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Latest Issue. Past Issues. The German capital not only offers freedom, but also invites people to provoke and challenge orthodoxy. BERLIN—We were packed, about 50 of us, a collection of Germans, Chinese, even a prim-looking, older university lecturer, into a converted storefront in a working-class neighborhood of northwest Berlin.
I glanced nervously out the giant street-level windows at the people walking by, concerned that some passing child might peek in and see what was projected on the wall. On-screen, two women were having sex with gusto. Titled The Hutong Vibe , the short film is regarded as the first feminist queer porn made in China—lesbian sex not produced and marketed for heterosexual men, but an art-house project made for lesbians. The film also had added significance: Fan could not have shown it publicly back home.
In fact, none of the films in the series will be available in China anytime soon. Since moving here almost two years ago, Fan has been prolific, writing three scripts, directing two projects, and sitting on the jury for the queer-film prize at the Berlin Film Festival. Read: How internet censorship is curbing innovation in China. The artist and activist Ai Weiwei decamped here in , taking his studio—and many of his bright, young Chinese staff—with him.
The writer Chun Sue, who once wowed and shocked China with her rebel youth novel , lives here now too. Badiucao , a political cartoonist and activist, also spent time in Berlin. China then permitted a small group of creatives to head overseas.
That generation ended up playing a huge role in determining what Chinese contemporary art and culture would look like, both at home and abroad. As their country grew freer, many returned. Now, as its sociopolitical space contracts once again, another wave of creatives is leaving, set to reshape Chinese arts anew. Beijing remains vibrant, of course, but a place such as Berlin not only promises freedom, but actually wants and invites people to provoke and challenge orthodoxy. Some of the excitement I witnessed in Beijing has now been transported here.