Tuesday, 25 January 2011

A very brave little rabbit indeed

It’s hubristic and pointless to watch what’s going on in China, no matter how closely, and then pretend to have a clue as to what’s going to happen in the coming months, years and decades. That said, it’s not stopped me so far....
A few days ago I came across a link on Danwei to a video posted on a Chinese website (viewable with an excellent translation and commentary at China Geeks), but I didn’t bother watching it until this morning. My mistake. 
Over the past few years I’ve watched my share of video clips that vent a little steam with close-to-the-knuckle satire of Chinese politics and controversial news items, but Little Rabbit, Be Good is quite a different animal. Not wanting to be hubristic, still I’m tempted to stick my hand up and say that future historians of China will be including this work of political art - it’s nothing less - in footnotes to learned articles, if not writing articles about it and pondering the fate of its creators. 
Imagine the most anodyne of children’s cartoons, where a little white rabbit has been left at home and told not to open the door. A wolf knocks on the door and tells her to open up, but she refuses, and only opens up when mother rabbit gets back. Now imagine it a little bit more saccharine. There’s one of several versions here.
Little Rabbit, Be Good takes that familiar nursery rhyme and subverts it into a deeply disturbing nightmare. After falling asleep on New Year’s Eve (2011 is of course the year of the rabbit), Kuang Kuang dreams that all the rabbits in the forest (i.e., the Chinese people) rise up against the tigers who rule them (the Communist Party) and take revenge for all the corruption and violence they’ve had to put up with. There are splashes of the sarcastically violent South Park, echoes of Gerald Scarfe’s animation to The Wall (especially in its imagery of despotic violence crushing opposition), hints of the menacingly countercultural cartoons that came out of communist Eastern Europe after the failed uprisings in the 50s and 60s, and a heavy dose of Animal Farm. The dream ends with the rabbits tearing the tigers apart with their bare teeth, and lots of blood - a catharsis almost.
We had a lot of coverage in the UK media recently of the Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, who created Sunflower Seeds for the Tate Modern and who was put under house arrest for opposing the planned demolition of his Shanghai studio. I don’t want to denigrate Ai Weiwei’s work or underplay his bravery for standing up to people who can make his life very unpleasant, but I do think that the sandalista journalists and art critics who so laud him in this country are too easily pleased and uncritical, so long as a Chinese artist does apparently “edgy” conceptual stuff and has a great beard. 
But Little Rabbit, Be Good is something apart. It is genuinely dangerous art, and if I had my way it would be projected on a big screen in the Tate’s turbine hall just to show how brave some Chinese artists can be. It would be a fitting salute to the creators, who must have serious balls to be doing nothing less than predicting and inciting the overthrow of the communist system. People have been given life sentences or a bullet for less than this.
The UK arts media ought to be ashamed of themselves if they devote another column inch to Ai Weiwei or Sunflower Seeds but fail to cover this story.

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