Chinese Artists' Demolition Protest Quashed by Police

china-songzhuang-march-2013.jpg Artists hold an anti-demolition protest at Songzhuang, March 22, 2013.
Photo courtesy of Wang Cang

A group of hold-out artists on Friday came out in what may be a final protest against the demolition of an avant-garde art district in southeastern Beijing.

The Songzhuang art community, which has attracted cutting-edge artists from around the mid-1990s to its former factories and wackily designed modern buildings is, like so much else in China, threatened with imminent demolition.

"In the face of this unreasonable demolition of Songzhuang, I felt I should be there physically to support this action," said writer Wang Cang, who is close friends with many Songzhuang artists and attended Friday's protest.

He said police had dispersed the protesters, who included artists affected by the demolition plan, petitioners, and concerned academics and writers like himself.

People arriving to take part in the event were locked outside the gates, but remained to hurl verbal abuse at police, he said.

"There were police and state security police, and several police vehicles," he said. "After our numbers reached several dozen, they shut the gates."

"When my friends came, these thugs who looked like criminals shut them all outside, shoving us around."

"They snatched away one of my friends' cell phones," he said.

Wang said the protesters who remained inside sang songs, danced, held a barbecue, and staged performance art.

Artist Li Ke said the event had come to a premature end, however.

"There's nothing happening now, because the people who wanted to come couldn't get in," she said.

She said local officials hadn't yet told local residents what date had been set for the demolition work.

"All I can do now is wait," Li said.

Increasingly activist

Officials say they plan to redevelop the area into residential property.

However, sources in the community said the demolition came after Songzhuang artists had become increasingly involved in rights activism in recent years.

In January, Beijing-based painter Liu Yi began work on a series of portraits of Tibetans who have set themselves ablaze in protest against Beijing’s rule in Tibetan regions, saying he wanted to document the plight of those “who died for human dignity.”

Liu Yi said he would go ahead with the black and white portraits in spite of a government ban on the topic.

Though the burnings themselves touch on political issues, Liu says that his own work reflects humanitarian concerns relating to the self-immolations.

So far, 109 Tibetans have burned themselves in protests challenging Chinese rule and calling for the return of the Dalai Lama, Tibet’s spiritual leader.

Last October, police in Beijing detained two artists after they carried a banner through the streets of the capital calling for the abolition of "re-education through labor."

Tibetan artist Kuang Laowu and collaborator Zhui Hun, known in the art world by his pseudonym Liu Jinxing, were criminally detained on charges of "gathering a crowd to disrupt social order."

Reported by Lin Jing for RFA's Cantonese service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.


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