» ENGINEERING WONDERS OF DUJIANGYAN: Irrigation & Secret Detention

Photo Essayby Brian Awehali

Dujiangyan Irrigation Park shishi, or Imperial Guardian Lion (石獅), photo (c) 2013 Brian Awehali

Dujiangyan Irrigation Park shishi, or Imperial Guardian Lion (石獅), photo (c) 2013 Brian Awehali

Dujiangyan is a system of irrigation channels largely responsible for the renowned fertility of the Chengdu basin, in southwestern China. This elaborate engineering wonder, built about 2300 years ago, and still in use today, is what makes Sichuan province the most productive agricultural area in China. Most contemporary dams use a big wall to block water, adversely impacting the natural flow of fish and other marine life, but the ancient Dujiangyan irrigation works lets water and fish continue to flow.

I have no idea how old the statue above is (2300 years?), but the colossal millipede nestled in this gargoyle’s ear looks old and big enough to be from an entirely different geologic era.

Dujiangyan is also home to another old and elaborate example of Chinese engineering: the Dujiangyan Detention Facility, one of many outposts in the sprawling Chinese police state. Literally countless dissidents, political activists and otherwise problematically outspoken people have been detained, tortured and interrogated at these facilities.

Dujiangyan Irrigation Park signage, photo (c) 2013 Brian Awehali

Dujiangyan Irrigation Park signage, photo (c) 2013 Brian Awehali

A lot of even modestly well-informed Westerners don’t know about the full scope of China’s police state, it’s laogai prisons or its contemporary forced labor practices. One reason for this ignorance is simply that the Chinese government works very hard to control news and information about its internal security apparatus, but another reason surely has to do with just the sheer size of the apparatus.

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» OCCUPY EVERYWHERE: A Touch of Chaos & the Making of a New World

text and photos by Brian Awehali | originally published in Earth Island Journal
October 13,  2011

 “The biggest difference I see between China and the US is that in China, our government owns the corporations and in the US, the corporations own your government.”

–Chinese people’s historian Liao Yiwu (廖亦武), July, 2010

Occupy Wall Street encampment, Sept. 27, 2011

On September 27th, the Occupy Wall Street rebellion was clearly gathering momentum. The NYPD’s macing of several peaceful protesters the previous weekend, and their arrest of roughly 80 demonstrators in the following days served primarily to spark more coverage, outrage and broad-based support for the movement. Donations were pouring in, a group of hundreds was turning into thousands in lower Manhattan, and similar occupations were blooming in dozens of other U.S. cities.


In the first days of the occupation, most corporate media reporters approached the protesters as would any good B-movie alien delegation: “Take us to your leader,” they demanded. Confronted with a decentralized organizing culture, they furrowed their brows, demanded demands, preferably in sound bite form, and generally derided protesters for being young, unrealistic, weird-looking, and/or unhygienic.

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» PEOPLE’S HISTORIAN LIAO YIWU (廖亦武) LEAVES CHINA

Liao Yiwu in Wenjiang, July 2010. Photo (c) Brian Awehali


JULY 2011 | After repeatedly being threatened with imprisonment if he chose to continue publishing his “illegal work” in foreign countries, Liao Yiwu (廖亦武) has fled to asylum in Germany
. In the weeks and months following the outbreak of popular revolt in the Arab world, the Chinese government’s repression of critical voices intensified, and Liao had been warned that he would be arrested if he chose to publish the German edition of his forthcoming memoir, Testimonials: The Witness of the 4th of June.

Philip Gourevitch has written a typically solid piece for the New Yorker detailing Liao’s “escape” from China and the reason his work is important enough to be threatening to China’s leadership. The piece includes the following quote from Liao about his status as a political “refugee”:

“I’m excited about political developments in China, and looking forward to a Jasmine Revolution. I am quite sure that Hu Jintao may be a refugee some day, but not Liao Yiwu.”

May this be so. When I had the opportunity to meet and interview Liao several times in 2010, I was deeply inspired by his willingness to take enormous risks in service of truth-telling, free thought, and art. Interested readers can check out the lengthy profile I did of Liao following these interviews, “Dangerous Words,” which appeared originally on Counterpunch, then in expanded form here on LOUDCANARY.

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» DANGEROUS WORDS: A Profile of Chinese Poet and People’s Historian Liao Yiwu (廖亦武)

Three months after this was written Liao Yiwu was compelled to flee China and sought asylum in Germany. He has also since released a vivid memoir of his years in detention, For a Song and a Hundred Songs: A Poet’s Journey Through a Chinese Prison.

interview and photos by Brian Awehali,
(translation by David Cowhig)

“Why should the government fear me?” says Liao smiling, the first day we meet, along with an interpreter and several friends at a riverside teahouse outside of Chengdu, in Sichuan province. “I’m just a guy who tells stories.”

Liao Yiwu ( 廖亦武 ) in Wenjiang, Chengdu, July 2010, released under CC-by-2.0 with permission of the photographer Brian Awehali

Liao Yiwu ( 廖亦武 ) in Wenjiang, Chengdu, July 2010, released under CC-by-2.0 with permission of the photographer Brian Awehali

When I was in China last year, I heard and read many colorful stories. Here’s a strictly true one: a PRC official, speaking to a visiting US official sometime in 2010, says, in somewhat condescending fashion, “We are very impressed with the gains your country has made in its short 200-year history,” to which the US official replies,  “Yes, we are very impressed with the gains of your 60-year-old country as well.”

There are, after all, people, and then there are states. There’s the massive 5,000-year-old “culture” of China, made up of many different peoples, incorporated and renegade, spread over every conceivable terrain and holding as many or more distinct and idiosyncratic beliefs and practices as they hold in common, and then there’s the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and its fractious apparatus.

Beginning around 1958, under the leadership of Mao Zedong and the PRC, a roughly thirty year war was declared on the culture, traditions, infrastructure and very memory of China: temples, libraries, museums and universities were razed; millions of intellectuals, professors, specialized workers, landowners, landlords and other “liberal bourgeois elements” were imprisoned or murdered. Thirty million people—the number almost defies comprehension—starved to death after the government outlawed private farms and forced farmers in the country to send unreasonable quotas of their harvest to the cities to feed urban workers during the Great Leap Forward, an attempt to rapidly transform China into an industrial power. Compounding the stark material realities of life under Mao, during the Cultural Revolution, family members and neighbors were turned murderously against each other in series of state-directed ideological campaigns and “purges,” and official records and memories not echoing the government’s line were destroyed.

Liao Yiwu (廖亦武) was born in 1958, almost ten years after the founding of the PRC, and his often principally embattled life and many volumes of work both cast extraordinary light on the traumatic and complex collision between the Chinese people and their modern state. He’s been imprisoned and tortured for writing and distributing his poetry, and though his work has received significant international attention and acclaim, it’s also completely banned in China.

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» ART & FREEDOMS: Half a Day with Chinese People’s Historian Liao Yiwu (廖亦武)

by Brian Awehali

[This is a continuation of my post, “The Corpse Walker: Liao Yiwu’s Notes from China’s UnderclassTo read my long-form profile of Liao, “Drift to Live,” click here. To read recent (July 2011) updates about Liao’s departure from China and his subsequent asylum in Germany, click here.]

Excerpts from “Massacre” (by Liao Yiwu, translated by Wen Huang)

Dedicated to those who were killed on June 4, 1989 in and around Tiananmen Square in Beijing.

A massacre is happening
In this nation of Utopia
Where the Prime Minister catches a cold
The masses have to sneeze to follow
Martial law is declared and enforced
The aging toothless state machine is rolling over
Those who dare to resist and refuse to sneeze
Fallen by the thousands are the barehanded and unarmed
Armored assassins are swimming in blood
Setting fire to houses with windows and doors locked
Polish your military boots with the skirt of a slain girl
Boot owners don’t even tremble
Robots without hearts never tremble
Their brain is programmed with one process
A flawed command
Represent the nation to dismember the constitution
Represent the constitution to slaughter justice…

Liao Yiwu, 2010. Photo by Brian Awehali

[Earlier this year] we joined Liao and two writer friends he’d shared imprisonment with for tea. Liao was sturdy and bald, his skin ruddy with black rimmed glasses, wore flowing linen pants and navy flip flops which displayed several blackened toenails, and he walked with a limp. I’ll call the other two PB and RG: PB, who said he had eaten much more bitterness in his life than Liao and suffered much more greatly than him, had a typical black bowl cut, glasses, pasty white skin and a shirt tucked into a belt that said “Playboy” on it over the bunny icon. He said that he wrote about his stories of being in prison every day, and that altogether he had been in for seven years. The other one, RG, who said that it was hard to describe what he writes about, had longer hair down to his ears, was pudgy with rimless glasses and wore a plaid shirt. Of the three, RG smiled the most and spoke the least.

We talked about things like Twitter in China. You can say a lot more in 120 Chinese characters than you can in 120 English characters, and Twitter is used for more overtly political purposes in China, to get around the Great Firewall, and less for inane things about where someone’s eating or what someone’s wearing. We also talked about the difficulties of publishing in China. PB had written many stories about his prison experiences, but was resigned to just sharing them with friends and family because he didn’t think he would ever find a publisher; Liao is only published by overseas presses.

At one point Liao said that Chinese view the government as the police. When I asked about Chinese anarchists, Liao replied that all smart Chinese were anarchists (“no government people”) because the government just took their money and land and enforced rules and laws. They were just the police, and didn’t care if the people were hungry or not. I asked about this because I was just then reading Yale Agrarian Studies professor James C. Scott’s excellent book, The Art of Not Being Governed: An Anarchist History of Upland East Asia, which details how between 80 and 100 million people in East Asia fled the Han Chinese state and took to the hills (“shatter zones”) to be self-determining over the past few centuries. This includes Tibetans, the Wa, the Kachin, the Lahu and a staggering range of other East Asian “hill peoples.” I’m not positive, but given our linguistic challenges, Liao was probably characterizing “smart Chinese” as more anti-authoritarian than anarchist, but was nonetheless making a deeper point about power than can be got at by conceiving of things in terms of so-called “capitalism” or “communism.”

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» THE CORPSE WALKER: Conversations with China’s Lower Strata

by Brian Awehali

This is the first of several posts on LOUDCANARY about Liao Yiwu. To read my long-form profile of Liao, “Dangerous Words,” click here. To read recent (July 2011) updates about Liao’s departure from China and his subsequent asylum in Germany, click here. 

When we arrived by cab at the train station, as instructed, Liao Yiwu (廖亦武) met us in a black car driven by a friend and took us to a riverside tea house, where several of his friends were already drinking tea and eating fried Sichuan peppers. We talked for hours, then ate and drank for several more before the musical instruments came out…

Liao Yiwu’s primary importance lies not in what he says, but in the stories of countrymen he collects, which paint a vivid people’s history of China, a country eager, and engineered in many ways, to forget its past. Many college students do not know about the June 4, 1989 Tiananmen Square Massacre, to take one prime example of this willful (and highly orchestrated) amnesiac tendency. In his work, Liao focuses on the diceng (底层)or “bottom rung of society,” a concept hated by both supporters of Mao’s “communist” revolution and the current PRC, as well as by many Chinese people for whom the concept of “face” (mianzi, or 面子) — looking good and having status and, in this case, not making China look bad to the laowai (老外, or foreigners) — is all-important. In an only theoretically classless society, people are reluctant to speak of beggars, thieves, drug addicts or those in poverty, even if their presence is glaringly obvious.

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Body of (Written) Work

Here is a fairly comprehensive archive of work by Brian Awehali.


FEATURES | ESSAYS | INTERVIEWS| LiP: INFORMED REVOLT


FEATURES

» Drift to Live: Words with China’s People’s Historian, Liao Yiwu
“Why should the government fear me?” says Liao smiling, the first day we meet, along with an interpreter and several of his writer friends, at a riverside teahouse outside of Chengdu, in Sichuan province. “I’m just a guy who tells stories…”
:: Counterpunch :: April 2011

» China’s Underground Historian
Liao Yiwu may be the most censored writer in China. His work has been translated into several languages and has enjoyed international critical acclaim, yet in his hometown of Chengdu, where his books are banned, he’s virtually unknown.
:: The Progressive :: April 2011

» Mongolia’s Wilderness Threatened by Mining Boom
Multinational mining companies eye Mongolia’s earthy fortunes
:: Earth Island Journal / Guardian (UK) / Third World Resurgence (Malaysia)/ Ger (Denmark) :: 2010-11

» Native Energy Futures
Renewable Energy, Actual Sovereignty & the New Rush on Indian Lands
:: LiP :: 2006 :: Project Censored award winner :: PDF version

» Trust Us, We’re the Government
How to Make $137 Billion of Indian Money Disappear
:: Alternet :: 2002 :: Project Censored award winner

» The Bureau of Indian Affairs’ $100-Billion Shell Game
:: Z Magazine (cover) :: April 2002 :: with Silja Talvi

» Broken Promises
Government malfeasance continues in landmark Indian Trust case
:: ColorsNW :: 2003 :: Society of Professional Journalists award-winner :: with Silja Talvi

» New World Disorder
How U.S. arms dealers and their Cabinet-level cronies profit from the war on terror
:: LiP / Alternet :: 2002

» Monitoring Your Every Move – A Guide to Biometric Technologies
What are the facts about biometrics? Predictably, industry leaders and critics paint wildly different pictures. Here, however, are a few brief looks at today’s leading biometric technologies, which may be a much bigger part of your life than you’d expect, in a considerably shorter time than you’d imagine.
:: High Times :: 2002

» Profit, Control, and the Myth of Security
The advance of Total Surveillance Society, aka Total Security, promises a world free of danger and uncertainty, yet the arguments for a comprehensive surveillance society comprise a fear-addled litany of threats and fantastic promises of security that are grossly exaggerated by the very corporate and government serial offenders who pose the greatest threat to our health and safety.
:: LiP :: 2006 :: with Ariane Conrad

» Life After Corporate Death Care
As traditional religious death rituals have given way to more secular alternatives, a consumer revolt against the high cost of dying in America is well underway.
:: Alternet :: 2004

» David and Goliath in Indian Country
The feds are on the losing side of the largest class action lawsuit ever filed against the U.S. government. This time, the Indians may actually beat the cavalry.
:: Alternet :: 2005

» Propaganda, Public Relations, and the Not-So-New Dark Age
Edward L. Bernays birthed the public relations industry in the United States. His clients included General Motors, United Fruit, Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, the U.S. Department of State, Health, and Commerce, Samuel Goldwyn, Eleanor Roosevelt, the American Tobacco Company, and Proctor & Gamble. He directed public relations campaigns for every president from Calvin Coolidge in 1925, to Dwight Eisenhower in the late 1950s. He was, in the estimation of cultural historian Ann Douglas, the man “who orchestrated the commercialization of a culture.”
:: with Stephen Bender :: LiP :: 2006

» Challenging the War on Drugs
A landmark conference on drug policy in Los Angeles convened nearly 600 attendees from across the U.S. and Europe.
:: Santa Fe New Mexican / Alternet :: 2002

» Nike Come Home, All is Forgiven
Oregon invites shoe giant to consider the economic advantages of domestic prison labor.
:: LiP :: 1998


ESSAYS

» Inventing Thanksgiving
Thanksgiving Day provides an ideal opportunity to consider the formation of national identity and the concept of a civil religion. It’s also a living metaphor of the prevailing American model for immigrant assimilation and the ways in which history can be reinterpreted, and indeed wholly reinvented, to serve competing ethnic, patriotic, religious and commercial ends.
:: Britannica.com :: 2002

» Where Fools Rush In – Custer’s Last Stand
July 25, 1876 ― The U.S. Army today suffered its worst defeat ever in Plains Indian warfare, as more than 260 soldiers in the 7th Cavalry were killed along the banks of the Little Bighorn River in the disputed Montana Territory. The bloodbath ensued after an evidently ill-conceived charge under the command of Gen. George Armstrong Custer.
:: Britannica.com :: 2000


INTERVIEWS

» Madness and Mass Society
Pharmaceuticals, Psychiatry, and the Rebellion of True Community
:: an interview with Dr. Bruce Levine :: LiP :: 2006

» Torture Taxi – Anatomy of a CIA Front Company
Anatomy of a CIA Front Company
:: an interview with A.C Thompson and Trevor Paglen :: LiP :: 2007

» Remote Control Hip Hop
Culture, power and youth…
:: an interview with Jeff Chang :: LiP :: 2005

» Who’s White?
Race, Humor and the New Black/Non-Black Breakdown
:: an interview with damali ayo and Tim Wise :: LooseLiP podcast :: 2007

» Bad Vibes – Poison Pleasure Products?
Words with Jessica Giordano, co-founder of the Smitten Kitten and the Coalition Against Toxic Toys (CATT).
:: with Lisa Jervis :: LiP :: 2006

» Conveying Correctness
The Prefabrication of Political Speech
:: an interview with Chip Berlet :: LiP :: 2005

» Designing Our Demise
One respected Cornell robotics expert is in firm belief that machines will acquire human levels of intelligence by the year 2040, and that by the middle part of this century, they will be our intellectual superiors.
:: an interview with Hans Moravec :: Britannica.com :: 2000

» Membership Has Its Disadvantages
Whiteness and the Social Entropy of Privilege
:: an interview with Tim Wise :: LiP :: 2005

» Notes On a National Disorder
A look at the growing problem of excessive concentration in the U.S. culture industries, and the oligopolistic sway of just a few giant players over television news, book publishing, popular music and cable TV. Also, how the hell Bush II happened.
:: an interview with Mark Crispin Miller :: LiP :: 2005

» Addicted to Waste
Harm Reduction, Disposability and the Myth of Activist Purity
:: an interview with Julia Butterfly Hill :: Tikkun :: 2005

» On Irony
A pointed Q&A with author Rebecca Solnit
:: LiP :: 2006



LiP: Informed Revolt

In 1996, I started a zine called LiP in Chicago, learned a lot from it, took a break for several years to do other things, then relaunched it as a full-fledged North American periodical in 2004. The magazine, always printed on 100% recycled PCW paper, using non-petroleum-based inks, and with either worker-owned or union printers, explored radical (root/fundamental) aspects of the world and its power relations in a way we hoped could reach beyond the choir and be compelling for a wide readership. We did surprisingly well with our all-volunteer staff, 600+ contributors and no appetite for running an actual business, garnering awards from Project Censored, Utne Reader, East Bay Express, South by Southwest and Clamor during our run. Below are links to one complete issue of the magazine, and to various items related to the publication of the LiP anthology, Tipping the Sacred Cow (AK Press).

LiP No. 5:
The Relentlessly Persuasive Propaganda Issue
[PDF]

Featuring: Eduardo Galeano, Vandana Shiva, Dr. Bruce Levine, Guillermo Gomez-Pena, Jeff Conant, Antonia Juhasz, Timothy Kreider and Hugh D’Andrade, among many others. 

“‘Making the world safe for democracy,’ that was the big slogan.” – Edward Bernays, on his work for the first US government propaganda ministry, the 1917 Committee on Public Information

“In really hard times the rules of the game are altered.” – Journalist and social theorist Walter Lippmann, speaking of both elite manipulations of society and history’s mass cataclysms.


Tipping the Sacred Cow
The Best of LiP: Informed Revolt
(AK Press)

Tipping the Sacred Cow is a savvy and well-curated collection of the comics, illustrations, articles and interviews featured in LiP’s myriad print and online incarnations from 1996-2007. Capturing the magazine’s cheeky nature, it reads like a super-special edition of LiP—complete with illustrations by cartoonist Eric Drooker, a “theft ethics” quiz, a glossary of culture-jamming lingo and other useful appendices—including some exclusive, behind-the-scenes, previously unpublished material…. Tipping the Sacred Cow serves as a worthy headstone for a publication that died before its time.”

— “R.I.P. LiP” – In These Times, 11/2007

“Every single article in this anthology forced me to shift my thinking about issues near and dear to my heart (feminism, the teachings of Martin Luther King, Jr., eco-friendly policies—even the fine art of using the toilet).”

Feminist Review, 11/2007

“[There’s a] paradox that’s becoming increasingly difficult for independent publishers–especially progressive, environmentally conscious ones–to resolve. ‘Being values-driven,’ says Awehali, ‘I think we’re fundamentally and structurally at odds with the systems we use to print, to distribute, and so on. It’s really no surprise that [LiP] found it difficult to survive and thrive in a hypercapitalist periodicals marketplace.'”

— “Shelf Life,” Utne Reader, 11/2007