Chinese Characters

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Chinese calligraphic figures framed by 米字格 ‘mizige’ on scrolls of calligraphy paper


Can you control the Chinese Character?

Can you put one in a box?

By putting one in a box, you can put more in more boxes. Take them into dark boxes. Where you can do the unspeakable to them.

If you put them in a box, you are trying to define them any which way to comprehend them, but can you understand them?

What are the dangers of putting the Chinese Character in a box?

Can we box the spirit? Can we box qi?

How can we create justice for the uncontainable soul?

We are Chinese Characters. Forms you abstract to read. 

As characters, we create a system of meaning, propagate culture. At this moment, in the Mainland, people are being tracked in a Social Credit System - bounding boxes are summoned around the face. The government saves your face, so that you can too. It’s working. A layer of algorithmic justice can determine how the systems around you can treat you. Prevent or allow you from getting timely treatment in a hospital. Deny or deliver you transit tickets. Blacklist you, even. No doubt, it is changing your life.

While at the moment, the system aims to only penalise those who don’t abide by innocuous things like playing loud music or eating in rapid transits, violating traffic rules such as jaywalking and red-light violations, I see a trajectory not unlike 1984.

I am afraid that it entraps those who are systematically disadvantaged in another monolithic, universal system. At the moment, as a justice-bringing system, it creates a platform to dissuade from petty crime and unreliability - however, I am afraid that it sees sins in crime instead of evaluating justice based on need and circumstance. This is complex. I wonder whether removing human bias is a good idea, or possible, in the case of systems designed by humans. And synonymously, whether removing case by case human judgement can prove to be merciless.

At the current moment, the Chinese government is implementing nation-wide facial recognition software that can track the motions of every citizen, and can catch them in socially unacceptable acts that affect their social score - something like a credit score. 

Interestingly, from colloquial and word of mouth inquiry, I have found that the Chinese are either apathetic or in general favour of a social score - saying that they feel like streets are safer. 

With these apparent results, I wonder - can we engineer good behaviour? Would that hijack people’s morality to manufacture moral behaviour without moral basis? Or am I just too Westernised and Libertarian to believe that moral progress can and should be hijacked in such a wide-scale, automated and authoritarian system?

With my piece, I posit that us Chinese Characters - like the pictographic text that represent us and the artistic style of calligraphy - have too much ephemeral “character” to conform to the boxes that bind and aim to define us - in an act of using calligraphy to represent human form, I create portraits with the philosophy that we are imperfect citizens, and perhaps the standardisation and granularisation to create ‘perfect’ is flawed, and may serve to entrap us in our pasts and disable us from transmuting ourselves into freedom. I challenge that in every moment we live, we are summoning our qi to do the best we can.

printed on Giclée Hahnemühle Bamboo

If you are interested in a framed version of this piece, click here.