The following originally appeared in Black Rim #1
Last December I had the chance to travel to Wuhan with some other members of the Beijing Anarchist Study Group. Wuhan, which is known as the birthplace of Chinese punk, spawned a small network of anarcho-leaning youths with a strong desire for autonomy and free expression. This is the same scene that produced the magazine Chaos, which is probably the first anarchist publication to come out of mainland China in fifty years. Chaos carried articles on the situationists, green anarchy, and ran translations of Kropotkin, all alongside reports from domestic and international punk scenes. Though now defunct, it’s final issue was a complete translation of Crimethinc’s Fighting for our Lives. It ambitiously tackled political issues, which is all the more impressive considering the repressive national context. The fact that the magazine wasn’t suppressed (though it was printed illegally) is a sign of a thawing of anarchism in China, which has laid dormant since the Communist takeover.
MD, who edited Chaos, is now in the process of cultivating a social center in the countryside just outside of Wuhan. Together with some friends he found a large house with cheap rent right next to a hog farm. In Chinese they call it我们家, which means “our house”, or Desiree Social Center, in English. MD had extended an invitation to us in Beijing so that we could come see what was happening and how we could help. We gave some talks on topics like Chinese leftism, D.I.Y., anarchist theory, and the Zapatistas. These were all decent but what was really needed was a frank discussion on logistics and desire. We eventually got around to why the social center was formed.
MD explained that the Desiree Social Center was created in response to the general oppression of youth in Chinese society. Young Chinese people are forced into a schooling system that burdens them with intense competition. The Chinese school system instructs students that in order to get a good job and have a fulfilling life, the only option is to forfeit one’s childhood to test preparations and grueling study regimens. Yet, the portion of students who make it into one of the country’s colleges is incredibly small. Not only the educational system, but also the traditional notions of patriarchy and filial piety constrict young people in China. In fact, MD sees these forms of familial oppression as the root problems in Chinese society.
The people in Wuhan got into punk rock because it was a way for them to move beyond the confines of family and society. In the beginning, the Wuhan scene had all the best elements of the punk ethos: freedom, equality, transgressive communication, and ruthless anti-commercialism. As it got older, the scene got staler, until it is now a parody of its former rebelliousness. Now all the bands just want to make it big. The social center, on the other hand, is an attempt to reconnect to the roots of their rebelliousness, to organize resistance, and to create a space with meaning.
The center still struggles with its daily operations, as WF, one of the people who lives there, pointed out. Nobody involved in the center has ever tried something like this before. They get no money from operating the space; they don’t sell anything. The center is out in the countryside and the distance from the city gives some people reservations about going out there for events at night. This isn’t to mention the freezing cold of a winter without heat and the scorching heat of Wuhan’s summers. In some appreciable ways, they’re making it happen in the face of a lot of adversity.
Still, they’d like to learn from the experiences that other people have had with social centers. They want to be put in contact with anyone who can show them solidarity and mutual aid. If you’d like to contact the project, they list information on their website, http://a-desiree-social-center-wuhan.noblogs.org/. They can also be emailed at river.under.the.sun (a) gmail.com