November 10, 2012
Four young men in China went into hiding, after posting videos on Weibo showing them tearing up photos of Chairman Mao. It mirrored Sinead O’Connor tearing up a picture of the pope. All of them looked at the huge influence that both figures have on the modern world, and saw it as their right to emphatically disagree with it. Sinead was on the receiving end of death threats, boycotts of her music, and public outrage. Similarly, the young men faced a public fury that saw the online account of one of their girlfriends shut down in an attempt to limit the damage.
For millions of people figures like Chairman Mao or the Pope represent something indelible, a sort of fundamental foundation, so while the West champions freedom of speech and political expression, it seems there’s an unspoken limit – Sinead’s career never did recover from the backlash of that incident. I can imagine it being a Western act of challenging free speech. What surprised me was the fact Chinese youngsters are learning from their western counterparts to express their own opinions in a way that’s almost forbidden in Chinese society.