fat bird winking…

one of the more useful of chinese colloquialisms remains “one eye open, one eye shut (睁一只眼闭一只眼)”. it means knowing what’s going on, but ignoring it. for example, last night fat bird performed an abridged version of “happy academy” for the leaders of shenzhen university (well those few who accepted an invite). the play’s more controversial parts (castration as part of the scientific method, for example) were edited out for that particular performance. however, every other day this week, the original version has been performend as written, with drag queens and castration complexes abounding.

the thing is, no one is surprised by any of this. among the performers and the audience there exists an implicit common sense to calling the abridged version the “official version” and showing it to officials, while calling the original version “the rehersal version” and showing it to everyone else.

i haven’t thought enough about this to hypothesize what the cultural logic of one open eye might be, but in terms of practice, the open eye falls somewhere between “managing/ overseeing (管)” and ignoring (不理). indeed, one of the cultural compentencies of successful shenzheners is know which activities will be strictly regulated, which ignored, and which of those can exist in the hazy space between.

theatre is one of the spaces where there is more room for winking; newspapers and television programs are much more strictly regulated than (in order of increasingly lax regulation) radio stations, novels, and theatre, especially in the context of a university performance, which is not open to the public (except by word of mouth invitations). in other words, the more popular a cultural medium is, the less likely for officials to walk past with one eye closed.

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