Kungfu-ing the Censors

The legacy of the 18th Party Congress, the massive governmental meeting whose most famous act saw the unveiling of the next generation of China’s leadership, lives on. Around Christmas-time, a good month-plus after the Party’s Party comes a video that ends the year with a bang.

An anti-censorship video riffing off of Cantopop (and international-pop) superstar Jay Chou‘s “Nunchucks” has been making the rounds. Fans of Chou, (and, perhaps, fans of Seth Rogan) may recognize the song from the film The Green Hornet, in which Chou co-starred; it is one of two of his contributions to the soundtrack. In the hands of photographer Gao Yuan, though, the tune takes a very different tack, beginning with its subtle title, “Censorship You Motherfucker Bitch.”

The Chinese title, “山楂你MLGB,” starts with a play on the word for ‘censorship‘ (“shencha“), employing a near-homonym (“shancha” or “shanzha“). The title’s English acronym, pronounced “ma-le-ge-bi” (and said very fast) is shorthand for “mother’s c*nt” and combined with the character that precedes it, ‘ni,’ or the word for “you” or “your.” So the author has taken a bit of liberty with the English translation of the title: On the one hand, any time a ‘B’ is involved, it dirties things up a fair bit, referring, as it does, in the worst way possible, to that part of a woman’s anatomy that could be worst referred to. On the other hand, the frequency with which that ‘B’ is employed in so much colloquial Chinese (see, for example, niubi, or ‘cow’s c*nt’ as a descriptor for something awesome) dulls each usage slightly. So while a more accurate translation might be something along the lines of “Censor This, Bitch!” or “Censorship My Ass!” the point remains that Gao Yuan is angry. “Go censor your own motherfucking ass” is how he translates the titular phrase mid-song.

Gao’s video continues with the kungfu theme of Jay Chou’s tune, but goes to a much different place. In Chou’s piece, baddies are battled with the skilled use of punches, kicks and the eponymous weapon; his answer to the question many-times-posed in the song, “What to do?,” involves breathing exercises used to strengthen mind and body. Gao Yuan, though, uses weaponry of a different kind, considering, for one, he’s nowhere near as good with the nunchucks as Chou. Gao takes aim at “swine politicians” who “only care about money and power” – at least one of whom have been “terrified” by Gao’s own photos of folks like them. They’ve cancelled festivals, like the Bishan Harvestival, which was held far from the action in the capital, deep in Anhui province and which was to feature, in addition to Gao’s work, good friend to and longtime associate of this blogger, Abigail Washburn. Read a great first-hand account of this year’s non-event at the Asia Society website.

What to do, in Gao’s case? “Stop taking shit from them” and “Stop just sitting and wondering…You go get some courage and a sword.”

A self-described “hobo artist” who has, in addition to the works he cites in the video, taken portraits of a couple of fellow no-goodniks, the singer and songwriter Zuoxiao Zuzhou and his good friend and collaborator Ai Weiwei, Gao certainly now sits firmly alongside them in his overt activism. Having Mr. Ai himself appear, briefly, here, only cements that status. Another nice touch: the book that is taken from the sleeping Ai is “The Way of the Grass-Mud Horse,” a reference to the internet sensation with which netizens reacted to online censorship by inventing an animal named with a homonym for ‘f*ck your mother.’

Enjoy. (China folks can head here for the video, while it lasts…)


Jay Chou’s “Nunchucks”