Title: Beijing Coma
Author: Ma Jian (English translation by Flora Drew)
On 18 August 2019, US President Donald Trump warned China against carrying out ‘another Tiananmen Square’ on Hong Kong’s growing number of pro-democracy protesters. Ma Jian’s Beijing Coma looks back to these protests which now took place over 30 years ago. Beijing Coma is a timely reminder of the importance of freedom of assembly and expression, of the harrowing damage that can be inflicted when these rights are not respected, and of the need to carry on fighting for and protecting these fundamental human rights.
The book alternates between a present day and the volatile weeks after the death of pro-reform Communist general secretary Hu Yaobang in April 1989. The protagonist of the story is Dai Wei, who was shot in the head during the government crackdown against the Tiananmen protesters. Although seemingly comatose, Dai Wei’s mind remains conscious and alert to his surroundings in his mother’s apartment. Trapped in the present, we are taken through Dai Wei’s past: from the letters from his father sentenced to 22 years of labour due to ‘anti-Communist’ activities, to dropping out of school; to attending and becoming politicised at a university in Guangzhou. We learn about Dai Wei’s classmates, love interests, and even the strangers around him: all of whom Dai Wei ultimately witnesses being subjected to horrors and violent ends when the crackdowns escalate. In the present, whilst his former classmates leave their pasts behind them to get rich in a rapidly developing China, Dai Wai himself remains trapped and subjected to abuses: from starvation and sexual abuse, to having his organs trafficked for cash.
The author still however stresses that Dai Mei is ‘a strong, resilient person; who remembers’. Only memory, Ma states, can ultimately help people regain the brightness of freedom. This underlying message strikes as prominent even today. Beijing Coma, therefore, can be read as an inspiring and optimistic novel, one with particular value when viewed against the present situations today.
Title: 13th (2016)
Director: Ava DuVernay
13th, an American documentary film directed by Ava DuVernay, opens with a hard-hitting statistic. ‘The United States’, states former President Barack Obama, ‘is home to 5% of the world’s population but 25% of the world’s prisoners’. This is ever the more concerning when we consider that African American citizens are incarcerated at more than 5 times the rate of white Americans. This film takes it name from the 13th amendment of the US Constitution, which officially abolished slavery in 1865. As the film delves through centuries-old history of institutional racism in the US, however, the irony and loopholes of the amendment makes itself clear to the viewer. 13th demonstrates how stigmatisation stemming from history and deliberate blind spots regarding involuntary servitude has resulted in American society systematically criminalising and denouncing its African American citizens as ‘low-status individuals’.
The film starts with the period of Reconstruction in the US; when white Southern civilians no longer could use the structural underpinning of slavery to support their economy. The end of slavery led instead to the ‘mythology of black criminality’, intiliased by Southern states criminalising minor offenses, arresting freedmen and forcing them to work when they could not pay fines. After exploring how this deteriorated into the lynchings and racism of the Jim Crow era, DuVernay then moves into the passage of civil rights legislation in the 1960s and the Republican party’s infamous ‘war on drugs’. Mass incarceration of ‘drug addicts’ and ‘criminals’ from the 1970s for political purposes resulted in demonization of minority and poor demographics, fears of minorities by whites, and excessive police brutality against African American and other minority communities. Such history has all accumulated in the police violence and deaths against African Americans ongoing today in the US.
Although the tangled, dark history of systematic racism explored in 13th is to an extent unique to the US, this film is a must-watch for anyone with an interest in minority rights. It clearly and convincingly demonstrates that the state is not always fair or impartial: it implements bias and discrimination in ways that might not be immediately apparent from an outside perspective. For those who don’t have time to watch the whole of Netflix’s more recent series When They See Us (on the Central Park Five), 13th is a condensed and fascinating insight on how the past has created our present, and how we can act today for a better future.
강문숙 강민승 곽병수 구명진 구자승 구정우 권오승 김갑유 김고은 김광일 김도형 김동혁 김민서 김민지 김수영 김영자 김자원 김종엽 김태령 김혁(1) 김혁(2) 김현호 김형근 류성호 류호근 문대원 박범진 박정훈 박창현 박현준 박혜란 배명호 백범석 서창우 서창희 손교명 송영훈 송진원 심재경 양기웅 엄영선 오다건 원재천 원준표 유연우 유윤정 윤대웅 윤웅상 이다정 이미숙 이선이 이성원 이성현 이연재 이영환 이용진 이용훈 이은경 이재천이정국 이진영 이진화 이철호 임유철 장근호 장동진 전명옥 정사명 정성윤 조규완 조산새 조수아 조용노 조윤영 조지영 제강호 지연숙 최서린 최치훈 한지민 허 선 황선영 황원희 황유정 황태희
(주)노아종합상사, (주)대덕휴비즈, (주)파라다이스, (주)부원공업, (주)디자인210, 의료법인 오해븐의료재단, 트리코인베스트먼트(주), 재단법인 정암, 고고밴, 일동제약(주) 및 임직원 일동, 한국외국인학교, 디자인스튜디오, 주)네오아이오티, (주)사운드파이브코리아, 고양국제고 보담, 대원 휴라시아, 숭의 휴라시아, 애인, 하나 휴라시아, H.A.S, HATS, Human Acts, Hyehwa Human Asia, K.I.H.A, K.I.S.J, S.A.W, S.C.C.W, Volhumteer, Ms. Rights, 청심휴라시아