‘Pornographic artist’ arrest bares legal loophole

Beijing-based performance artist Cheng Li, 57, was sentenced to one year of “re-education through labor” for “disturbing public order” on Friday by Tongzhou district branch of the Municipal Public Security Bureau, according to Cheng’s lawyer, Wang Zhenyu.

Cheng’s detention is linked his work entitled Sensitive Times at the Songzhuang Art Zone in Tongzhou district on March 20, where he showed a couple simulating sexual intercourse on the balcony and in the basement of the Beijing Museum of Contemporary Art, which Cheng claimed an expression of how art  had “sold out” and “anyone can do it.”

The case brings to light “re-education through labor” sentences, a system of administrative detention handed down by the public security bureau rather than through the judicial system, a common practice which lawyers claim is not codified in the Chinese Constitution.

Wang told the Global Times on Sunday that Cheng looks for “chance in court to elaborate on his work,” as the artist’s detention continues to cause disturbances on and off the Internet.

According to the official documentation issued to relatives by the Tongzhou district detention center last Thursday, Cheng was detained for “holding a pornographic performance in public” and “disturbing public order.”

Wang argues the piece was performed in private for “a select group people in a specific location without violating public morals,” while those present expressed the audience consisted of art professionals who viewed the performance as art.

“There was nothing wrong with the piece, which was carried out in an art museum,” said Guo Zhenming, a Songzhuang artist invited to watch Cheng’s performance. “Plus, the people invited were all artists and critics that can fully appreciate modern art.”

Wang is currently preparing to appeal the sentence by collecting statements from artists like Guo to provide interpretations of Cheng’s art that “differ from the police and the general public.”

However, not all artists appreciate Cheng’s work.

“Personally I think being original is part of art, but Cheng’s behavior is not,” said Cang Xin, a noted performance artist who was detained twice in 1994 for nude performances at his residence.

“Performance artists express controversial ideas in an anti-traditional way, but they should also draw some moral boundaries. What if some kids saw [Cheng’s performance] on the balcony?”

According to the Law on Legislation and Law of the People’s Republic of China on Administrative Penalty, such measures and penalties that deprive citizens of their freedom must be codified in law, Zhu Shouquan, chief lawyer and director of the Beijing Chang Ji Law Firm, told the Global Times.

According to Zhu, Cheng’s case falls under the Law on Public Security Administration Punishments, which states that one who holds “obscene performances” shall be detained for no less than 10 days but no more than 15, and that one could additionally be fined no more than 1,000 yuan ($154).

According to his blog, Wang is also applying for Cheng to serve the remainder of his sentence in house arrest after being informed he suffers from heart disease during his most recent visit to the detention center.

He concluded by saying, “the performance hasn’t ended yet.”

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