Notebook

December 7, 2011 2:57 am

In a certain state of undress

Chinese authorities have accused Ai Weiwei of pornography

Ai Weiwei, the Chinese dissident artist, has found a new way to get under the skin of the country’s humourless autocrats.

After detaining Mr Ai in an undisclosed location for 81 days without charge this year and then handing him an enormous tax bill, state security agents have now accused him of pornography for having his photo taken with four female supporters.

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The tasteful, rather artistic, nude picture was circulated on the internet and does not show very much of the rotund bearded artist or his mostly middle-aged companions.

In solidarity with the embattled artist, a couple of hundred mostly Chinese supporters have posted photos of themselves in various states of undress on a website entitled: “Ai Wei fans’ nudity – Listen Chinese government: nudity is not pornography.”

Some contributors posted pictures of babies in their birthday suits or famous nude icons such as Michelangelo’s David while others have opted to bare everything, a rare act of rebellion in a country where public nudity is still taboo.

Mr Ai told the Financial Times he took the photo because he was bored and did not consider it pornography or even art: “The government and the police are just trying to find an excuse to accuse me of some kind of crime to make me look bad and to keep me quiet and under [near house arrest].”

Mr Ai said he was told the definition of online pornography was decided in large part by how many people opened the file of the naked photo but in fact the puritanical police can classify anything they want as porn.

The campaign brings a new meaning to state repression in China and shows the lengths to which the authorities will go to find something they can pin on the outspoken artist.

Culture shock

Banx cartoon

OMG dawg! My badonkadonk is getting mad big, I can’t even rock my favourite outfit any more!

If you don’t know what that means then you are less fluent in modern American English than millions of eager young Chinese who are flocking to a hot online show aimed at bridging the cultural gap between China and the US.

Jessica Beinecke is the 24-year-old creator and star of OMG! Meiyu – Chinese for “OMG [oh my god!] American English” – a daily three-minute web show that introduces Chinese viewers to US slang and has attracted millions of hits since it started in late July.

The blue-eyed, petite blonde from Ohio records the lesson on a laptop in her flat in Washington and then broadcasts it over the internet to avid fans across China. Each show has a theme – fashion, bodily functions, relationships – for which Ms Beinecke presents quirky slang words in almost flawless Mandarin using the saccharine style of a Chinese female TV presenter.

Judging from many of the comments online, Ms Beinecke is especially popular with young male students and her appeal goes beyond her accurate pronunciation of Chinese tones. Her success may be helped by the fact that her Chinese name, Bai Jie, means white and pure and is also the name of a Chinese porn novel.

But given the rabid Chinese nationalism that is common among this particular demographic, Ms Beinecke’s popularity may turn out to be short-lived. The show is produced by Voice of America, the US government-funded broadcaster regarded in Beijing as an evil force dedicated to toppling the Communist party and to promoting democracy in China. Beijing tries to block VOA’s more serious Chinese-language programming but tolerates its English-teaching programmes.

Once the party realises how the US is building its soft power in such an insidious way it will surely put a stop to Ms Beinecke and her doe-eyed mission to capture the hearts and minds of China’s youth.

Social management

Twice in the past week Zhou Yongkang, China’s domestic security tsar, has exhorted officials to improve “social management” – a term that incorporates everything from addressing common grievances to censorship and riot squad tactics. Some people think this may be the start of a crackdown on what the party used to call “bourgeois liberalism”. If so, people such as Mr Ai and those who tune in to Ms Beinecke may be some of the first targets.

jamil.anderlini@ft.com

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