I heard today that YouTube was being blocked in China (again) just in time to include it as a discussion point for a lecture that I was giving about contemporary Nonwestern artists. China is not saying why YouTube is blocked but many suspect that it is because of a video that was recently released by the Tibetan government in exile. It purports to show police officers storming a monastery after riots in Lhasa last March, kicking and beating protesters. It includes other instances of brutality and graphic images of a protester’s wounds. According to the video, the protester later died. YouTube Being Blocked in China, Google Says Here is a direct link to the videos on the exiled Tibetan governments website: http://www.tibetonline.tv/torture/
Because of these recent events, I spent a bit more time talking about the Tibetan artist gonkar gyatso as well as censorship in general. Although many of the students had very little knowledge of Tibet or the heavy-handed censorship of Tibetan culture and religion in China, they were very interested in censorship, especially of the internet. The Kuwaiti government also censors the internet and it is even further blocked by many institutions in Kuwait. While the government's official rational for this censorship is presented as a fight against pornography and other evils from the West, even such sites as Skype.com as well as a few dozen popular art sites are also blocked. On my office computer further restrictions are in place and even YouTube and Facebook are not normally allowed (so I apologize if I have not been able to keep in contact with some of you but this is one of the reasons!).
When I asked the students why a government would restrict the internet like this, a great discussion ensued about how governments, and one student even mentioned religions, always try to control people's thoughts. "Keep them stupid, so they are more easily controlled," another student put it.
Perhaps artists, and other ordinary citizens, can not do much against such powerful forces, but at least the students, some who might well become future leaders in government (quite a few students at AUK already have relatives in the government or in the royal family), seemed to see the value in trying.
At least one artist IS having a pretty big impact, and of all places, from within China: