Mr Democracy

A written constitution for the UK (made in China)


  • Welcome to Mr Democracy, the story of a British artist who set off to get a written constitution for the UK made.
    Understanding the changing balance of power in the world, and with a nod to Britain’s ‘democratic’ ventures across the world, he chose to get it written in China, and ship it back to the UK.
    Read more under 'about' and in the many blog entries.

Archive for the ‘Chinese Politics’ Category

Mandy’s doll

Posted by mrdemocracy on 15,08,2008

Sarah got ill on Friday, and by the time she was better she had little time left to help me. She had said before she started working for me that she had too work on other projects and her own artwork.
She put me in touch with Jackson, a friend of hers from Uni, and he started helping me online and on the phone.

After giving up on the moving doll, we’ve been looking for simple non-moving ones. All the same, not quite as easy as you’d think. After literally days of looking, we are down to a couple. I say down to, these seemed to be ones people could actually supply. The price difference is huge, ‘Mandy’s’ costs 3.5 Rmb (0.35€, £0.28), ‘Mr Shaou’s’ 21 Rmb (2.10€ £1.69), huge difference. As you can see from these rather unflattering photos, Mandy’s is pretty rough, with collapsable falling out limbs.

Mandy’s doll (cheaper)

Actually, the quality isn’t really the main problem, in theory I don’t need something great quality, its more the 12 going on 21 year old girl clothes which are worryingly sexy, just sends out the wrong message. They also don’t stand up. This is another factor where before I came, I wouldn’t have worried, but now I’m speding all this time and money, I prefer a doll that has ‘something’. So many hours with spent with good friends (patient friends) in Berlin discussing what kind of doll I should go for, and here the options seem different.

Heres Mr Shao’s, as photographed at Tom’s studio.

I am now staying in Jackson’s studio in the Gaungzhou Academy of Fine Art. Apart from saving money, its easier to stay where I’m working, and not have to worry about what time and where we meet up.

As with Sarah, me and Jackson talk alot, and have much to ask each other. Jackson has never left China, but he is keen too. His family come from a rural background, and later on he tells me that his great (or great great?) Grandfather was killed in the Cultural Revolution, because he was a landowner, albeit not a particularly wealthy one. This has set some scepticism towards the communist party in his family. I say only some, from his recounts neither his generation nor the last seem fiercly critical. Indeed, at age sixteen, Jackson was a convinced communist, but later lost his faith. He also recounted making his way to school at 4am by the light of a flame, and returning not lang after daybreak to help with the farm duties again. These are fond memories he holds. Later his family moved to the city to make a living, and his father, with little eduction (his mother with even less) set up several business’, 2 of which failed, but he keeps trying. These stories of rural to urban migration and the lifestyle changes they bring are to be found everywhere here. Another forming point in his life had been being left alone for two weeks to look after factory premises his father had just set up in a nearby city, aged just 12, which taught him the value of work. It certainly impressed me.

I started to show Jackson some of the BBC programmes I like, such as From Our Own Correspondent and the documentary archive. feeling like a dangerous foreign influence, doing exactly what the Chinese government doesn’t like about foreigners. I even explained and demonstrated proxies, which allow you to see otherwise blocked sites from within China, such as this one.

I then have to ask myself again, as Jackson asks me, is the BBC state run, as CCTV? It certainly has british interests at heart, but it makes critical programmes. I know people who work in for the BBC and for Chinese media outlets, and there is a huge difference, no doubt. On the other hand, some of the news is a little conservative, from my experience at protests. The BBC probably reported on the Republican and Democratoc National Congresses this year, but did they show the violence I mentioned earlier?
Despite this record of critical programme making, the threshold needed for critisising the government, or more importantly the basis of the system in the west, is that much higher.

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Second official visit

Posted by mrdemocracy on 08,08,2008

Back in Guangzhou, I got a knock at the door from the Police in the new hotel too. There were some attacks in the north (see here), so its fair enough that any foreigners in any part of China may be terrorists, despite the attackers being Chinese. This at least, is what my Chinese art student helper said. It is always amazing and scary just how easy and lightly people will bow down and take a bit of totalitarian government, with just the faintest of excuse. ‘The Olympics’ really was the reason for any abuse of Police power. I was more used to it now, after last time, and I do think people here are more used to the Police inviting themselves to any occasion than in the UK or Germany, but I still hate it. The came with a young woman interpreter. I like it that the police don’t actually speak English, it slows the interrogation right down. He pointed at the tripod and asked what it was. I said it was a tripod, I am a tourist. This just exemplifies the pointlessness of police interrogation anywhere in the world – harassing ordinary citizens. I say pointless, it does keep them in check, adding that little bit of fear which discourages us from protesting. ID cards in the UK should bring us that bit closer.

It also brings to mind something a friend who studied in Russia. She recounted how Russians said the difference between their system and ours was that they knew they lived lived in a system (a designed system) whereas it seemed we didn’t. Having said that it seems the Chinese, the Chinese I met, aren’t too aware of how much their system is designed, and how different it could be. Indeed, the writers in Shanghai asked me ‘so which human rights do you (all) think we so desperately need? I’m fine, my life is not interrupted by the police on a regular basis’. This was interesting if a little saddening, but it shows that the propaganda works. In another conversation with someone who worked with me in Gaungzhou, he asked if I could make one change in China, what would it be. We talked about it and agreed it would be one relatively simple change: press freedom. Press freedom would allow the corruption to (start to) be reported, bringing exposure and shame.

Since looking up an article about the terrorist attacks, google returns an update – that the attack now seems less black and white than first mentioned. Now its out of the (narrowly focussed) media spotlight, but I remember at the time a BBC ‘From Our Own Correspondant’ reporter commenting on how quickly the scene was tidied up, and there was little evidence of the attack. Have a look here.

Posted in China experiences, Chinese Politics, Olympics | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

The Dancing Constitution (no thanks)

Posted by mrdemocracy on 07,08,2008

•On my return from Shanghai, I went to pick up the sample from Marco. Seems like someone having some kind of attack, then settling down to slowly read a rather dull constitution. The dancing isn’t so funny when its not accompanied by a tinny shania twain rip-off, as the original was. Good job we made a sample I guess.

But we were more annoyed with the price. We both left thinking it would cost about 15 Rmb (1.50€, £1.20) a piece, but when we picked it up, he said it costs 27 Rmb (€2.70, £2.17). the problem here is not just that it costs extra, its that we would never have bothered ordering it had we known it would cost so much. He tells me the chip is complicated, because it first the dancing comes on, followed by talking, then pause, then continue. Anyway, it was a waste of both our and their time, we couldn’t have ordered something so expensive had we known, so now we need to work something new out.

Posted in Chinese Politics, Constitution | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Expensive products are cheap

Posted by mrdemocracy on 06,08,2008

On my return from Shanghai, I met a man from Portsmouth University on the train. He was concerned that his pda would be constantly connected to the internet, ‘work’ had given it to him. I’ve grown up with a different impression of universities, not as corporations that send their employees round the world to meet business leaders and do consultancy work. We had that ‘you’re foreign too’ connection. He seemed relieved to see me, despite being on the way to meet his Chinese girlfriend in Guangzhou, some years his junior. We talked about politics, and he veered away again when we got too close to any view which might have been different from his. We did talk about China and the world though. I asked him about what the future held for the west, how we were supposed to compete with China. In doing so I reminded myself of another artical I’d read somewhere about cheap Chinese products, and ‘but we don’t make anything’ fears in the west. The article broke down the cost of products, as do the articles here and here, with the examples of trainers. The main thrust here is that yes, they make cheap products, but the profit goes to the west. Its ironic, the article I had read, and the man on the train’s arguments, were both to reassure westerners – its ok, depsite manufacturing lots, they don’t make all the profits. When I looked again for information on these breakdowns, you can see from the links that information about the injustices of sweatshops came up. He added that many of the jobs in the long chain of high-end products cannot easily be transfered away from the UK, such as advertising (culturally dependent), finance (based on a system which can be trusted) and sales (geographically located). Also, as Chinese wages rise, which they are (article a year old), this will make production in the west proportionally more competative, although that wasn’t the view 10 years ago. It predicted it would take decades before Chinese and Indian wages rise because the pools of cheap labour are so huge, but they have been. Its worth noting again on the other hand that the examples from the anti-sweatshop campaigns that these price breakdowns only work for high-end branded products, not for primark or ASDA stuff. I coincidently saw the exact same Clarks shoes in a shop next to my hotel in China, and they were roughly the same price. Now I got them for a bargain, as they were seconds, but its interesting that this can happen at all, and prices in ASDA or Primark are also not hugely disimilar in China.

Posted in China experiences, Chinese Politics, Uncategorized | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Official visit

Posted by mrdemocracy on 27,07,2008

The hotel people just called up to my room, spoke no english (except ‘under’). They then knocked on the door, and tried to pull me out, I thought it was because I haven’t paid for this evening. luckily I was on the phone to Tom at the time, handed the phone to him, and he said ‘its becuase of the olympics, only certian hotels are allowed to have foreigners. Maybe you should go downstairs.’ The police then came in, smoking, looked in the bathroom, and left again (closing the door behind him), kind of ignoring me. Pretty much over, I hope. My friend reassures me it shouldn’t be a problem. Think I might go out soon. nice coincidence that Tom was on the phone at the time. would have been alot more worried otherwise. Maybe the hotel is not allowed to have foreigners.

Posted in China experiences, Chinese Politics, Olympics | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Do you do politics?

Posted by mrdemocracy on 26,07,2008

The next day I visited the British Council, in one of the poshest buildings I’ve visited in my life, although it was attached to a mall. I met Veronica Wang, from Guangzhou, who had studied in the UK for a year and a half, which seems to be in the biography of most of the Chinese people working at the British Council, which does give them an insight into how Britain works. We discussed what had to be done, it was good to have that support, I was impressed. I hope it wasn’t inappropriate, but I tucked straight into the politics, asking Veronica what she thought of the Olypmic flame issue, of what had happened (see London protests here). Interestingly enough, her first and only recollection of the event was of a Chinese torch carrier in a wheelchair who was attacked in Paris (see here) and the reaction it ’caused’ (see anti-cnn.com, noted on the Chinese Embassy’s website, though of course not officially condoned). I asked her regarding the subject of China feeling criticised, and my project inviting a reversal in the direction of comment.

Part of this reaction manifest itself in the form of protests in China. I’m here and start to see that this reaction is genuine, but it is also very frustrating that many Chinese people, as far as I can see, simply don’t see that most protests are banned, and some are condoned. It does I have to say, remind me of the willful ignorance of people who think protesting in the west is a walk in the park – look what happened here: (updated link) – Republican National Congress and the police state that was the twin cities for those few days, nearly 1000 arrests, most for little or no reason, and the widespread indiscriminate use of tasers, smoke bombs, tear gas, etc. See:
Protester arrested for falling off his bike
And here his testomony to the torture he suffered in custody
Here and here journalist arrests
Sorry for the deviation!

Back to China: Chinese truck drivers block carrefour.
Later that day I met Tom Shi at his studio not far from my hotel, the British Council had also put me in touch with him. Tom (who’d also studied in London, industrial design) had started to help before I arrived in China, looking up some factories and giving me some more tips about what would be possible. He then invited me to use his studio as my work place, which was so kind and helpful – comfy, good internet, and friendly people there. Tom has had the studio under a year, and would like to find some other interesting people to share it with, I think to give give him sounding boards and some shared creative energy as it were. There are 2 students who work for Tom too.

Posted in Chinese Politics, Nationalism | Tagged: , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Free Tibet! (Made in China)

Posted by mrdemocracy on 28,04,2008

‘Free Tibet’ flags made in China

I don’t suppose this is an art project, but it could have been, it has that ‘wrong place’ element employed often in artwork – e.g. artist Xiaopeng Huang proposed to move the Star Ferry pier from Hong Kong to Guangzhou for the Gaungzhou Biennale this year, not realised due to its cost. It also mimicks my project a little, using an industrial method in the wrong place/time. Though not immediately obvious, theres something fundamental explored in this news story – why shouldn’t a chinese factory produce free tibet flags? Not that I’m on the side of the Chinese nationalists here, but it raises the simple question of regulation – when shouldn’t a business do something? Its also just fantastic.

Posted in Chinese Politics, Nationalism | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »