This weekend brought news of protests in Hong Kong against the 3rd April 2011 arrest of Beijing-born art icon Ai Weiwei – veteran of the Beijing East Village movement and artistic consultant (in collaboration with Basel-based architects Herzog & de Meuron) for the ‘Bird’s Nest‘ stadium – for unspecified ‘economic crimes’. At the time of writing, the precise location of Ai, an independent spirit who has sought to ask questions of the authorities in the PRC over awkward subjects such as the poor construction standards evidenced in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, is still unknown.
The Hong Kong protests are indicative of the profound differences that still exist between China and the special administrative region on its south coast. Article 27 of Hong Kong’s Basic Law states: ‘Hong Kong residents shall have freedom of speech, of the press and of publication; freedom of association, of assembly, of procession and of demonstration; and the right and freedom to form and join trade unions, and to strike.’ And, despite nearly a decade and a half of ultimate accountability to Beijing, freedom of expression in Hong Kong is generally well-respected.
Hong Kong’s proximity to southern China means that residents in the latter can receive television stations based in the former; moreover, as China becomes increasingly connected to the global flow of information and ideas – SIM penetration is expected to reach 84% by 2015, and the country is estimated to spend around 2 billion hours online per day by this date – it will be interesting to see if the PRC can maintain the Great Firewall of China and shut out developments – not least those happening on its own doorstep – in quite the same way as it has tried to up to now. The case of Ai Weiwei has already shown that in an age of borderless information, the clean distinction implied by the mantra ‘One Country, Two Systems’ might be rather more blurry than once anticipated.
Filed under Culture, News