wasn't doing any harm. He wasn't supporting any particular group that China has a problem with -- he was just filming their views," says a Western friend who has known Mr. Wu since the filmmaker arrived in Beijing.
Hao even joked about this on his blog, writing:
I'll gel my hair and wear my Banana Republic sports jacket every time I go filming. And I'll tell the cops I'm from the "foreign media". That should get them to show some respect. :)
Free Hao Wu has more excerpts from the article posted, should this link stop working. Free Hao Wu also reminds us about what we can do for Hao — write your elected representatives, sign the petition and put up a blog badge if you haven't already. With the publication of this article, it strikes me that now would be a very good time to renew the letter-writing campaign. I plan on doing so and including a copy of this very fine piece.

Kudos to Geoffrey Fowler for doing such a thorough job and to the WSJ for publishing it on their front page.

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