Today is the start of Chinese New Year:
Gung Hei Fat Choy!
That’s ‘happy new year’ in my grandparents’ Cantonese dialect. If you’re a Mandarin speaker, you would say:
新 年 快 乐
Xin Nian Kuay Le!
If I were home in California, I’d be spending this time of the year seeing my extended family regularly: Yesterday, for a dinner to close out the old Year of the Tiger, and then today, to celebrate the new Year of the Hare or Rabbit. And then, the weekend after, and a few weeks after, and a bit after that: My Great-Uncle Walt always likes to treat as many family members as possible to a Chinese new year dinner at a restaurant, and he sometimes holds these dinners in March (or later) to make sure everyone can come.
I grew up associating Chinese New Year as being all about family and food; an article in today’s San Francisco Chronicle describes how families today are keeping the customs alive. Now I live and work in New Jersey and my husband and teenage son and I celebrate the New Year very quietly. I’ve always wanted for the three of us to go into Manhattan’s Chinatown and see the parade. But the noise and crowds and all are a bit too much for my son Charlie, who’s on the moderate to severe end of the autism spectrum and (poor guy) coughing and sniffling from a bad cold tonight.
Charlie is minimally verbal, usually speaking in phrases of one to five words. He has not yet been able to tell us when he feels a cold coming on, or if he has a headache or stomachache. He will be 14 years old come May and Jim and I have slowly learned how to understand Charlie’s non-verbal communications, and how to explain what he needs to others. I started blogging back in June of 2006 to advocate for his educational and other needs. While blogging about special education and disability rights will always be my main focus, advocating for Charlie’s rights has led me to become much more interested in issues of politics, health policy, and human rights.
Hence this Chinese New Year post is not about ‘what it means if you were born in the Year of the Rabbit’ (i.e., you’ll be like my beloved dad, who was born some years ago in the Year of the Hare), but about human rights in China and, specifically, a cartoon called Greeting Card for the Year of the Rabbit.
As the Wall Street Journal notes, this is an extremely violent video ‘about a boy who dreams of violent revolution against a corrupt, abusive government.’ The Chinese government recently removed the video from Chinese websites–no surprise there to hear about such censorship. But the surprising thing is that some of those who made the cartoon have identified themselves. The director, Pi San, works at Hutoon, an animation studio in Beijing that also makes cartoons for China Central Television; he has stated that, despite the clearly political content of the cartoon, the video was just a way of ‘venting,’ not a call for political revolt. As he says in the Wall Street Journal:
“I felt this past year was really depressing so I wanted to create this thing for fun.”
In the cartoon, cute big-eyed rabbits are oppressed by an ‘abusive government of tigers.’ As the London Review of Books comments:
The cartoon claims to be ‘meant as an adult fairy tale’, with ‘no connection to real life’, but most of the events it depicts will be familiar to a Chinese audience. It begins with baby rabbits being fed bottled milk: ‘Little rabbit, be good, open your mouth, open it up quickly, and drink up your happy future.’ They turn green, their eyes pop out and their heads explode. In 2008, six infants died and more than 300,000 fell ill after drinking contaminated formula.
When one of the rabbits tries to protest at a political meeting, he is beaten by the tigers. ‘Build a Harmonious Forest,’ the tigers’ banner says, echoing the government’s talk of ‘Building a Harmonious Society’. Then the tigers bulldoze the rabbits’ houses. Any major building works in China – such as the preparations for the 2008 Beijing Olympics or the Shanghai Expo last year – are preceded by forced evictions. Anti-demolition protests have included demonstrators setting fire to themselves, as a rabbit does in the cartoon.
After running over a rabbit in his car, one of the tigers shouts: ‘I’m the son of Tiger Gang!’ Last year a student in Hebei province was run down and killed by the son of the deputy police chief, who warned off security guards by saying: ‘I’m the son of Li Gang!’
At the end of the video, the rabbits grow vampire fangs and attack the tigers. More from the London Review of Books:
The final slogan seems a clear warning to the state that public concern about such issues as food safety, housing and corruption should not be ignored. ‘The year of the rabbit has come. Even rabbits bite when they’re pushed.’
Not your typical Chinese New Year greeting, I’ll admit. But I’m going to hope that, in this New Year of the Rabbit, we can make some progress in advancing the rights of individuals across the globe for freedom, equality, and justice; that we can overcome oppressions by the tigers in power everywhere.
Gung Hei Fat Choy!
新 年 快 乐
Xin Nian Kuay Le!
Image by OnTask.