Everyone, I implore you to PLEASE read this extremely important New York Times article from about a week ago. There’s a set of short videos that go along with it – cartoons – that I urge you to watch too.
The cartoons seem, at first glance, short, silly, and needlessly violent – no different then most of the cartoons I watched when I was a kid. But they feel different, no? Darker? Cartoons I grew up on could be much the same way (the jarring “Ren and Stimpy” being the perfect example). But once I was done suspending my disbelief in their slapstick world, I walked away entertained, but little else. These cartoons have an strange staying power, and an urgent need to be seen. Watch them for youself and be the judge, but my bet is you’ll feel much the same way afterwards – the fact that they’re all in Mandarin Chinese will not matter at all.
The frightening urgency of these cartoons is the product of their being made in China, a nation that has become remarkably dangerous for both artists and those looking to speak out against their government. Of course, many artists in China today have made it their mission to do just that – animator and cartoonist Pi San being one of them. Rather than use picket signs and marches to speak out against those in power, Pi San uses both his drawings and the internet as his weapons. He and web-saavy contemporaries such as blogger Wen Yunchao, whom the New York Times article is about, have recently been working to take a stand using laughter and satire, in the hopes that comedy will mobilize the massive Chinese citizenry to action against their own government. The article’s author Brook Larmer speaks to the surprising power men like Wen Yunchao and Pi San have had in recent months, saying rightly that being laughed at can be a ruler’s greatest fear.
Disturbingly, the Chinese government has made it near impossible for these artists to reach people at all. Larmer’s article details the circuitous process of these two posting a satirical cartoon or message on a website akin to Youtube or Twitter, it’s popularity spreading like wildfire and reaching several million Chinese within hours, and then the cartoon or message disappearing from the internet alltogether. Pi San’s fighting back against this censorship lead him to the decision to flee the country, fearing for his life and the lives of his family members.
As a young artist, reading this article has made me realize that I take my voice for granted – not to mention the fact that I am allowed to have a voice at all. So please, PLEASE read this article – I promise you, it will make you appreciate the freedom given to us in this country to create. Artists in nations like China have made it their mission to fight back against their government and incite change, knowing full well that they could be risking their lives doing so. One wonders what American artists like us would make if we were up against such odds.