Linking Art and Protest: The Campaign to Free Dr. Wang BingZhang

Dr.WangBZ_Photo1While China’s newest internet crackdown policy has made the news recently, considered by some as the harshest campaign against pro-democracy voices in Chinese society since the 1989 Tiananmen Massacre, pro-democracy activist Dr. Wang BingZhang continues to languish in a Chinese prison serving his 11th year of a life sentence in solitary confinement.

Wang BingZhang received his PhD in coronary-arterial research at McGill University in Canada while on a Chinese government scholarship. After receiving his degree, he renounced his medical career to dedicate his life to pro-democracy Chinese activism. He found China Spring, the first Chinese magazine in the US devoted to China’s freedom, and also found several democratic parties and organizations. Dr. Wang has been in the custody of the Chinese government since July 3, 2002, after being kidnapped in Vietnam, where he travelled on June 27, 2002 to meet with Chinese labor activists. He was tried secretly on January 22, 2003 in a closed trial that lasted less than a day—violating internationally recognized concepts of due process—and was the first person to be convicted under China’s then new espionage and terrorism laws, which were passed in a post 9/11 anti-terrorism effort. His sentence is the harshest levied on a political prisoner since 1989.

Over the last few weeks, actions across New York City have called for the compassionate release of Dr. Wang. The kick off on September 9th was the staging of an art performance protest in Times Square, entitled “In the Cage with Wang Bingzhang.”  The visual representation of this protest has the possibility of increasing its impact as it draws the attention of the viewer. The first night, Dr. Wang JunTao, Democratic Party of China Leader and an organizer of the Tiananmen Square student movement, sat in the cage with Dr. Wang Bingzhang’s elder sister, Yuhua (Linda), who was visiting from Canada and has not been able to see her brother for over four years due to a visa denial by the Chinese government for reasons they claim are privileged information. Activists and passersby have continued to sit in this simulated ‘prison cage’ day and night, and are slated to do so through week’s end.  They are inviting concerned citizens to come and sit in the cage to show their support. Artist and dissident Ai WeiWei (who has tweeted his support for Wang) has highlighted the role of art in Chinese democracy movements, where art and protest meet in performance.  In this case at least, it seems the art has the potential to strengthen the protest message. Continue reading