China: Blocked videos and independent films

16 November 2012

China’s best-known dissident artist Ai Weiwei’s parodic ‘Gangnam Style’ video was blocked by Chinese authorities within 24 hours after it was uploaded to China’s video sharing site Tuduo on 24 October 2012.

Screenshot from Ai Weiwei’s YouTube clip.

The original ‘Gangnam Style’ music video by South Korean artist Psy featuring his infamous horse-riding dance is the Guinness World Record holder for the “Most Liked video in YouTube”. The dance has been mimicked and the video has been parodied all over the world by flash mobs, convicts and even UN chief ban Ki-moon.

Ai Weiwei called his video ‘Caonima’ which means ‘Grass mud horse’ – a word which sounds like a very crude insult and which has been taken on by Chinese Internet users, and by Ai himself, to be featured in postings mocking the government’s online controls.

In his version, Ai Weiwei appears in a shocking pink T-shirt and black satin-lapel dinner-jacket. About one minute into the clip he pulls out a pair of hand-cuffs that he integrates into his dance moves. Ai Weiwei spent 81 days in detention last year and is still banned from travelling abroad – and the hand-cuffs inevitably becomes a symbol of what he has endured.

According to Ai Weiwei, the video was removed by Internet censors after getting thousands of hits.

“After we had uploaded it, a few hours later we found that a lot of people, tens of thousands, had already watched it. Now, in China, it has already been totally removed, deleted entirely, and you can’t see it in China,” Ai Weiwei told Reuters.

“Overall, we feel that every person has the right to express themselves, and this right of expression is fundamentally linked to our happiness and even our existence. When a society constantly demands that everyone should abandon this right, then the society becomes a society without creativity. It can never become a happy society,” Ai Weiwei was quoted by Reuters as saying.

“No way to avoid censorship”
Censorship is of concern for all Chinese artists and filmmakers. Renowned director Zhang Yimou talked to Yahoo Movies India about filmmaking and censorship in China:

“Every filmmaker in China knows how far he can go and there is no way to avoid censorship”, he says. “All you have to do is keep that in mind while selecting a story and work around it. No director there can ever say that I can say what I want in my films.”

“Self-censorship is serious”, said Zhu Rikun, former artistic director of Beijing Independent Documentary Festival. He wrote an article commenting on the situation for independent film makers in China, published in the New Statesman.

Restrictive environment and lack of creativity
Over the past decade the digital film technology as well as the internet has made production and distribution of film easier. This has led to a boost of independent film-making in China and many works of value has emerged, but the last couple of years Zhu Rikun thinks that the indie-films have lost their spark.

Zhu Rikun is not only criticizing the limiting Chinese censorship system, but also the lack of creativity and talent among the independent filmmakers.

“Optimism would be misplaced. I still doubt whether there is a way out when there is clearly a lack of ideas or skills and when there is such a restrictive environment. Things will change if genuinely independent film-makers leave this circle and take responsibility themselves. Only then will there be a glimmer of hope,” Zhu Rikun wrote.

Court case background
In 2011 Ai Weiwei was detained for 81 days without charge amid a broad crackdown on dissent. He was arrested on 3 April at Beijing airport just before taking a flight to Hong Kong. Ai Weiwei’s studio was searched and several members of his staff disappeared. The staff was released during the following months. Ai Weiwei was released on 22 June 2011, but the police kept his passport. He was not allowed to leave Beijing without permission for a year. In June 2012 his passport was still not returned. He was now allowed to leave Beijing, but was not allowed to leave China.

Ai Weiwei was accused of tax evasion and was demanded to pay a total of over 12 million yuan (US$ 1.85 million) in unpaid taxes and fines. A campaign resulted in supporters donating US$ 1.37 from around 30,000 supporters. The money gave him the opportunity to appeal the tax case by depositing US$ 1.33 million in a government controlled account.

Ai Weiwei has said that he never expected a fair trial and that his purpose in filing the appeal was to expose the workings of the Chinese legal system. When he lost the case on 27 September 2012, he was sentenced to pay a fine of US$ 2.4 million. Ai Weiwei stated that he assumed that the government would automatically take the money he deposited in the controlled account, but he did have in mind to hand over any more money. “We’re not going to pay the fine because we don’t recognize the charge,” he said. “And I think they’re probably too embarrassed to come and ask for it.”

Watch Ai Weiwei dancing ‘Gagnam Style’ with hand-cuffs:


News Live interview with Ai Weiwei:




Agence France-Presse – 26 October 2012:
Ai Weiwei’s ‘Gangnam Style’ parody blocked in China

The Daily Star Lebanon – 25 October 2012:
Ai Weiwei’s ‘Gangnam Style’ parody blocked in China – 25 October 2012:
Ai Weiwei Gangnam Style Protest With Handcuffs Banned In China

Reuters – 25 October 2012:
China’s Ai Weiwei bemoans block on his “Gangnam” parody

New Statesman – 25 October 2012:
The hazards for independent Chinese cinema

Yahoo Movies India – 23 October 2012:
‘Can’t avoid censorship in China’
The Wall Street Journal China – 27 Sept 2012:
Ai Weiwei: I Won’t Pay

Ai Weiwei

Ai Weiwei

Solidarity videos
Several of the world’s largest art institutions and a number of world-famous artists have since presented their own solidarity videos on the net. For instance, Amnesty International joined up with the world-famous Indian-born sculptor Anish Kapoor and a crew of activists and artists to raise awareness of the limits on free speech for Gao, Ai WeiWei, and many others speaking out in China.


Articles about Ai Weiwei on




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