transmediale 06 talking about china

In December last year, Martijn de Waal contacted me about as part of the Chinese Mediaculture project. It was a pretty interesting project that was circulating alot of the ideas of the Pearl River Delta that was the focus of the 第二届广州三年展 2nd Guangzhou Triennial. Over in Berlin at the moment, the 19th Transmediale Festival is making lots of cool art noise, and Martin and V2 were there talking about the Chinese blogsphere and Chinese media arts. we-make-money-not-art, which should be on everyone’s daily rss-art-whoring list has excellent coverage of both Transmediale and the The China Connection Part 1 and Part 2.

The China Connection – Transmediale

The China Connection (part 1)

This panel discusses the role that European media arts and technology organisations have been playing in the recent developments of a Chinese media-cultural agenda. It asks how Chinas new electronic media artists deal with the social potentials of globally connected media technologies – from CCTV through cryptography to open source software, with all their attached cultural dimensions.

Martijn de Waal, journalist and independent media researcher, made an interesting wrap up of the Chinese blogosphere and how people are using the internet in China.

He started his talk with an animation called iRepress.

There’s over 100 million users of internet in China, making it the country with the most internet users in the world. The typical net surfer used to be male, urban, high-educated, in his 20-30. It’s becoming less so. Active bottom up. Now more women and less educated people are catching up.

How people use the internet: in China there’s a very lively amateur culture. What’s different in China from other parts of the world is the huge sense of humour when writing about daily life and world/national events.

Many people make and exchange flash movies, swap lots of files. Commercial portal are thriving (big portals dealing with celebrities for example) but e-commerce hasn’t taken off yet.

The Middle Landscape. The internet has become a middle landscape between the public sphere and the commercial sphere. These two separate realms merge on the internet. On blogs and bulletin boards that mostly discuss commercial matters, someone might start a discussion on a recent event (like a murder hidden by the authorities) and a long discussion will start.

The Middle Landscape in another sense: the internet as a middle landscape between the private and the public sphere. Bloggers and wikipedians against the governement. Governement is loosing control over the private domain (in the past, employees had to get an authorisation to get married, it’s no longer the case.) The internet is very hard to control although there are rules to restrict what people can write. If you want to open a blog you have to give your name and address. Companies like Google, Microsoft or Cisco, help the governement to shut up the voices and restrict the new freedom.

On the other hand, Chinese have now a service they didn’t have before. For each new rules imposed by the government, bloggers and wikipedians make a counter attack.

The Social Brain Foundation is inviting people in the West to adopt a Chinese blog on their personal web server to make it harder to control or block the blogs (only information i found).

Are public sphere and civil society emerging? De Waal asked several actors whom have different perspectives.

Jack Qiu: no, we’re not seeing this promised new freedom. In China, internet is given as a toy to people to play with, not to provide them with more possibilities of expression.

Michael Anti (who had his weblog shut down by the governement): yes, there’s a gradual development. People are willing to see things change even if the governement doesn’t agree.

Webloggers: maybe. People start to organise themselves on the web, give out opinions on small environmental issues for example (government issues are still too taboo). So maybe we’re witnessing the beginning of a new civil society.

The China Connection (part 2) – Transmediale

The China Connection, part 1.

This panel discusses the role that European media arts and technology organisations have been playing in the recent developments of a Chinese media-cultural agenda. It asks how Chinas new electronic media artists deal with the social potentials of globally connected media technologies – from CCTV through cryptography to open source software, with all their attached cultural dimensions.

Here’s a few notes on what was being said during the panel (which included only one Chinese and three Dutch speakers!)

Alex Adriaansens, director V_2, Rotterdam.

As a foreigner, Adriaansens found China very hard to understand, it’s very big, there are many cultures, many languages but at the same time, the country is very coherent and is strongly controlled by the governement. People expect China to take a leading edge on technology and economy. So far the US is the strongest in terms of economy and technology and when it imports some of it to us, Americans embed deep cultural elements in them. The same thing will happen when the technology we’ll use will come from the East.

Lu Jie: artist and media activist, 25000 Cultural Transmission Centre, Beijing.

The internet power is amazing. Whatever the attempts of the Chinese government, the power of internet is beyond its control or censure. The benefit are immense, especially for grassroot people, think about the agricultural society, people living in remote areas, etc. Example: The Super Girls contest (similar to American Idol), during the 2500 edition 400 million people watched the TV programme continuously during months. They didn’t care about war, Tsunami or anything else. On the final night of the competition, 8 million people voted with their mobile phones. It was the most democratic vote in the history of the country. There are clubs, fans and fundations to back the candidates. Some say this new way to bring people together is a revolution.

Sui Jianguo‘s Made in China.

Today’s highly successful new media artists in China are criticised by the young generation. They say that these artists are just producing works to please the curators of art biennales not to investigate or reflect on society. They know what art curators like and make work especially for them. On the other hands, the students of art school admit that they are not being educated to reflect on society only learn the techniques. There’s so much money to make in art in China these days that parents are no longer pushing their children to study engineering or law but also art.

Feng Mengbo‘s Ah_Q

Discussion:
The Super Girl contest can also be regarded as a perversion of democracy, as a way to distract people from crucial issues. Or one could stress that it’s the first sign of some kind of democracy.

30 000 persons are employed by the government to read blogs to denounce the “bad” ones or counter act (writing long comments explaining how good the government is acting).

Xiao Yu’s Ruan

Jie: the media is totally beyond control in China. Think about that artist who cut into pieces and ate an aborted baby. The artist is still walking free in the streets. China’s situation is very complex.

On March 30, at 19.00 Tangent:Leap, a meeting at V2_ in Rotterdam about the emergent blogosphere in China. The event will be streamed live.