avatar
Liz Carter senior contributor

Chinese Web Users Ask: Should Tearing Mao’s Portrait Be Allowed?

Incredibly, this can still get you in trouble in today’s China. (Via Weibo)

Where is Cao Xiaodong? A week ago, not many knew of a young AIDS activist by that name. Cao gained fame online after he was photographed along with three others in Zhengzhou, China, tearing pictures of Mao Zedong in half. But then the picture went viral on Weibo, China’s Twitter and Cao Xiaodong, Lin Qilei, Ji Laisong, and Wen Dao were “human flesh-searched” and identified by Weibo users. According to reports on social media, Cao and his girlfriend have since been detained by police and have disappeared. Wrote Twitter user @WuyouLan in two tweets:

“The whereabouts of Cao Xiaodong and his girlfriend are unknown. Around 7 p.m., I entered the police station [where Cao was being held] with his girlfriend and we saw him. I reminded the police that the time [he was allowed to be detained] was up. The policeman said ‘I know, I just have one more thing to ask.’ I went out to buy some food and came back about ten minutes later. That police officer and guards said that Xiaodong and his girlfriend had already left. But no one, including me, has been able to reach them…His girlfriend was with me only ten minutes prior, and her phone was working then. I think she would have waited for me.” {{Chinese}}[[Chinese]]【曹小东及女友均下落不明】晚七时许,我和小东女友进入经三路派出所接人。我见到了小东,并提醒警察已到时间。警察说“知道,还有点事问。”我外出买点食物。十分钟左右返回,该警及门卫称小东与女友已走。但,包括我在内,无人能与他俩取得联系。而且,其女友在十分钟之前还和我在一块,电话可用。离开时应该会等我。[[Chinese]]

Several days after the fact, the actions of the four picture-tearers have started a “tearing” trend and coined a new phrase, 撕八大 (sībādà). It means “tearing eight big,” which is only one character away from十八大 (shíbā dà) the abbreviation for China’s 18th National Congress, a handover of leadership scheduled to begin November 8. Twitter users began posting pictures of themselves tearing apart pictures of Mao Zedong in solidarity, and many Weibo users expressed their belief that such actions were reasonable forms of protest. In a post that was re-tweeted 900 times, Weibo user @摆古论今 asked, “Have we returned to the Cultural Revolution? Let’s follow this event rationally. Please call the Zhengzhou Police Chief Liu’s phone at 18638188903, please pay attention to Cao Xiaodong! Let’s join our voices in the spirit of justice and say, ‘Please let him go!’”

But not all online reaction was positive. Nankai University Professor and influential critic Sun Xiliang wrote on Weibo:

“‘Publicly and collectively performing the act of tearing Mao Zedong’s portrait’ is not the same as ‘tearing Mao’s portrait.’ The act has already crossed both legal and moral lines. Even if it weren’t a leader; even if it were just a regular person’s picture, if people collectively organized to tear his parents’ picture, let’s say, then anyone would be angry. It would certainly cause trouble for you. You far rightists can’t keep pushing us to the limit!” {{Chn}}[[Chn]]“集体公开地表演撕毛泽东像”不等于一般的“撕毛泽东像”,这已经突破了法律底线和道德底线。就算不是领导人,对一个平常人,如果他人集体组织撕他父母亲的画像,任何人都会愤怒,肯定得找你麻烦,极右势力不要欺人太甚!!![[Chn]][Note: in China, rightists are liberal reformers and leftists are conservatives.]

Leftists blamed rightists, and some have even said that artist-dissident Ai Weiwei was behind the picture-tearing stunt. Whatever the motives or causes, circumstances or charges, Cao Xiaodong is, as of the time of this article’s publication, still missing.

4 Comments
Jump To Comments
avatar

Liz Carter

Liz Carter is a DC-based China-watcher and the author and translator of a number of Chinese-English textbooks available on amazon.cn. She and her cat Desmond relocated to DC from Beijing, where she studied contemporary Chinese literature at Peking University, after learning that HBO was planning to adapt Game of Thrones for television. She writes at abigenoughforest.com and tweets from @withoutdoing.
  • Hua Qiao

    Not following the dear Professor’s logic. Apparently, it is ok to express yourself by yourself but a collective expression of opinion even the tearing of a picture of, let’s say, the mayor of Tokyo or Bo Xilai or Mitt Romney. That would be illegal?

    If you and your friends tear a flyer for a restaurant where you previously got food poisoning…that would be illegal?

  • Hua Qiao

    Not following the dear Professor’s logic. Apparently, it is ok to express yourself by yourself but a collective expression of opinion even the tearing of a picture of, let’s say, the mayor of Tokyo or Bo Xilai or Mitt Romney. That would be illegal?

    If you and your friends tear a flyer for a restaurant where you previously got food poisoning…that would be illegal?

  • Pingback: Hao Hao Report

  • Pingback: Chinese Web Users Ask: Should Tearing Mao’s Portrait Be Allowed? | China Specialists Global Post