22 May 2013

Brief Thoughts on Ai Weiwei's Music Video, "Dumbass"

Together with the brilliant lightning storms and torrential rains that doused Hong Kong, for me this morning brought the release of a new music video entitled "Dumbass" (the Chinese title is much more raw) from Chinese artist Ai Weiwei.

As with almost everything Ai touches these days, "Dumbass" is a polarizing piece of work. Those who like his brand of (increasingly) political performance art will probably like it, while those who tend to see his facility with the foreign media as his primary talent are unlikely to change their views upon listening to this latest project.

I'll admit that, musically, "Dumbass" is not my cup of tea (though I've heard far, far worse). I think the video is visually quite stunning, which shouldn't be a surprise given that it was filmed by Christopher Doyle, cinematographer for some of my favorite films--Edward Yang's That Day, on the Beach, the best works of Wong Kar Wai, and Philip Noyce's lovely Rabbit Proof Fence.

What struck me most viscerally about the video is the way it depicts Ai Weiwei's 81-day detention in "designated-location residential surveillance" back in the spring of 2011. Almost every shot of the first half of the video--the constant surveillance by guards, the ordeal of trying to sleep with light shining down on you all night, the humiliation of being watched as you shower and use the toilet, the effort to retain some semblance of activity in a confined space shared with captors--vividly recreates aspects of what it is like to be held under this form of incommunicado detention. The repetition of many of these scenes (the endless pacing) adds an extra layer of discomfort.

Ai's portrayal of these experiences, which others who have been subjected to similar detention have also described in detail, is of course a more stylized depiction than the reality of "residential surveillance." This is, after all, not a documentary. My radar might be particularly attuned to these aspects, but I'd contend that there is still a kind of truth being conveyed in this performance--one that might be too hastily dismissed by some who are more focused on aesthetics.

Further reading:

08 May 2013

Translation: SPC Directive on Handling Suits Related to Internet "Management"

Several days ago, I came across this interesting document via a weibo post by Beijing lawyer Zhou Ze. Dating from 2009, it is an internal directive from the Supreme People's Court instructing lower courts on how to handle lawsuits arising from Internet "management" (which, if it wasn't already clear, is a euphemism for censorship).

I think this directive is interesting for a number of reasons. First, it exemplifies the way in which Chinese courts are in many respects more administrative bodies than they are judicial bodies. Rather than having individual courts exercise discretion over whether or not a suit merits adjudication, the central court sets (non-public) rules essentially prohibiting all suits related to censorship that lower courts are expected to follow.

The directive also shows how, particularly under the leadership of the previous SPC president, Wang Shengjun, a political calculus can often decide what cases are heard and how cases are decided. The concern for achieving "unity in legal, social, and political results" and "negative social impact" is illustrative in this regard.

A third thing I find interesting about this document is the way it reveals just how many layers of oversight, guidance, and coordination Chinese courts are subject to. In sensitive cases like these, courts are expected to report upwards to a higher-level court as soon as the case is filed and maintain close contact with both the local party committee and its political-legal committee. Coordination with "relevant authorities" is also needed to "work with" (a better translation might be "work on") the suit-filer, presumably to convince him or her to drop the suit or work out some other kind of resolution.

As Zhou Ze put in his weibo post, making reference to recent comments by new SPC president Zhou Qiang about the need to increase public confidence in the judicial system: “If such places are allowed to continue to exist outside of the law and members of the public have no place to turn to protect their rights, boosting confidence in the legal system is idiotic nonsense.”

Notice Regarding Case-Filing Review Work in
Cases Involving Internet Management

In the interest of properly carrying out case-filing review work in cases involving Internet management from this day on, we are issuing the following notice regarding related questions:

I. Scope of Cases Involving Internet Management 

Cases involving Internet management include civil and administrative disputes that arise from Internet management. Civil disputes primarily take the form of disputes arising from the deletion of the deletion, pursuant to a request by a relevant management authority, of the suit-filer’s document, comment, or web page or closure, pursuant to a request by a relevant management authority, of the suit-filer’s blog, forum, chat forum, or website. The majority of those filing suit do so on the grounds that he or she established a contract for Internet service with a website and the web site unilaterally deleted documents or closed a website without his or her agreement or giving notice. Administrative disputes primarily take the form of a suit filed because the suit-filer does not agree with the administrative penalty decision or punitive action made by a relevant management authority to delete an article or comment posted on the Internet by the suit-filer or to close the suit-filer’s blog or website.

II. Basic Requirements for Case-Filing Review of Cases Involving Internet Management 

(1) Uphold the principle of filing cases appropriately and in accordance with the law, in order to achieve unity in legal, social, and political results. Do not accept suits involving Internet management and do not issue court documents. With respect to other civil disputes concerning the Internet, when review finds that the suit meets statutory conditions for accepting the case, the case may be accepted with discretion after first making an effort to thoroughly understand the background of the case, assess the social impact, and understand the issues involved and getting permission from the court above.

(2) When courts at all levels, including detached tribunals at the grassroots level, receive suits involving internet management, they must immediately report upward to the SPC and also report the situation to the local party committee and political-legal committee. Each higher-level [i.e., provincial] court must properly carry out case-filing guidance and lawsuit-information transmission for these types of cases in its jurisdiction.

(3) When handling problems regarding suits related to Internet management, courts must proactively seek the support of the local party committee and political-legal committee and coordinate with the relevant authorities to “work with” the parties to the case in order to avoid creating a negative impact. Unauthorized public comment is prohibited.

Supreme People’s Court of the PRC 
July 13, 2009










SPC Directive image