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Certain Lines Are Not to Be Crossed
   2015-06-15 10:08:26    CRIENGLISH.com      Web Editor: Liu

                                                                                                                                                                                                        Illustrated by Cui Chaoqun

By Liu Yan (About the author)

A friend joked to me the other day, ¡°You know how Wang Feng can finally grab the headlines? Make sure his name and the word ¡®naked¡¯ appear in the same sentence.¡± (In case you don¡¯t get the reference, Wang Feng is a famous singer in China who never seems to grab the headlines because someone always upstages him with a bigger story on the same day.)

It was meant as a joke, but unfortunately, it might have been absolutely true. The recent nude photo incident at the Palace Museum in Beijing is perhaps the best evidence.

On May 17, a previously unknown photographer who goes by the name of wanimal became a national celebrity within hours. What did he do? He took some photos of a naked female model leaning on a white marble handrail and sitting on the head of a marble dragon inside the Palace Museum, and posted them on his Weibo account. The pictures instantly went viral, and soon people found out about wanimal¡¯s real name: Wang Dong. It takes so little (excuse the pun) to become famous, doesn¡¯t it?

I¡¯m not surprised that a naked body can pique so many people¡¯s interest. Come on, who isn¡¯t a voyeur to some extent? But I do believe certain lines should never be crossed. A nude photo shoot in the Palace Museum, or any public space for that matter, is one of them.

Some may argue that it¡¯s no different from artists drawing or painting a naked model. But the thing is, the latter scenario usually happens in a room, or in other words, NOT IN PUBLIC. That¡¯s the key difference. To use a somewhat inappropriate metaphor, if you have sex behind closed doors, of course it¡¯s your own business. But if you have sex in public where anyone can see you, is it okay? I don¡¯t think so. Using the same logic, if Wang Dong was drawing a sketch of that naked model in the Palace Museum, rather than shooting pictures of the said model, would he still receive so much flack? You bet he would. Because, once again, the Palace Museum is a public space.

Some may also argue that this whole venue discussion is irrelevant. The photo shoot didn¡¯t hurt anyone, so neither the photographer nor the model should be held accountable. In fact, Wang Dong used this very argument to defend himself. He insisted the shoot was an act of artistic creation that did not interfere with others.

Well, first of all, ¡°no one got hurt¡± isn¡¯t the same thing as ¡°this is not a mistake¡±. You could make a huge mistake and mess up everything in sight, and still no one got hurt. The phrase ¡°you lucky bastard¡± doesn¡¯t exist in the English language for no reason, you know? The way I see it, if you have done something wrong, you should be held responsible, period. And yes, that means even if your mistake has brought no negative consequences, you should be punished nonetheless.

Second, how about we stick to the law? Under China's Public Security Administration Punishments Law, people who molest others or purposefully appear naked in public shall face five to ten days in police custody. This nude photo shoot very much qualifies as ¡°purposefully appearing naked in public¡±, right?

Third, don¡¯t even get me started on ¡°artistic expression¡±. I love arts and culture, and I¡¯m a firm believer in freedom of speech. After all, I studied journalism in the United States and the First Amendment is practically the cornerstone of every single journalism-related course there. However, the ¡°freedom¡± in ¡°freedom of speech¡± is not absolute. You can¡¯t just stress ¡°I have freedom¡±, and then expect to get away with whatever you do or say. To quote one of my professors, ¡°You can have all the freedom you want when you say something, that¡¯s fine. BUT, after you finish saying it, you have to face the consequences. You could end up in jail. It¡¯s your choice.¡± (That¡¯s exactly why no one can commit a hate crime and chalk it up to ¡°freedom of speech¡±.)

So in this particular case, if Wang Dong was just ¡°expressing his artistic vision¡±, fine, he could have all the freedom of expression he wanted. But now that he¡¯s done, he should also get ready for whatever appropriate punishment coming his way. It¡¯s that simple.

Now, I don¡¯t personally know Wang Dong and it brings me no joy to see him punished, but fair is fair. According to a Beijing News report earlier last week, authorities at the Palace Museum already reported the incident to the police, and it is currently under investigation. Whether Wang Dong is subject to punishment will be decided by the police.

Legal experts are saying the main factor here is whether the photo shoot was authorized by the Palace Museum. If yes, Wang Dong would have no trouble at all. If no, the road ahead might not be so smooth for him. I don¡¯t want to make any assumptions, but one thing is pretty clear: In earlier media reports, the museum said it had not been informed about the shoot in advance, and confirmed that on the morning of May 17, four people involved in an "improper" photo shoot in front of the "Taihe" (the Hall of Supreme Harmony) were told to stop by museum staffers. So there¡¯s that.

I suppose I could also speak in a bureaucratic tone and say things like ¡°The photo shoot harmed public order, social morality and the cultural atmosphere of the museum, as well as profaned the dignity of the cultural relics. Such behavior should be criticized by all of society!¡± and blah blah blah. But I don¡¯t want to.

Instead, I hark back to my original point. Certain lines are not to be crossed in public. Allow me to modify one of the most popular catchphrases in China this year, ¡°y¨¯u qu¨¢n b¨´ k¨§ r¨¨n x¨¬ng¡± (having power doesn¡¯t mean you can do whatever you want). I say, ¡°z¨¤i w¨¤i b¨´ k¨§ r¨¨n x¨¬ng¡± (being in a public space, you can¡¯t do whatever you want). If only everyone could be a bit more considerate of others, this world would be a much better place.


About the Author

Liu Yan is a best-selling author specializing in English learning and popular culture. Among his published works are English - The Real Deal (1 & 2) and Hold On, Sit Tight, Let's Enjoy This Cinematic Ride Together. He is also a long-time columnist for such esteemed magazines as English Language Learning and JoyRide English. In addition, Liu Yan is a commentator on social and cultural issues. He wants people to think of him as a trusted friend who can inform, educate and entertain all at the same time.

The opinions expressed here are only personal, and do not necessarily represent CRI's official policy.

Read all opinion stories by Liu Yan

 

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