Scatological satire and re-education

Those who know satire know that it is rarely far from scatological humor. Swift's "excremental vision" is a prime example, and his lengthy poem on Celia shitting. (Notice the occurrence of "Swift" in the title below.) South Park has done much to, um, fertilize this fruitful ground.

Excrement forces a recognition of its existence -- necessary but unpleasant, common to all humans but hidden from public. It forces ideals to encounter the foulest symbol of material and physiological existence. It is the implacable enemy of decorum, formality, hierarchy and privilege.

The following story is about a person in China, apparently a very good person, who wrote a scatological satire on Bo Xilai, the princeling who is responsible for the Maoist revival in Chongqing and who will probably ride his helicopter onto the Politburo Standing Committee in 2012 (unless he becomes too bold and makes a false step that enables his enemies in the party to cut him down). At the moment his rise seems irrepressible, except for the security threat posed by satirists.

There is a great need for satire in China, where it is severely punishable. The country is so unstable that the hard-left rulers believe greater free speech would result in civil war. Which may be true. But not because of speech.

The purpose of satire is to expose social and political vices, that they may be corrected. China's rulers will not tolerate their vices getting exposed. But concealment cannot succeed forever.

Scatological Mockery of Chinese Official Brings Swift Penalty

Published: June 8, 2011


BEIJING — Apparently dismayed by the considerable political power of Bo Xilai, the fast-rising Communist Party leader in the south-central Chinese city of Chongqing, Fang Hong went online in April to express his views about Mr. Bo’s regard for the rule of law — comparing it, in a stanza of crude verse, to excrement.

As a result, Mr. Fang, 45, a retired forestry worker, is serving a year’s sentence in a Chongqing re-education-through-labor camp.

His travails, which became known only this week, are a cautionary tale for anyone thinking about belittling party leaders. Particularly since the Middle East erupted in democratic revolts this year, China’s rulers have dealt ever more harshly with anything they deem a threat to stability, even while permitting freewheeling commentary on other issues.

But Mr. Fang also picked an especially prominent official to mock. Mr. Bo, Chongqing’s populist party secretary, is widely seen as aiming for a spot in the nation’s ruling elite when China’s leadership turns over next year. He has made a national splash with theatrical political stunts, including an ordered-from-the-top revival of Mao-era songs and pageantry, and a bare-knuckles crackdown on corruption that some critics have called overzealous.

It was the anticorruption campaign that Mr. Fang challenged, and which drew the state’s swift retribution.

As reported this week by Britain’s Financial Times, Mr. Fang apparently went online to satirize Chongqing’s prosecution of Li Zhuang, a well-known lawyer who had defended one of the leading targets of Mr. Bo’s war on corrupt officials and their gangs of backers. Mr. Li was convicted of perjury and spent 18 months in prison, but a range of critics complained that the prosecution had framed him for opposing Mr. Bo’s campaign, and that the case underscored the degree to which politics had trumped the rule of law.

Mr. Fang posted his scatological criticism on April 21 on the Chinese social network Tencent. In it, he compared the case against Mr. Li to excrement that Mr. Bo had handed to his underlings for delivery to Mr. Li — who then returned it, with emphasis, to Mr. Bo. For good measure, Mr. Fang’s online post made a crude sexual pun on Mr. Bo’s name.

On his microblog, Mr. Fang had commented on supposed miscarriages of justice many times before, but the reaction to his April post was swift. Censors ordered the post deleted the next day.

An account by Mr. Fang’s son Fang Di, posted on the Web site of a Chongqing lawyer, Chen Youxi, details what followed. The elder Mr. Fang was invited to visit the local police station for a talk, his house was placed under surveillance and his electricity and gas were shut off. On April 24, he was detained. And on April 25 he was shipped to a prison for re-education through labor, a punishment meted out to small-time criminals and political miscreants by police officials without judicial oversight.

Mr. Fang’s last post appeared on April 25. It was a message to the lawyer, Mr. Chen, who has written about Li Zhaung’s trial. It reads, “Hello, are you there? I’m looking for you. There is an extremely important matter.”

Attempts to reach Fang Di were unsuccessful. A post on an Internet site related to human rights, Weiquan Wang, says that Fang Di vanished Tuesday afternoon after notifying his lawyer that he was at an office of the local public security police.

Most Internet references to the Fangs’ situation appear to have been erased by censors, but a few survive. In one of them, a political science professor at Beijing’s prestigious Renmin University, Zhang Ming, repeated the crude word that Mr. Fang used to describe the Li Zhuang case.

Then he added: “Excuse me, Chongqing police. Please re-educate me through labor.”

Jonathan Kaiman contributed research.

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