2008-10-24

Hu Jia wins Sakharov Prize

Hu Jia, a Chinese human rights activist now serving a jail term imposed by China's government, has been awarded the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought by the European Union. The move has been hailed as a fitting tribute to the courage of Mr Hu and a triumph of principle over politics on the part of European lawmakers.

The Washington Post report by Ariana Eunjeng Cha:

The European Parliament on Thursday awarded its top human rights prize to jailed Chinese dissident Hu Jia despite warnings from China that its relations with the 27-nation bloc would be seriously damaged if it did so.

In selecting Hu to receive the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, the European lawmakers said they are "sending out a signal of clear support to all those who support human rights in China." Hu has advocated for the rights of Chinese citizens with HIV/AIDS and chronicled the arrest, detention and abuse of other activists.

The award honors Andrei Sakharov, a Soviet physicist and Nobel Peace Prize winner who was a leader in the country's pro-democracy opposition party.

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"Hu Jia is one of the real defenders of human rights in the People's Republic of China," European Parliament President Hans-Gert Poettering said in announcing the award.

When Hu was revealed earlier this month to be among the three finalists for the Sakharov Prize, China's ambassador to the European Union, Song Zhe, sent a letter to Poettering asking him to use his influence to make sure Hu did not win. She said honoring Hu "would inevitably hurt the Chinese people and once again bring serious damage to China-EU relations."

"Not recognizing China's progress in human rights and insisting on confrontation will only deepen the misunderstanding between the two sides," Song wrote.

Hu, 35, has been speaking out for the rights of Chinese since his college days, when he was active in several environmental organizations. In 2000, he began pushing for better treatment of people suffering from AIDS and orphans who lost parents to the disease. His efforts were focused on Henan province, where thousands were infected in the 1990s through unsafe blood transfusions. Hu has said that through his work on behalf of AIDS patients, he began to see larger abuses by the Chinese government and started to chronicle the harassment and detention of activists.

In the lead-up to the Olympics, Hu used the Internet to report on abuses related to preparations for the games. Chinese authorities arrested Hu at his home in Beijing in December on charges of subverting state authority through the articles he published online and through interviews with the foreign press.

In April, he was sentenced to 3 1/2 years in prison and has been in government custody ever since. Human rights groups have called for his release, saying that his arrest was politically motivated and that his trial did not follow due process.

Yu Jie, a writer whose banned books have challenged the Communist Party's view on such controversial topics as the 1989 confrontations in Tiananmen Square, said that the E.U. took a bold stand Thursday that places human rights over politics in China. "In the short-term, the bilateral relationship between the two will be intense because the Chinese government needs to protect its face," Yu said.

Calls to the mobile phone of Zeng Jinyan, Hu's wife, went unanswered Thursday, and the phone appeared to have been turned off. In her most recent blog entry, dated Oct. 23, Zeng did not mention the award but provided a summary of her 30-minute meeting with her husband Wednesday. She said he still had not been allowed to take hot showers but had not been assigned to labor, and that he had been studying every day.

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Her note on Sept. 25 was more emotional. "I learned that because Hu Jia had spoken about human rights with the other prisoners, on Aug. 13 he was placed in hand and foot shackles and held in solitary confinement for 24 hours," she wrote. Zeng went on to say that she confronted the prison guards about the situation, but they said that they had created "the most comfortable physical circumstances" for Hu because of his health. Hu suffers from liver disease and needs medication on a daily basis. She said she was urged to "to write about more felicitous aspects of society in my letters to my husband, so as to expedite his return to a normal life in society."

Zeng, who has also been active in speaking out for human rights, and the couple's infant daughter were taken from Beijing the day before the Opening Ceremony of the 2008 Olympics on Aug. 8. They were allowed to return in early September.

When Hu's name came up as a possible front-runner for the Nobel Peace Prize this month, Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang called Hu a "criminal." Qin repeated similar remarks Thursday afternoon, saying of the Sakharov Prize decision that China expresses its "strong dissatisfaction and objection" and that it is a "plot to intervene in Chinese internal affairs."

Human Rights Watch, an advocacy group, said the selection of Hu "sends a powerful message to the Chinese government."

"Beijing pledged to improve human rights and to show the world a 'harmonious society' during the Olympics, but instead silenced and locked up peaceful rights defenders," Sophie Richardson, Asia advocacy director for the group, said in a statement

Researchers Zhang Jie and Liu Liu in Beijing contributed to this report.


Profile of Mr Hu and Ms Zen (Human Rights Watch)

Open Letter for Human Rights Reform
An appeal signed by Mr Hu and 41 of his colleagues in China.

The Real China and The Olympics
A call for human rights reform released by Mr Hu in 2007.

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2008-10-17

Oedipus in Everyone

Ralph Fiennes, the actor perhaps best known internationally for his work in films like The English Patient and Schindler's List, is now tackling the role of Oedipus the King in the iconic play by Sophocles. The new stage production by Frank McGuinness opened in London's National Theatre on October 14 and runs until January 4.

The Times Online offers a discussion between Fiennes and psychoanalyst Adam Phillips. Together they explore the work's lasting power and the risks involved in intimacy, curiosity, relationships and self-confrontation.

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2008-10-05

'The Bonesetter's Daughter' in Review

The Bonesetters Daughter, a new opera by Stewart Wallace based on the novel and libretto by Amy Tan, recently enjoyed its premier production by the San Francisco Opera.

The opera's story spans three generations. The narrative begins in 1997 with the story of Ruth (sung by Zheng Cao), a native Californian, and traces back through the years the story of her immigrant Chinese mother LuLing (sung by Ning Liang), and LuLing's mother, Precious Auntie (Qian Yi). Other characters introduced in the story include Chang the Coffin Maker (Hao Jiang Tian), Ruth's husband Art (James Maddalena) and a Taoist priest (Wu Tong). In the process, ghosts and skeletons of all kinds are uncovered, and the importance of story in preserving memory is affirmed.

Here are links to reviews, generally in the order of detail offered:


More links to related stories may be found at The Opera Critic.

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2008-10-04

Grey and Black: A Tale of Two Audiences

Diane Haithsman investigates the myth of 'the greying audience' for classic music in America in this weekend's Los Angeles Times. Classic music is thriving. Audiences for classic music have been growing for years. At the same time, she reports, this audience does skew older than the general population. It always has.

"A colleague of mine says the audience isn't graying -- it's always been gray," says Teresa Eyring, executive director of Theatre Communications Group, a national service organization for American nonprofit theaters.

Marc Scorca, president and chief executive of Opera America, a nonprofit service organization, grumbles that journalists who pontificate about the graying audience see more gray hair because they've been comped into the most expensive seats, the ones young adults can't afford. "I always encourage photographers and writers to go upstairs and see who's there," Scorca observes.

That said, Scorca is among many who cite two logical reasons for a noticeable lack of young adults in all seats. Quite simply, ticket prices can be steep -- and even if they have the money, young people often don't have the time. People in their 20s, he says, are late-night clubbing or off on ski weekends. The question for them is seldom, "Dude, where's my 'Carmen'?" And people in their 30s may be consumed with toddlers and careers.

More highbrow entertainment doesn't generally get on the agenda "until someone on this trajectory gets to be in their mid-40s, when the kids are old enough to leave on their own and the knees won't take the skiing and they want to be home by 11 o'clock at night," Scorca says.

And, despite all the hand-wringing over youth, performing arts organizations need patrons who have the time and wherewithal to commit to subscription packages instead of the last-minute single-ticket purchases favored by younger audiences. "It's more expensive to sell single tickets," says John Tavenner, director of marketing for Los Angeles Opera, because finding single-ticket buyers often involves display ads or radio or TV promotion instead of mailing or telemarketing to the usual subscription base.

Susan Medak, managing director of Berkeley Repertory Theatre, notes that 20 years ago, busy parents were 20 to 40 years old. Now that group is aged 30 to 50 -- suggesting that those who are "too young" to have time for live performance are no spring chickens themselves.

Medak's theater can boast success in attracting the youth audience. She says that for the last several years, 20% of Berkeley Rep's single-ticket buyers have been under 30. Still, she points out that being older can deepen the theater experience. "While pop music and TV is really geared toward a specific generational moment, in theater, the older you get, the more points of entry you have to the material," she says. "You have more life experience, and, frankly, more history of seeing other work that gives you a larger context."

The complete article may be viewed at the Los Angeles Times web site.

Culture is a factor here. As Scorca and others confirm, popular life patterns--characteristic ages at which persons finish their education, get married and raise children--are involved. So are economic issues such as income and the price of tickets.

In Taiwan as elsewhere in Asia the classic music audience is overwhelmingly black-haired. And a high percentage of that audience wears school uniforms. Classic music concerts hold great appeal for children of minor age who are themselves studying piano or violin or voice. They often know someone on stage personally (frequently, their teacher) and enjoy being 'in the know' about everything they see happen during a concert. Obviously, the concerts appeal to their parents as well. Some cultural factors involved? Lack of urban sprawl and the availability of public transportation make it easy for young families to attend a concert and get home by 11. Relatively low ticket prices make concerts an affordable option for families. Arts organizations in Taiwan are generally less dependent than their American counterparts on subscription ticket sales. Widespread availability of music education for elementary age children is, of course, a huge factor. Another ingredient is the high number of professionally performing musicians who are simultaneously active as teachers.

What will the future bring? It will be interesting to see. And hear.

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