Dissident Chinese artist Badiucao, known as the Chinese Banksy, released a collection of posters with a Beijing Olympics theme that showed the genocide and authoritarianism of the Chinese Communist Party. The images were spread about George Washington University’s campus.
One image depicted a figure skater slashing through the flower found on Hong Kong’s national flag, while another showed a curler watching the coronavirus slide down the ice. Yet another depicted a snowboarder riding a surveillance camera. In another, a biathlete points a rifle at a Uyghur prisoner’s head. Each poster has “Beijing 2022” emblazoned in the background.
Upon seeing the artwork, members of GW’s Chinese Students and Scholars Associations (CSSA) complained, claiming the posters were an “attack on the Chinese nation,” included “serious racist views” and amounted to “extremely vicious personal attacks on all international students,” according to The Spectator USA. The CSSA went on to demand the school “punish them severely.”
GW President Mark S. Wrighton issued a statement immediately siding with the complaining students and saying he was “personally offended by these posters”:
Please know that I am personally offended by these posters. I treasure the opportunity to work with talented people from all over the world, including China. Your reaching out to me directly is much appreciated, and we are working to have all of these offensive poster removed as soon as possible. I, too, am saddened by this terrible event and we will undertake an effort to determine who is responsible.
Badiucao, the artist, took to Twitter to call out Wrighton and demand “an explanation why exposing CCP’s abuse offends him.” Badiucao had previously explained that his posters have been seen around the world “from Miami streets to major news frontpage in Czech；from hundreds years old museum in Italy to Blockchian as #NFT.” Yes, he’s even created an NFT based on the designs.
The pushback was swift, leading to Wrighton walking back his message to the CSSA. In a statement released Monday, Wrighton said (emphasis added):
Last week, the university learned of posters on campus depicting images that alarmed some members of our community, and we began to receive a number of concerns through official university reporting channels that cited bias and racism against the Chinese community. I also received an email directly from a student who expressed concerns.
At that time, and without more context on the origin or intent of the posters, I responded hastily to the student, writing that I, too, was concerned. University staff also responded to ensure the posters were removed. These responses were mistakes. Every member of the GW community should feel welcome and supported, but I should have taken more time to understand the entire situation before commenting.
I have since learned from our university’s scholars that the posters were designed by a Chinese-Australian artist, Badiucao, and they are a critique of China’s policies. Upon full understanding, I do not view these posters as racist; they are political statements. There is no university investigation underway, and the university will not take any action against the students who displayed the posters.
I want to be very clear: I support freedom of speech—even when it offends people—and creative art is a valued way to communicate on important societal issues. I also support the many students and faculty at our university who are engaged in researching, and actively advocating against, all forms of discrimination, marginalization, and oppression.
Our university’s scholarship, research, and support for those among us who need it most are the reasons that this great institution has fulfilled its mission for more than 200 years. As we embark on our third century, I am committed to upholding our mission and ensuring our community has the support to continue this critical work.