<!DOCTYPE HTML PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN"> <HTML><HEAD> <META content="text/html; charset=unicode" http-equiv=Content-Type> <META name=GENERATOR content="MSHTML 8.00.6001.19019"></HEAD> <BODY><FONT size=3><STRONG>The ghosts of Wenchuan</STRONG></FONT><BR>By Peter Lee <BR><BR>The Chinese government's efforts to control both the physical and mental space available to dissenters converged in recent weeks as the Arab Spring raged and the politically fraught May 12 anniversary of the catastrophic Wenchuan earthquake in Sichuan province approached. However, the central authorities in Beijing have suffered an unexpected setback at the hands of a liberal-minded news organization, Guangzhou's Southern Metropolis Daily. <BR><BR>The Chinese government has moved aggressively to deprive any dissident political activity inside China of infrastructure, issues and potential leaders. <BR><BR>Artist and gadfly Ai Weiwei was prevented from boarding a flight to Hong Kong on April 3 and disappeared into detention, followed by a charge of "economic crimes". On May 11, security officers<BR><BR><!-----------------------GAAN AToL 300x250-------------------> <SCRIPT type=text/javascript><!--//<![CDATA[ var m3_u = (location.protocol=='https:'?'https://asianmedia.com/GAAN/www/delivery/ajs.php':'http://asianmedia.com/GAAN/www/delivery/ajs.php'); var m3_r = Math.floor(Math.random()*99999999999); if (!document.MAX_used) document.MAX_used = ','; document.write ("<scr"+"ipt type='text/javascript' src='"+m3_u); document.write ("?zoneid=36"); document.write ('&amp;cb=' + m3_r); if (document.MAX_used != ',') document.write ("&amp;exclude=" + document.MAX_used); document.write ("&amp;loc=" + escape(window.location)); if (document.referrer) document.write ("&amp;referer=" + escape(document.referrer)); if (document.context) document.write ("&context=" + escape(document.context)); if (document.mmm_fo) document.write ("&amp;mmm_fo=1"); document.write ("'><\/scr"+"ipt>"); //]]>--></SCRIPT> <SCRIPT type=text/javascript src="cts--126908469"></SCRIPT> <!-----------------------Cindy Trial 300x250-------------------> <SCRIPT type=text/javascript src="ctsscript.php"></SCRIPT> <STYLE>#syndicated-div, #syndicated-div img, #syndicated-div td, #syndicated-div th { border: 0; margin: 0; padding: 0; }</STYLE> <DIV id=syndicated-div>&nbsp;</DIV> <DIV style="POSITION: absolute; VISIBILITY: hidden; TOP: 0px; LEFT: 0px" id=beacon_9278fe0869><IMG style="WIDTH: 0px; HEIGHT: 0px" alt="" src="cts--126918484lg.php" width=0 height=0></DIV><NOSCRIPT><A href="http://asianmedia.com/GAAN/www/delivery/ck.php?n=a53e495a&amp;cb=INSERT_RANDOM_NUMBER_HERE" target=_blank><IMG border=0 alt="" src="ctsavw.php"></A></NOSCRIPT>&nbsp; <!-----------------------GAAN AToL 300x250-------------------><BR>pulled author and social critic Liao Yiwu off a plane, scuppering his plans for a world tour that would focus on his revealing depictions of China's economic, social, and religious underclasses. <BR><BR>These actions may represent an evolution in tactics for the Chinese government. In the past, dissidents were often shunted off to foreign exile, removing human-rights irritants in China's foreign relations, isolating troublemakers overseas, and giving them the opportunity to diminish their credibility by seeking the aid of hostile governments. <BR><BR>However, as the Arab Spring has shown, Internet circumvention technology, while not achieving seamless integration between overseas activists and their domestic sympathizers, enable communication and information exchanges that easily outstrip the attempts of authoritarian regimes to control and counter them. <BR><BR>Even China, which commands some of the world's most sophisticated Internet surveillance and censorship infrastructure, cannot stop the news, debate, and strategizing that flows across the Great Firewall courtesy of proxy servers, Skype, encrypted e-mail, RSS feeds, and the financial and technical support and encouragement of the United States government. [1] <BR><BR>Therefore, in a classic illustration of the law of unintended consequences, aggressive US investment in Internet circumvention technology will probably lead to increased travel restrictions and domestic detention for Chinese dissidents and activists. <BR><BR>The Chinese government has decided to take the international public relations hit while communicating to its domestic audience that it will recognize no limits in its efforts to control threatening political and social activity and expression. <BR><BR>Professor Perry Link of University of California, Riverside, who closely follows the situation of Chinese dissidents and activists, told Asia Times Online that the People's Republic of China (PRC) government is intent on inhibiting the emergence of leaders with national stature and a significant following. <BR><BR>"It comes from the top," he said, observing that the crackdown is too intensive and pervasive to be simply a matter of local authorities harassing dissident figures on their own initiative. <BR><BR>He cited the case of Teng Biao, a prominent human-rights activist and lawyer who was had been detained for two months, from February to April this year, in the midst of the government's heightened anxiety over the call for "Jasmine" walk-by demonstrations throughout China. <BR><BR>After his release, "Teng's not talking", said Link, indicating that Teng was subjected to intense and debilitating pressure because "usually he won't stop talking". <BR><BR>"They [the government] want to keep things atomized," he said, citing the examples of Ai, Liao, Teng, and Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo, serving an 11-year prison term. <BR><BR>At least 100 activists, dissidents, and critics have been detained in recent months. Author Liao Yiwu, who has first-hand experience of virtually the full portfolio of Chinese repressive tactics from imprisonment on up, described the current situation as "the worst in 20 years". [2] <BR><BR>Even as it deploys its troops on the physical and cyber fronts, China is also marshaling its forces to win control of the mental battlefield, trying to assert its legitimacy and deny dissidents hot-button issues to exploit. That's no easy task for an authoritarian regime honeycombed with corruption and favoritism, as the ongoing furor over the legacy of the Wenchuan earthquake demonstrates. <BR><BR>The earthquake, which registered 8.0 on the Richter scale, killed more than 80,000 people in Sichuan province's mountainous north on May 12, 2008, and the days after. It has also become a defining moment in the relations between Chinese activists and their government. <BR><BR>When the quake first shook Sichuan, it looked like one of those challenges that might showcase Chinese unity and capacity, especially when contrasted with the internationally maligned response of the Myanmar government to Cyclone Nargis which had swept in from the Bay of Bengal a few days earlier. <BR><BR>Domestic and foreign correspondents - benefiting from a relaxation of media control that was part of China's Olympic year best-foot-forward strategy - were allowed into the quake-hit area in large numbers. Initial foreign and domestic coverage was favorable, concentrating on the enormous and effective relief effort. However, it was followed by more critical scrutiny of the performance of the local government both before and after the quake. <BR><BR>The disaster at the Beichuan Middle School - where perhaps 1,000 students and teachers perished - provides a revealing illustration of how things went wrong for the government in terms of its media and public relations management. <BR><BR>Initially, during the heroic-response honeymoon, the school was reported to have been destroyed by a landslide. It transpired that the tragedy at Beichuan fitted a more sinister pattern, being attributable to shoddy construction that had led also to the collapse of other schools in the area. It was a narrative the local government went to extreme lengths to suppress. <BR><BR>An Amnesty International report described harassment - not just phone taps and browbeating, but detentions for up to three weeks - of parents trying to get genuine information about the state of the collapsed schools and fate of their children. <BR><BR>CNN wrote: <BLOCKQUOTE>[The Amnesty report] cited Sichuan Executive Vice-Governor Wei Hong as stating that the earthquake itself was the most important cause of the collapse. But such arguments were not persuasive to some parents. <BR><BR>"Except the school building, other buildings in Beichuan county did not collapse during the earthquake," said the father of a 15-year-old who died at Beichuan Middle School. "What kind of earthquake was this?" [3]</BLOCKQUOTE>A major political earthquake, apparently. <BR><BR>Shoddily constructed schools - described by one activist as "tofu dreg" schools for their lack of structural integrity - became the signature image of the Wenchuan earthquake. Critics zeroed in on the scandal of the collapsed schools and the horror of thousands of children who perished inside them, raising some extremely awkward questions about official corruption, lack of construction oversight and facility inspection, and the legal and moral culpability of local government and party officials. <BR><BR>The central government neglected to avail itself of one of its most valuable resources - the ability to blame local administrations for spectacular and deadly failures - and instead dropped the hammer on reportage about collapsing schools, keeping foreign and local journalists away from the quake zone and issuing guidelines banishing the story from the nation's media. <BR><BR>This may have simply been a matter of the Chinese government deciding it didn't want to take any more PR hits in its Olympic year. <BR><BR>Some observers speculated that the Ministry of Propaganda was bowing to the anxieties of culpable Sichuanese officials at the local and national level, and that China's media management was now devoted to protecting the interests of factions and individuals instead of propping up the state ideology. [4] <BR><BR>Government censorship, repression, and persecution served only to intensify and deepen the critique by writers and artists of the state's failures before and after the quake. In some cases, their feelings of disgust were undoubtedly exacerbated by the mistreatment they personally endured. <BR><BR>Both Ai Weiwei and Liao Yiwu were prominent critics of the role of corruption and cover-up in exacerbating the human cost of the Wenchuan earthquake, helping to expose the shocking deaths of schoolchildren. Liao spent weeks in the earthquake zone and wrote a book, which could not be published inside China but was available in Taiwan and France, where it was published under the title "Quand la terre s'est ouverte au Sishuan". <BR><BR>Its Chinese title, <I>The Earthquake Madhouse: A Record of the Great May 12 Sichuan Earthquake</I> perhaps describes Liao's feelings more accurately. <BR><BR>In 2009, the government did not permit Liao to go to Australia to accept an award for the book. Certainly, his trip would not have been a propaganda windfall for the PRC. Liao's reporting undercut the official government narrative of optimism and achievement, painting a picture of a regime corrupt and lifeless at its heart even when it was pouring manpower and money into the quake zone to deal with the disaster. <BR><BR>In one instance Liao recorded the bitter complaint of a woman who had lost her child in the quake and was struggling to deal with the issues of life insurance, compensation, accountability, and justice: <BLOCKQUOTE>Every year we paid 30 yuan [US$4.67] to the school for insurance for our baby, you can go check. [Now] people say only 8 yuan was paid every month [to the insurance company]. Maybe the school was ripping us off. Something I have an even harder time understanding, is that the older buildings didn't collapse. Buildings from the 1960s didn't collapse, buildings from the 1970s didn't collapse, it was just the new buildings built from 1996 to 1999 that crumbled and snapped. [I] Don't know where the school found those crooked construction companies. <BR><BR>The chiefs who arranged the contracts must have gotten so much blood money! Now they want us to "involve ourselves deeply in earthquake rescue and relief", they push "reporting on the positive aspects". As for the negative aspects, nobody takes care of those. Parents go all around making a fuss, there's no results. Volunteers come here and stick their noses into things that are none of their business, and people get beat up. Two months passed in a flash! And the town is [still] locked down and everybody's down-hearted. Just look at the armed police carrying their guns all day, with that intimidating attitude. In the eyes of the common people, they're as good as wooden statues. They can't solve any problems. When cadres at every level catch sight of us, they avoid us. Wouldn't you say this government is paralyzed? </BLOCKQUOTE>A letter Liao subsequently wrote on the subject of his aborted trip to Australia contained the coda to his planned acceptance speech: <BLOCKQUOTE>I want to dedicate this award as tribute to the earthquake victims, as a ceremony to mourn for the masses that have been neglected, tortured and slaughtered, as a chronicle that records the battles between the masses and the corrupted officials and between memory and forgetfulness. <BR><BR>Many years later, this award will make people remember my book, remembering a shameful chapter in contemporary Chinese history. [5]</BLOCKQUOTE>Ai Weiwei ventured into the Sichuan earthquake madhouse and suffered a beating for his pains. he was punched in the head by one of the policemen who came to his Chengdu hotel room at 3 am to detain him and prevent him from testifying on behalf of Tan Zuoren, a Sichuan writer who investigated the school-collapse scandal, coined the phrase "tofu dregs", and compiled a victim database. <BR><BR>Ai subsequently underwent surgery in Munich to remove an accumulation of fluid from his brain from a hemorrhage probably caused by the punch, a procedure he turned into an integrated media, photography, blogging, and Twitter availability. A week later, blogging on his experiences and the upcoming 60th anniversary of the founding of the PRC, Ai echoed Liao's words of a few months before: <BLOCKQUOTE>If one sentence can make a conclusion of these 60 years on the first of October that will be: 60 years of shame and ignorance. [6] </BLOCKQUOTE>As for Tan, he was indicted, tried, and sentenced to five years' imprisonment, ostensibly for writings that crossed one of the central government's red lines: discussion of the 1989 Tiananmen massacre. domestic and foreign journalists trying to cover the trial, had more to do with the Sichuan provincial government's desire to suppress further revelations of its Wenchuan-related misdeeds and omissions - with the apparent acquiescence and collusion of the central government. <BR><BR>The central government's retreat to censorship and its backstopping of the provincial government hacks on Wenchuan appeared to be a major step back for the PRC regime, or an inevitable reassertion of its fundamental nature, depending on how one looks at it. In any case, given the opportunity to do more than pay lip service to the concept of open society, press freedom, and justice administered on behalf of an aroused and informed domestic and foreign journalists trying to cover the trial, had more to do with the Sichuan provincial government's desire to suppress further revelations of its Wenchuan-related misdeeds and omissions - with the apparent acquiescence and collusion of the central government. <BR><BR>The central government's retreat to censorship and its backstopping of the provincial government hacks on Wenchuan appeared to be a major step back for the PRC regime, or an inevitable reassertion of its fundamental nature, depending on how one looks at it. In any case, given the opportunity to do more than pay lip service to the concept of open society, press freedom, and justice administered on behalf of an aroused and informed<BR><BR><!-----------------------GAAN AToL 300x250-------------------> <SCRIPT type=text/javascript><!--//<![CDATA[ var m3_u = (location.protocol=='https:'?'https://asianmedia.com/GAAN/www/delivery/ajs.php':'http://asianmedia.com/GAAN/www/delivery/ajs.php'); var m3_r = Math.floor(Math.random()*99999999999); if (!document.MAX_used) document.MAX_used = ','; document.write ("<scr"+"ipt type='text/javascript' src='"+m3_u); document.write ("?zoneid=36"); document.write ('&amp;cb=' + m3_r); if (document.MAX_used != ',') document.write ("&amp;exclude=" + document.MAX_used); document.write ("&amp;loc=" + escape(window.location)); if (document.referrer) document.write ("&amp;referer=" + escape(document.referrer)); if (document.context) document.write ("&context=" + escape(document.context)); if (document.mmm_fo) document.write ("&amp;mmm_fo=1"); document.write ("'><\/scr"+"ipt>"); //]]>--></SCRIPT> <SCRIPT type=text/javascript src="http://asianmedia.com/GAAN/www/delivery/ajs.php?zoneid=36&amp;cb=51948654007&amp;loc=http%3A//atimes.com/atimes/China/ME17Ad02.html&amp;referer=http%3A//atimes.com/atimes/China/ME17Ad01.html"></SCRIPT> <!-----------------------Cindy Trial 300x250-------------------> <SCRIPT type=text/javascript src="http://syndicated.mondominishows.com/script.php?pubsite_id=15416&amp;pr=15525"></SCRIPT> <STYLE>#syndicated-div, #syndicated-div img, #syndicated-div td, #syndicated-div th { border: 0; margin: 0; padding: 0; }</STYLE> <DIV id=syndicated-div>&nbsp;</DIV> <DIV style="POSITION: absolute; VISIBILITY: hidden; TOP: 0px; LEFT: 0px" id=beacon_e6b1a3906b><IMG style="WIDTH: 0px; HEIGHT: 0px" alt="" src="http://asianmedia.com/GAAN/www/delivery/lg.php?bannerid=1076&amp;campaignid=23&amp;zoneid=36&amp;loc=1&amp;referer=http%3A%2F%2Fatimes.com%2Fatimes%2FChina%2FME17Ad02.html&amp;cb=e6b1a3906b" width=0 height=0></DIV><NOSCRIPT><A href="http://asianmedia.com/GAAN/www/delivery/ck.php?n=a53e495a&amp;cb=INSERT_RANDOM_NUMBER_HERE" target=_blank><IMG border=0 alt="" src="http://asianmedia.com/GAAN/www/delivery/avw.php?zoneid=36&amp;cb=INSERT_RANDOM_NUMBER_HERE&amp;n=a53e495a"></A></NOSCRIPT>&nbsp; <!-----------------------GAAN AToL 300x250-------------------><BR>citizenry, the central government decided not to take its civil society lumps; it hunkered down and covered up instead. <BR><BR>The dissidents see the human toll of Wenchuan - and the subsequent cover-up and crackdown on activists - as more than a demonstration of the usual problems of local corruption and absence of accountability. <BR><BR>To them, it serves as a systemic indictment of a criminal regime devouring its own children, a demonstration of the rottenness of the Chinese social and political system that mimics the rottenness of the "tofu dreg schools", which had been reinforced with wire instead of concrete and that pancaked with such disastrous results. <BR><BR>In 2009, Ai tweeted: <BLOCKQUOTE>Grabbing a rapist was labelled anti-China, questioning shoddy construction which caused the deaths of children was labelled anti-China, exposing contaminated food was labelled anti-China, revealing whatever chaos was labelled anti-China. As for Child trafficking, HIV-positive blood donation, sweatshop coal mines, law-enforcement agencies violating laws, fake news, corruption, unconstitutionality, green dam censorship system, if you discuss these issues you were labelled anti-China. Are you a human being if you are not anti-China? [7]</BLOCKQUOTE>In a November 2010 interview with the BBC, after his beating in Chengdu, Ai was asked if he feared for his safety. He movingly if somewhat inchoately universalized his sense of peril by relating it to the threat of instantaneous annihilation that hangs over the head of every citizen of an authoritarian regime, and the cataclysm that extinguished the lives of thousands of schoolchildren in a few seconds: <BLOCKQUOTE>Yes, I have to be very alert, I have to be very careful ... but the same time I realize this is not enough because you're already in danger and not doing anything, you know those child who died in earthquake ... [8]</BLOCKQUOTE>The government has labored mightily to submerge the Wenchuan issue under an ocean of money and government propaganda, and bury any evidence of official dereliction beneath thousands of tons of concrete and construction. <BR><BR>By its own calculation, the PRC has poured over one trillion yuan (US$153 billion) into the fast-track rebuilding of the Wenchuan region, rebuilding "37 major cities and towns, 2,915 schools, 4,543 km of highways and 26,000 km of countryside roads". Premier Wen Jiabao journeyed to the stricken region no fewer than nine times to convey the intense and personal concern of the central authorities. His visits were commemorated by a hagiographic painting of the style familiar to connoisseurs of Mao-era socialist realist propaganda posters - and which was auctioned off to a Fukienese entrepreneur for 3.5 million yuan. [9] <BR><BR>On May 12, 2011, the third anniversary of the quake - commemorated by the numerical format 5.12 that is now used throughout the world to identify defining national challenges - the government announced that the rebuilding was 95% complete. Premier Wen Jiabao visited the quake zone again to declare "decisive victory", touring the new Beichuan Middle School that replaced the school where 1,000 lost their lives in 2008. [10] <BR><BR>The anniversary was commemorated with a garish gala in Beijing and the opening of a museum in Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province - "supported by 56 pillars in the exhibition halls, representing China's 56 nationalities united to conquer the disaster" and commemorating the 87,000 dead and missing, reported the state-run Xinhua news agency. [11] <BR><BR>The titanic efforts and overbearing propaganda of the central government were insufficient to reconcile some people to its overall performance and culpability - or squelch the accusations of corrupt diversion of funds that has dogged the rebuilding project. <BR><BR>The Southern Metropolis Daily had covered the collapsing-school story intensively in the first weeks following the quake, publishing numerous stories on the construction flaws of particular schools, before it acceded to a command by the Ministry of Propaganda to back off. It returned to the story this year and marked the third anniversary of the quake with a low-key news story that drew attention to the fact that its correspondent had toured the rebuilt quake zone in the company of local "personnel in charge of news" or official minders. [12] <BR><BR>On Southern Metropolis Daily's editorial page, an anonymous writer chose to observe the third anniversary in a more striking fashion. In a rather sentimental and overwrought style, the writer mourned the victims - and engaged in a deliberate provocation. <BR><BR>In the fifth paragraph, the editorial read: <BLOCKQUOTE>Those of you who were lost and did not return, where are you? Can the light we kindle shine across your path? We cannot do more. We can but present steel zodiacs, and offer up porcelain sunflower seeds ...</BLOCKQUOTE>Say what? <BR><BR><IMG hspace=6 alt="" vspace=2 align=left src="http://atimes.com/atimes/China/images/lee160511f.gif"> Needless to say, offerings of steel zodiacs and porcelain sunflower seeds do not figure in traditional Chinese mourning practices. But steel zodiac animal heads and porcelain sunflower seeds happen to be the key elements of Ai Weiwei's most recent art installations in London. <BR><BR>Ai is a blunt-spoken critic of the Chinese government of the raised-middle-finger-in-Tiananmen Square variety, and the meaning and impact of many of his works are intensified by the political context in which he lives. <BR><BR>Ai's sunflower seed installation went on show in London late last year. It covered the floor of the abandoned power station that serves as the modern-art annex of the Tate Gallery with 100 million porcelain seed replicas that had been laboriously painted, not by Ai personally, but by workers at the famed Jingdezhen kiln over two years. Ai, who said he himself painted, with some difficulty, only two or three of the seeds, said the installation was a riff on an old song in which chairman Mao was depicted as the sun and the people of China as sunflowers. <BR><BR>He told London newspapers that he regarded sunflower seeds as a symbol of simple, person-to-person connections evoking the hard times of the Cultural Revolution, when people were short of food but often had sunflower seeds in their pockets to share with friends. [13] <BR><BR>With a certain amount of imagination, the millions of seeds can be imagined as millions of Chinese people seeking direct human interconnection, by implication a repudiation of government authoritarianism. <BR><BR>Ironically or otherwise, the photo released by Xinhua, the state-owned news agency, of the gala commemorating the third anniversary of the earthquake, showed Politburo Standing Committee member Li Changchun and a host of functionaries standing amid dozens of little girls adorned with ...yes .. sunflowers. Maybe that is what set off the Southern Daily's editorial writer. [14] <BR><BR>Linking the zodiac animal head exhibition, which opened this month in London, to the Wenchuan earthquake is something more of a stretch. The heads by Weiwei recall the bronze water-spouting originals that adorned an 18th-century fountain-clock commissioned by the Emperor Qianlong for his Yuan Ming Yuan summer palace before being looted in 1860 by French and British troops. <BR><BR>Weiwei's animal heads could be construed as a mockery of the Chinese government's attempts to assert its legitimacy as protector of China's national legacy and honor through its high-profile, overwrought, campaign to recover the looted heads. <BR><BR>The editorial also featured two more Ai Weiwei-isms that bypassed Duchampian deconstruction and touched directly on the tragedy of the Wenchuan earthquake: <BR><BR><I>They lived happily on this earth for seven years</I> ... referring to a mother's recollection of her dead daughter, which Ai spelled out using 9,000 backpacks of the kind that littered the ruins in the collapsed schools of the Wenchuan area; and <I>We read their names together</I> ... referring to a reading of the names of missing children from the earthquake, organized by Ai. <BR><BR>The editorial was promptly yanked from the Southern Metropolis Daily website and the Chinese Internet in general. It lives on, thanks to the efforts of the Chinese Media Project at the University of Hong Kong. [15] <BR><BR>Surprisingly, the editorial reappeared on Nanfang's website a couple days later, before disappearing again. [16] This vacillation may be taken as evidence that some people in the central government feel it isn't necessary or productive to take the child-killer side of the Wenchuan argument, or further publicize a relatively tendentious and obscure editorial. It is unlikely to indicate any softening of the Chinese government's attitude toward Ai Weiwei. <BR><BR>It was 2008 that probably represented the high point of the Chinese government's attempt to regain the international legitimacy it had forfeited as a result of the Tiananmen crackdown. The West was in political and moral disarray as it staggered through the toxic shock of two misguided wars and colossal mismanagement of the world financial system. <BR><BR>China saw its conservative geostrategic and economic strategy vindicated and, in some quarters, was credited with rescuing the world from a full-blown economic depression through its prompt and massive stimulus program. The Beijing Summer Olympics were conceived as a gigantic coming-out party that would dazzle the world with China's economic power, social organization, and political model. <BR><BR>And when the Wenchuan earthquake struck, it was a chance to dazzle the world with China's superior capacity to mobilize money and material, human, and political resources to meet the challenge of a domestic natural disaster - a striking contrast not only with Myanmar, but with America's degrading failures in New Orleans during and after Hurricane Katrina. <BR><BR>In the end, the world chose not to be dazzled. Instead, internationally, 2008 turned into a year of turmoil and mortification for China. Western media, governments, and popular opinion largely chose to focus on the torch-and-Tibet travesty of the run-up to the Olympic Games. Thanks to the central government's decision to come down against press freedom and on the side of corrupt and repressive local officials, Wenchuan also turned into a self-inflicted black eye for the regime. <BR><BR>Nevertheless, it was easy for the PRC to blame dissidents like Ai Weiwei for bringing China's shortcomings to world attention at a critical time. Ai, after all, resigned his position as artistic consultant to the Bird's Nest sports arena in Beijing, center-piece of the Games, declaring that the Olympics were merely the regime's "pretend smile". <BR><BR>In August 2008, he told the New York Times he would not attend the Olympics opening ceremony: <BLOCKQUOTE>I did say it's a "pretend smile". I was questioning whether it's possible for a society that doesn't have democracy to excite the joys and celebrations of its people. And is it possible for such a society to win international recognition and approval when liberty and freedom of expression are lacking? There are all kinds of efforts under way that are means for stricter and tighter control. When these new security rules and restrictions are put in place, how can one smile and perform, cheer and pose? <BR><BR>The biggest disappointment is that China has fallen short of its promises, which is, "One World, One Dream," or to show the world a "New China, New Beijing, New Olympics". I doubt there's anything new here. What we're seeing are the deep-rooted lack of courage and confidence, and the want for real happiness and civil participation. Instead, we see more of inept management and a blind sense of self-defense. [17]</BLOCKQUOTE>With his high-profile activism on Wenchuan, Ai seemed determined to wipe the "pretend smile" from the regime's face. For its part, the government resorted to a high-profile campaign of harassment and intimidation against Ai, finding a pretext last year to bulldoze his Shanghai studio and then, this April, detaining him. <BR><BR>The pro-government outlet Global Times led the media charge against Ai, incensing his supporters by characterizing him as nothing more than a provocateur who went looking for trouble and found it. [18] On the anniversary of the quake, Global Times obliquely if perplexingly confirmed the linkage between Ai Weiwei's treatment and the Wenchuan issue in a May 12 op-ed titled "Wenchuan is part of a multi-faceted China": <BLOCKQUOTE>Some people become more confident and ambitious; others pessimistic, without hope. As for the outside world, they may be impressed at times and puzzled at other times. The arrest of artist Ai Weiwei, for example, puzzles many Westerners. But it is a real part of the multi-faceted China ...</BLOCKQUOTE>It appears this head-scratching statement wishes to convey the message that Ai's activism is a matter of confusion, delusion, and calculation, one of those "growing pains" that developing countries are fated to experience, and his detention is nothing to get worked up about. [19] <BR><BR>However, the fact remains that, three years after the quake and despite an enormous expenditure of money, energy, and prestige by the Chinese government, it still does not own the Wenchuan issue and has to contest the terrain with Ai Weiwei, Liao Yiwu, and the other critics, activists, and dissidents. <BR><BR>It's a brave new world, where one trillion yuan might count for less than 100 million sunflower seeds. <BR><BR><I><B>Notes</B></I> <BR>1. <A href="http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/n.php?n=us-in-new-push-to-break-china-internet-firewall-2011-05-11">US in new push to break China Internet firewall</A>, Hurriyet Daily News, May 11, 2011. <BR>2. <A href="http://www.usatoday.com/news/world/2011-04-24-china-bloggers-crackdown-human-rights.htm">China cracks down on bloggers</A>, USA Today, Apr 24, 2011.<BR>3. <A href="http://www.cnn.com/2009/WORLD/asiapcf/05/04/china.earthquake.schools/index.html#cnnSTCText">Report: China intimidated parents of quake victims</A>, CNN, May 4, 2011.<BR>4. <A href="http://cmp.hku.hk/2009/05/07/1599/">Looking back on Chinese media reporting of school collapses</A>, China Media Project, HKU, May 7, 2009.<BR>5. <A href="http://www.rochester.edu/College/translation/threepercent/index.php?id=1931">A Tribute to the Chinese Earthquake Victims</A>, Rochester, May 12, 2009.<BR>6. <A href="http://artasiapacific.com/News/AiWeiweiHospitalizedAfterBeatingByChinesePolice">Ai Weiwei Hospitalized After Beating By Chinese Police</A>, Art AsiaPacific, Nov 1, 2009.<BR>7. <A href="http://chinadigitaltimes.net/2011/04/tweets-from-ai-weiwei-are-you-a-human-being-if-you-are-not-anti-china/">Tweets from Ai Weiwei: "Are You a Human Being if You Are Not  Anti-China'?</A>, China Digital Times, between Jun 2009 and Jul 2010.<BR>8. <A href="http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/p005q08c/Outlook_11_01_2010/">iPlayer</A>, BBC, Jan 11, 2011.<BR>9. Click <A href="http://3g.nddaily.com/t2/news/detail.aspx?sid=119&amp;cid=0&amp;sec=&amp;nid=675600&amp;ver=&amp;uid=&amp;ucd=&amp;city=">here</A> for the Chinese-language text.<BR>10. <A href="http://news.xinhuanet.com/english2010/china/2011-05/10/c_13868347.htm">Chinese premier hails people's "strong will" during inspection of quake-hit region</A>, Xinhua, May 10, 2011.<BR>11. <A href="http://news.xinhuanet.com/english2010/china/2011-05/12/c_13870267.htm">Senior Chinese leader attends commemoration of Wenchuan earthquake and China opens quake museum to mourn 80,000 dead in 2008 earthquake</A>, Xinhua, May 12, 2011. <BR>12. Click <A href="http://3g.nddaily.com/t2/news/detail.aspx?nid=666766&amp;cid=110&amp;sid=117&amp;sec=nd96&amp;pw=all&amp;ver=&amp;uid=&amp;ucd=&amp;city=">here</A> for the Chinese-language text.<BR>13. <A href="http://thebasicsmag.com/?p=699">Ai Weiwei's Sunflower Seeds Installation</A>, The Basics, Apr 14, 2011.<BR>14. <A href="http://news.xinhuanet.com/english2010/china/2011-05/12/c_13870267.htm">Senior Chinese leader attends commemoration of Wenchuan earthquake</A>, Xinhua, May 12, 2011.<BR>15. <A href="http://cmp.hku.hk/2011/05/12/12235/">Bold editorial on 2008 quake blacked out</A>, China Media Project, HKU, May 12, 2011.<BR>16. Click <A href="http://epaper.oeeee.com/A/html/2011-05/12/node_523.htm">here</A> for the Chinese-language text.<BR>17. <A href="http://www.soompi.com/forums/topic/237946-birds-nest-designer-ai-weiwei-on-beijings-pretend-smile/">Bird's Nest Designer Ai Weiwei On Beijing's 'pretend Smile'</A>, Soomoi, Aug 5, 2008.<BR>18. <A href="http://www.pekingduck.org/2011/04/the-global-times-and-ai-weiwei/">The Global Times and Ai Weiwei</A>, The Peking Duck, Apr 13, 2011.<BR>19. <A href="http://opinion.globaltimes.cn/editorial/2011-05/654207.html">Wenchuan part of multi-faceted China</A>, Global Times, May 16, 2011.<BR><BR><BR><I><B>Peter Lee</B> writes on East and South Asian affairs and their intersection with US foreign policy. </I><BR><BR></BODY></HTML>