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 ‘Constitution’ Category

Local Press

Posted by mrdemocracy on 14,11,2008

Just a quick link to a feature in the Daily Post, here. Not sure about the title, but overall its pretty positive about the project, and I hope it raises some interest.

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Challenge Anneka/Bond Hong Kong

Posted by mrdemocracy on 15,09,2008

I’m now on BA flight BA0032 Hong Kong London Heathrow. The novelty of flying never really wears off on me, I actually love it, the high class pretence, the mini food, the thousands of stories and that are airports. Actually, the place where I was staying in Hong Kong, Mirador Mansions (and neighbouring Chungking Mansions on my last stop over) are like dirty messy airports, with a racial mix which really is like a deck of shuffled cards. Every time you stepped in the lift there were people from every corner…Ghana, Pakistan, the Phillipines, Liverpool… The place has a terrible reputation apparently, with gruesome stories about attacks in the lifts in the early hours. I didn’t feel unsafe.

After Huang Pu, there was not too much too tidy up regarding the toy production and shipping, just exhibition stuff. I had another altercation with the shipping agent unfortunately. Marco explained that actually there is no charge for the frieght in China, its all charged at the destination, hence why it seemed so cheap. He reckoned the final price should have been around half of what I was paying, but I had already seen the quote and handed the goods over, so it was a bit late to haggle now…but worth a try. The shiping agent begged to differ, that it wasn’t worth a try, and after a telephone call in a noisy restaurant, the next email suggested we shouldn’t use them again. Although I had made lots of questions about different quotes (which wastes their time), in the end she had made things stressful by managing to not coordinate a quote which tallied at both ends until late the night before the goods were delivered, after a 6 hour wait in their office, which is pretty bad.

I took a train down to Shenzhen, the city built rather unsubtly on the border with Hong Kong. I say unsubtly because it’s mission is to take Hong Kong as a blueprint for making money. It is literally on the border with Hong Kong – you can walk over the border in the train station and get right on the MTR, Hong Kong’s metro. I was talking with Adrian Wong, and friend in Hong Kong, about capitalism in Hong Kong. In theory Hong Kong practises one of the purest forms of laissez faire free market capitalism of anywhere in the world, yet it has decent free-at-delivery health care, excellent public transport and much social housing (though perhaps not so good). Tax is Hong Kong is negligible, though not at tax-haven rates. This can be afforded because the Hong Kong government acts like a business, letting but never selling the most expensive of all commodities, land. But this struck me as a deviation from the Neo Liberalism developed by Thatcher and Reagon – they sold off everything the state owned for a fraction of what it was worth (something the German government is also planning to do), referred to as selling of the family silver.

Shenzhen is a city of superlatives. As China’s first SEZ (Special Economic Zone) it was here that China experimented with capitalism, or ‘socialism with chinese characteristics’ as they call it. Shenzhen is part of the Pearl River Delta – a collection of cities which make up the biggest manufacturing base in the world.  Shenzhen developed from a fishing village, with a population in 1979 of just 20000, its population has grown to 14million, just 2 million of whom have a permanent address. Funnily enough, in the OCAT there was an exhibition of films made in a factory, this time CCTV type footage above each workers table, coupled with an installation of factory sewing machines in the huge gallery. It could be difficult to fill that space its huge.

My mission in Hong Kong was also to shoot video in a port, although I was able to record more than I’d thought possible in Huang Pu. Asking around hadn’t produced too many suggestions, so I went down to the container base to see what I could see. Its possible to see quite a bit just from the perimeter fence actually, but there were a couple of buildings with trucks whizzing through them (like multi-story car parks) which looked like they should have had better vantage points, although on apporoaching them, I did have a sinking feeling I wasn’t meant to be there, and would have to James Bond-like smuggle myself in. The trick is trying to look like you know where you’re going, or at least what you’re looking for, in place you’ve never entered before. I wandered down some concrete corridors, but all the men leaving had saftey helmuts and hi-vis tabards, so that wasn’t going to work – about turn. I checked the lifts – on the 7th floor there was a canteen, and a 7-11 – that must be kind of public, right? I couldn’t actually order anything because you needed to pay with a card of some sort, so I strolled straight over to a window seat. The workers in there didn’t seem to care, so I slipped my camera out and wedged it against the window, but the windows still weren’t to clear. I had a brainwave – the toilets, they should have a window I can open, and shut myself in, and they did. I had the shock of my life when I heard the door shut and the lights go out, and screamed ‘hello’. Thank goodness someone was still there, who still seemed not to care. The next day I took metro and taxi round Kowloon and Hong Kong island looking for vantage points. I say I took a taxi, a taxi driver persuaded me in broken English that he knew a place with great views of the container base, which it would have been, had it not been obstructed by trees. I didn’t feel completely cheated, but it was a waste of 50HK$ and an hour and a half. The container base is amazing, its just like children’s building blocks, but 100 times the size and the blocks are delivered all over the world; and somewhere in there were my 1000 toys with the new constitution, on their way home.

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Where are the clothes?

Posted by mrdemocracy on 05,09,2008

We had another scare (there’s basically one a day) – Marco called to say the clothes weren’t there. After calls to Mr Shao and Ms Chen (from the company from whom Mr Shao buys his toys, but not actually the toy factory owners), we establish that the delivery company left the box at the depot. Marco and the delivery company try to persuade me to go and get it. Quite apart from the fact that I’ve paid them to deliver it, its a complete waste of time – there are no good maps and I’ll never find this place. So after hours of persuasion, Marco relents and goes, although its only (in theory 15 mins from his company). We arrange to meet up after at the installation factory, his colleague shows me the way there.

Marco arrives an hour an a half late, having walked for miles. He’s pissed off with the delivery company, they just told him ‘near the bus station, just go straight’. Indeed, it was straight, but about 2 miles ‘straight’. It has the positive affect of making me realise that this sort of thing happens to everyone here not just me. What is still hard to understand the reaction – there was no acknowledgement by the delivery company that this was wrong, giving him useless directions and making him walk 2 miles.

Anyway, it was another great day being able to see the installation factory. Bear in mind this factory really was just working to complete my order, re-wiring each doll with the new chip, DC socket and switch. They also had to test each one, which I had failed to anticipate – that meant all the time you could hear ‘Consti, constit, Constitution for the United Kingdom of Gre…’!! It was comical, and made complete sense for the project.

I was disappointed to see that the boxes were damaged, with not just scuff and crushes, but holes too, don’t know how that happened. We discussed it with Marco, and I won’t go into the detail, but there was trying to decide who was responsible – the toy factory, the transporters, or the factory that received the goods for not noticing until now. I accepted pretty quickly that we weren’t going to get any more from Mr Shao or Ms Chen (also she was more helpful), so it was up to Marco and me. I offered to go 50 50 on some new boxes, and he agreed, remarkably easy. All a bit silly really – I’m more worried about the booxes being damaged than the toys the boxes are meant to protect. It might have been better to pack all the toys together and have 1000 boxes left flatpacked to be assembled in the UK, in good condition.

We also spent several hours trying out one ‘mainline’ – the power lead connecting all the toys together, so that they could all be run off the mains (saving the need to change batteries). In the end the design was incredibly simple, just a 30cm length of thin wire connected to the next by a connector – the type used to connect a lightbulb wire to the mains wire. There is then a DC socket coming of each of these connectors aswell, which plugs into the toy. At the end of these (100) wires is a mains power convertor. It was exciting to get all the toys laid out and plugged in… but sad to see that it wasn’t going to work. The voice chips went out of sink very quickly, and after less than 10 seconds you couldn’t make out a word. I then tried it with just 2, and even they went out of sink fast, and became inaudible. Marco seemed dissappointed too, which he should – this was a big part of what we had discussed since the start. The electrical engineers had said it would work. I wasn’t at all annoyed really – it just didn’t work. I was much more annoyed that the delivery company had failed to deliver the toys and made Marco walk 2 miles to pick them up.

What was also really different here was spending 4 hours in the factory, recording and then trying to get the mainline working. It was different to be working with Marco, we were trying to solve the problems together, and the people from the factory too, whereas before I’d been more of a customer.

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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.

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Posted by mrdemocracy on 03,08,2008

Today I met the three people who have drafted the conversation, and we talked about it and the whole project. It was satisfying – we had farily in depth discussions that I’m not sure we would otherwise have had. Since recording the voices of the writers, they decided they would prefer it if I didn’t use their real names. Actually one of them was much more cautious than the other two, who I think wouldn’t have minded. It does seem a shame to do this, it actually reinforces the idea that there isn’t political freedom in China. Now, this is of course the case, but it is changing, and most of the Chinese I met are keen to change China’s image. To add to the cultural gap, some of the people I met also had an out of date understanding of our impression of China, I explained that the main impression repeatedly given by the western media is breakneck development and a lack of human rights. I described our impression (dare I say ‘our’?) of China as it being like a train, a little rickety, travelling at great speed, not all the track layed out in front of it. They found this a nice image, and not unaccurate.

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Its here! The New Constitution!

Posted by mrdemocracy on 29,07,2008

The constitution has just arrived by email from the translator in Shanghai, and here were my first reactions to it:

1. Corrections. Should I correct the english? Some/most mistakes I want to leave because they are integral to the document being foreign written. On the other hand, some of them are in some way offensive to Chinese people, as they are non-pc.

2. Should I ask them to re-write parts where I would like something else? Probably not, but its difficult. I have lots of opinions on this matter, thats why I made the project. I chose to give up this power, to see what happens. The first example is the monarchy.

3. Trying to work out what were the writer’s motivations – did he write as he thought the UK is, or the best for us, or the best for us through (in his opinion) the official Chinese view? I chose not to direct him too much, but notice that actually, I would have prefered it for the project if he’d written something which he felt showed a Chinese view (though impossible not to – I was saying to Gracie that we are all products of our upbringing and environments, and you can see this in the language and the translation).

One example which I spotted, just by reading a random part, was something about exclusions (from voting rights?) for ‘criminals and insanities’. We would say the ‘mentally ill’ (would we??) and they would not be excluded – are they? I think it is important to us, even though we don’t get it right, to include people in this way. It shows some cultural difference, a gap, and the limitations of giving up our responsibility to work on our constitution ourselves.

4. The following are refered to: ‘the Country’, ‘the Kingdom’, and ‘the Society’, but not what we would call ‘the State’.

5. I thought the constitution might be quite radical, giving us freedoms, and curtailing the power of the state. It does the opposite…e.g. Demonstrations must be registered, and the freedom of assembly is prefaced with the word ‘peaceful’. Of course they must be peaceful, but those who have demonstrated know, all too often it is the police who are responsible for violence, giving reason to end the demonstration. Those who break the peace are of course breaking the law and must be arrested, but the right to demonstrate of all cannot be infringed so easily. I hoped!!! But its fun reading it.

6. Doh! We already got rid of these hereditary fools, they just came back. The whole document is quite conservative, I don’t think they’ve attempted to write any ideal system for the UK. But then, thats not what I expected. I happy with the result of this arms length and subcontraction, its produced interesting results.

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We need a new one…

Posted by mrdemocracy on 03,04,2008

Looking a bit tatty. Magna Carta, 1215.


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