Friday, 17 June 2016

The Banned in Shanghai Tour: a tour of censorship

This performance has been made and remade in nine locations now and I was starting to wonder if it was becoming safe and, within the context of China, over-accommodating of the authorities. It was a surprise to learn after the eleventh of the thirteen scheduled performances that the last two shows were cancelled on the order of the city's cultural censor. The reason I was given was that I presented Shanghai in a negative light. Being cancelled by the authorities did not, however, stop the show, it only made it in into an unofficial, underground performance!

The organs of censorship were slow and acted in two stages. First, on the day before the show opened I gave a try-out show to which this man and an official from the local district government turned up. I had not invited them, they arrived unannounced with the festival team. I was also informed that my plan to use flags would not be possible and that I should change it. The next day I was told to make an adjustment to the show: do not mention the boy urinating on the tour bus. Several days then passed before this charmer turned up again with a phone in hand recording the show start to finish. This was presumably played to his boss with a translator assisting the two of them and the decision then made to pull the show. I can only imagine it took them this long to come to a decision because their English was not so good and they had plenty of other shows to consider cancelling too.

This is the first time I have had a work of mine censored by authorities since the age of nineteen when a picture I had in my Foundation Fine Art end of year show was mysteriously taken down and thrown in the skip. I found it, cleaned it off and put it back up. That, too, was my approach to the tour. I gave the final two shows to invited audiences, bypassing the festival ticketing system, playing it low-key and changing the nature of the show. This new tour was the uncut performance that included not only the peeing boy but also the things I had not included in the first place in order to get the show to initially pass the censor. This site was a case in point. On the normal tour I neither stopped at nor said anything about the most important tourist attraction in Xintiandi: the location of the first congress of the communist part of China. On this uncut tour I stopped and explained why it was impossible to say anything here without it potentially causing problems as the party's narrative is not there for everyone to use and repeat as they see fit. Even though the show was not negative about the party, any reference to it here could well lead to the show being stopped out of fear it might be misinterpreted. Officials don't like to take chances, as their job is on the line, so the higher up the food chain one goes, the more likely it is that caution will prevail.

Another example of a thing I was unable to talk about on the normal tour was this ripped picture that I saw in Hangkou. It was part of the Jewish refugee heritage trail put up around the neighbourhood. I did not know the reason why it and several other related pictures, had been slashed. Here it was possible to ask the question and see if my audience knew if this was due to anti-semitic vandalism, if it was related to the redevelopment plans in the area which will see many thousands forcibly moved from their homes or something else entirely. It prompted a real discussion. 

It was shocking that by far the greater degree of censorship I talked about was self-censorship. I'd say that accounted for around 95% of the things that I talked about on the tour. It is not that I would ordinarily (i.e. outside China) include all of this material, but it would all be in circulation and quite possibly find a way into the show in one form or another.

When one of the people on the uncut tour told me that it was very different to the orthodox tour, which she had also seen, it led me to question the wisdom of self-censorship. If I had not been pushed into this situation by unusually conservative city censors, I would not have gone about making this unofficial tour. That said, the standard performance that I made was one that did get people thinking and seeing the area differently. I know this because several told me so. I think it right that art stretches the boundaries of what people think and say in both private and public and that to reach a significant number of people is valuable. I also see that there are some lines it is not possible to cross: if the authorities only want positive tourist marketing, this show will never provide that, it is far too objective. I therefore feel it best to operate on both sides of the line: official and unofficial.

It is ironic that I was able, by performing this piece guerrilla style on the sidelines of the rest of the festival, to actually provide a quite genuine Fringe festival experience here in China. It is also ironic that by censoring the show in order to preserve the neat image of world-class Shanghai, the authorities' efforts were counter-productive. Not only did I do the show anyway and focus on all the negative things I had previously left out, they also revealed themselves to be artistically out of touch conservatives doing their small part in holding the city back from truly becoming China's artistic hub.

1 comment:

  1. Shanghai, Hu for temporary, is a famend international town drawing increasingly awareness from in each single situation the world. Established on the estuary of Yangtze River, it serves as probably the most influential financial, fiscal, global trade, cultural, science and science center in East China. Additionally it is a common vacation spot for viewers to believe the pulsating development of the nation.I deliberate tour to Shanghai and i have some just right work experience with a cv writing service and my phrases are evidently centered on what I felt by way of such procedures prior to now.