Eight Wine: Bottling Wine as Political Resistance

by    /  June 16, 2017  / Comments Off on Eight Wine: Bottling Wine as Political Resistance

Image shared by Zoe Li on Twitter, creating a visual parallel between the four creators of the wine and the “tank man” on their own wine bottle.

June is a very unwelcome month for Beijing government, it is sealed with shame, fear, and hysterics. This year a bottle of wine has gotten on the rough nerves of the powerful rulers. The damn culprit is the so-called “Eight Liquor June Fourth” wine. In Chinese, liquor or wine has the same phonetic as nine. So the wine’s name is “8964”, indicating the June 4th incident in 1989. It was produced by four guys in Sichuan province. On the label of the wine are the two big Chinese characters: REMEMBER. Beside the name of the wine it reads: never forget, never give up; stored for 27 years, 64%. A year ago, in May 2016, the four citizens in Chengdu, Fu Hailu, Chen Bing, Zhang Junyong and Luo Fuyu, created this wine and baptized it with the unusual name. The sale price for a double pack is 89,64 ¥. The intention of the four men, reminding people of the June 4th massacre in Beijing in 1989, led very soon to their arrest, actually right in the same month.

One year later on March 2017, “inciting subversion of state power” was their official accusation, a very serious charge for political prisoners. Beijing never fails to deliver such kind of political farce to the international audience. As perpetrator of the massacre, the government tried to seal the mouth of the people, to silence the media, and has zero tolerance to any effort by mentioning that tragedy. Yet, the June Fourth-complex is deeply rooted in the head of Chinese people, who witnessed that summer-slaughter 28 years ago. The history is an accumulation of the common memory of humankind. Each dictatorship wants to delete its own criminal record, in vain though.

  1. Blind Chess, a column by Tienchi Martin-Liao
  2. During the Cultural Revolution, people were sentenced to death or outright murdered because of one wrong sentence. In China today writers do not lose their lives over their poems or articles; however, they are jailed for years. My friend Liu Xiaobo for example will stay in prison til 2020; even winning the Nobel Peace Prize could not help him. In prison those lucky enough not to be sentenced to hard labor play “blind chess” to kill time AND TO TRAIN THE BRAIN NOT TO RUST. Freedom of expression is still a luxury in China. The firewall is everywhere, yet words can fly above it and so can our thoughts. My column, like the blind chess played by prisoners, is an exercise to keep our brains from rusting and the situation in China from indifference.
  3. Tienchi Martin-Liao
  4. Tienchi Martin-Liao is the president of the Independent Chinese PEN Center. Previously she worked at the Institute for Asian Affairs in Hamburg, Germany, and lectured at the Ruhr-University Bochum from 1985 to 1991. She became head of the Richard-Wilhelm Research Center for Translation in 1991 until she took a job in 2001 as director of the Laogai Research Foundation (LRF) to work on human rights issues. She was at LRF until 2009. Martin-Liao has served as deputy director of the affiliated China Information Center and was responsible for updating the Laogai Handbook and working on the Black Series, autobiographies of Chinese political prisoners, and other human rights books. She was elected president of the Independent Chinese PEN Center in October 2009 and has daily contact with online journalists in China.

The history of June fourth has been long written down and the document is comprehensive. Just to fool the people inside China would not change the facts. On the contrary, once when the young people find out that the truth has been covered up, they will react the opposite, like Fu Hailu, one of the four guys. Fu aged 30, was only 2 years old in 1989. He never learned anything about the taboo on June fourth, either from school, from his parents or from hear-say in society. Yet when he served in the army, he found out the truth of that tragic event. It was a shock for him, he felt so ashamed to belong to an army which once killed its own people under the order of the Communist Party. Many young people first learn about the Tiananmen massacre when they are abroad. The naked facts evoke a shocking effect, which turns all the value and positive information on their motherland up-site-down. “Glorious, great, correct” (guang, wei, zheng) are the vocabulary which children and students learn to describe the ruling Communist Party. They are told that CCP is a party that never could make mistakes. Should anything go wrong, it is because some hostile forces inside or outside China are stitching a mean conspiracy against China.

The wife of Fu Hailu wrote: “when he (Hailu) was taken away, I could not believe that it’s just because he was remembering ‘1989 June fourth’ with the wine. The police and the prosecutor think that it’s a crime… but so many people are commemorating June fourth, like in Hong Kong…are all these people potential criminals? I do not understand, how can one become a criminal just like this? …A state security policeman Mr. Li from Chengdu told me: our leader said, these people must be put on trial, they have to be sentenced. Anyone who commemorates June fourth is a criminal.”

That is the Chinese style of “rule of law”. For the common mortal people, the only way to confront the abuse and absurdity is resistance, although very high prices need to be paid if one lives in the Chinese mainland and becomes an activist. He or she can lose their job, family members will suffer under discrimination, deprived of the chance to study in school, to find a job, to marry, or will spend years behind the bar.

The four gentlemen have been thrown into jail for more then one year. Amnesty International describes their brave behavior as “performance art”.

A bottle of Eight Liquor Six Four at its final stop in Hong Kong, held by Andrew To. Image courtesy of the Washington Post.

The label-background on the troubled bottle is the famous “tank man”. It is obvious that the four wanted to set up the courageous model, how he stood in front of the tank colony with his bare human body. The legendary tank man, Wang Weilin, disappeared after the massacre. The world does not know his whereabouts. Only the murdering government knows the answer. The hero could be dead or executed, but his spirit is still lingering among the hearts of many people. This spirit inspired the four wine gentlemen. They sacrificed their freedom in order to express their feelings for justice and love for truth. When the Chinese abroad are commemorating this memorial day all over the world, the pictures of the four are shown parallel to the tank man, to all other political prisoners like Liu Xiaobo, Wang Binzhang and Ilham Tohti. In Hong Kong there were ca. eleven thousand people joining the candlelight vigil on June fourth in Victoria Park. One bottle of “Eight Liquor June fourth” wine has been secretly brought out of China, through the Middle East, Europe, and America and finally reached Hong Kong. It was handed to Mr. Tao Junxing of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movement in China on June 2, 2017. It is now exhibited in the June Fourth Museum.

The “tank man” from Tiananmen Square, June 1989. Image courtesy of the New York Times.

The long travel way of the bottle symbolizes the long way of democracy and human rights in China. It can be only archived when numerous people are willing to take the risk to sacrifice time, money and even personal freedom. The four wine gentlemen might spend years in prison, but their brave deeds will be written down in the history.

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