A visit from the Culture Investigation Bureauby Mark Kitto / June 22, 2011 / Leave a comment
Published in July 2011 issue of Prospect Magazine
There’s a Chinese artist in the news, who’s under investigation for economic crimes. Forgive me for not naming him but this column is emailed over the Great Firewall of China and it’s tiresome when you lose your internet connection. He has a beard and recently scattered some seeds in London. My Chinese wife has never heard of him.
In my previous career as an illegal magazine publisher in China (there’s no such thing as a legal one) I was investigated for economic crimes on a regular basis. No matter how naughty we had been with content, advertising or distribution, it was always the money that they came after.
One of many visits—the term “raids” is closer, but still doesn’t do it justice—was from the Culture Investigation Bureau, one of many that might investigate an outspoken artist. The name makes you think they’d be hunting the Chinese Elgin Marbles, or at least behave with a modicum of culture.
“How much money are you making?” they screamed. “We know you’ve got lots. Where is it? Where is your accountant? Get her in here now! How much? How much? Where is it? Where is it? We’ll find it!” That’s verbatim. After an hour of interrogation, they demanded I sign a statement. “After you,” I said. My lecturers at the School of Oriental and African Studies never covered the words they used in reply.