Learning from Ai Xiaoming
Ai Xiaoming, a documentary filmmaker, literary scholar, and cultural activist is a brave private intellectual. Her work illuminates, especially for Americans who take their freedoms and entitlements as givens, the enormous sacrifice involved in proving that life matters. As she wrote at the end of her May 9 blog "Thinking of My Friends in Prison " (posted on China Digital Times, September 14, 2016 ---http://chinadigitaltimes.net/2014/05/ai-xiaomin-thinking-friends-prison)-------
"Just as the memorial service clichés go: Convert your grief into power; say everything you need to say; keep on walking the road you must travel. Just like the pictures of bodies on Mount Everest I reposted a couple of days ago, these are all road signs, dead bodies along the path to the Everest summit. Just like this, we must trudge on without hesitating, and let those who will come after us come looking for our green boots."
Check Wikipedia for information on "green boots" and think of pictures of bodies on American streets as objective correlatives for all the dead bodies global media invite us to gaze upon.
After reading Ian Johnson's interview with Ai Xiaoming --"The People in Retreat" (NYR Daily, 8 September 2016) and watching a segment of Ai's 2006 film The Epic of the Central Plains, I feel obligated to revise what I had planned to say to colleagues and students in Nanjing later this year about four early films by Spike Lee. The baseball bat of actuality bashed my mind. It is obvious that Ian Johnson has constructed and disseminated a choice bit of American propaganda. It is sobering that he has drawn attention to what Ai says about life issues not being "a purely academic pursuit," about why The Vagina Monologues is significantly alien to her experiences, and about why it is naïve to believe in the goodness of human nature (without deploying a freight train of situational qualifications). The interview shimmers with irony. If Johnson's interview is designed to shame China for being a repressive totalitarian society, it succeeds in shaming the United States of America for being a nation of self-deluded hypocrites. Point one finger at the Other and realize that three fingers are pointing at oneself.
The Age of Trump/Clinton has fully eclipsed the Age of Obama. Americans who can still think critically do know that what happened in Germany in the 1930s and in China in the 1990s can happen in the USA in 2017. Americans who do not know as much shall be shocked awake on November 8. It is prudent to not be taken in by patriotic disinformation. We have much to learn from Ai Xiaoming and other global citizens who reaffirm the importance of Claude McKay's poem "If We Must Die." Eschew stupidity. Arm your mind so as to minimize the probability of your being a pair of green boots in a detention camp.
Jerry W. Ward, Jr. September 14, 2016