Lu Xinghua: We are a group of 8-9 artists and scholars who are successful internationally but have become confused about their success. Most of us have been to the west and we do not want to go there to look for answers now. We want to contemplate upon what are parents have tried in the 50-60s and why were they so determined to do things.
In China most middle-class parents do not have ideal for their children; they just want their kids to earn a degree and earn money. We have a very weird situation here. Economically China is very successful but for the people who are doing contemporary art, they are not satisfied with what they have achieved in the market. I think what they want to get here is to get questions.
This is sort of a long march because Mao did not start long march for a particular goal, but because the comrades around him did not know what to do as the next step. It’s always the question of how to go on.
Ian: Isn’t the ‘radical politics’ a contradiction in terms? Politics by its nature is not radical.
Lu Xinghua: From 1966-1976 20 to 30 million people died in China as result of the 10 Year Plan. Cambodia experienced the regime of the Khmer Rouge which wiped out half of the population. In a sense we have a relevant traumatic experience.
In 1989, I am studying in the Tiananmen Square event. I was a communist party member but I joined the student movement. I was ousted from the party. I ask why I joined the student movement? And I think back then I only wanted to get the American way of life, liberty, freedom, a lot of what you want for the middle-class family today. But now I have found that what I wanted had already come more quickly than I have expected. We are in a global economy, I live a reasonably comfortable life in Shanghai with a post in the University. But I do not feel satisfied, there is a discontent in my heart.
We need to ask ourselves, what kind of radical politics do we want for ourselves, what does it mean to be radical, here and now?
Ian: Isn’t the feeling of dissatisfaction part of the human condition and not linked to a political system? And wouldn’t you find the people like yourselves involved in the philosophy and arts would face the same questions?
Lu Xinghua: I think 80 percent of my class to say to me as friends, take it easy, sir. Don’t look so unhappy. You have a very good life compared to people living in rural areas. I cannot answer your question based on the human condition because I am a left intellectual. The communist hypothesis is important to me, otherwise it is meaningless to think about our next step.
Ian: After the collapse of the berlin wall, you find that the socialist or left wing politics have become somewhat irrelevant. Since then, what we have seen is a far more radical left, which is quite anarchic and rejects all forms of institution. Is this your sort of radical politics you are proposing?
Lu Xinghua: In the west, I think left politicians do not represent the people in many ways. I do not think they are radical. I have to ask, what does it mean to be radical in the west? Radical does not mean following the most radical politician in the country. In China, the communist are ruling the country; in a sense they are left and radical. What does it mean to be radical?
Ian: This is going back to my previous question about the pairing of ‘radical’ and ‘politics,’ Particularly in democracy you will find that the candidate need to endere the majority to vote for you, so this automatically eliminates any question of radicalism. So you will find in democracy you become more and more conservative.
Lu Xinghua: We are discussed this in our group. Why did it happen that half of the population was killed in Cambodia in an almost revolutionary age. You question seems to suggest that whenever a radical, critical proposal is put forward to country, more than half of the population will not accept it. For the Khmer Rouge, if you do not follow, you will die. To me, today radicalism is not about asking people to obey, but it’s about opening questions. For the concerned artists, they can put forth artwork in front of ordinary people to encourage them to ask fundamental questions. It’s important to engage as much people as possible.
Reap: I’m not a politician, I am an artist. Yesterday I received Metahouse’s email and they attached a profile of the Ho Chi Minh Trail project. Very important for me is the question: How have you arrived at this project name politically?
Lu Xinghua: I just learned now that it is offensive to put Ho Chi Minh Trail on my T-shirt. I believe that it is a political mistake on our part.
Reap: Because the HCMT is a long journey of military that spans through vietnam, cambodia, and laos to bring weapons to fight the south vietnamese. The name influences and links lots of things together in the regime that you are concerned about. As a Cambodian, I am very proud that China, or Vietnam, or Cambodia, or Laos liberated our country from other countries. I am very proud about our liberation. But after liberating, we went to hell instead of heaven. So why did Khmer Rouge kill people? Some people say Cambodian hate to read and I am one of them. I’m 44 and I saw by my eyes a tragedy regime. And if I come across a book by a non-cambodian about the khmer rouge, I throw it to the corner. Coming to our history of liberating our country, we had an alliance of communists coming together. There were Khmer Rouge from China, from Russia, from Vietnam, and from France. Who is the Khmer Rouge? I don’t know.
The trial of the Khmer Rouge has so far spent billion dollars and still cannot get a result. This shows the complexity of the region.
Sopheap: I would like to ask about your project. Why do you choose Cambodia, Laos, China, Vietnam to be under your project? Is it because you are focusing on Indochina? What are you expecting that willl result from the project?
Lu Xinghua: The project started in 2006, we had already made a Long March project retracing the historical long march in China. Lu Jie says the Long march is not finished and it can start anywhere. Maybe Paris, London, Cambodia… I do not know what will result from our journey, but every evening and morning we have long discussions amongst ourselves. We talk about how we feel and what have we experienced here. All the artists and scholars joined voluntarily. The project does not have a political agenda.
I am a very innocent left intellectual, I do not have a sophisticated planning. Just to take it easy.
Billy: I’m very confused by your answer. I think what she was trying ask, what is your goal, what are you trying to get out of the project?
Lu Jie: I am not communist, none of my family are communist, which doesn’t mean this is my political position. Before I try to answer some of your questions, I want to ask everyone what does HCMT mean to you? As we have said, we are here to learn?
Billy: I don’t know much about it the HCMT. That is why I am here tonight to learn from all of you.
Reap: HCMT is a long journey to liberate the south vietnam. They built a trail to transport military logistics across Laos, Cambodia borders to fight Americans and south Vietnam. The trail was planned and built by HCM. I’m not sure but probably HCM had political connections with Mao Zedong during that time. The trail was made to do a revolution, to rebel the country from French and America. It is a very difficult path and travelers came across draught or hunger. In the end, there was success. This is positive for Vietnam as a country, good for China and communism, it is positive for some cambodians and not the others. This is the Trail.
Lu Jie: To me, your introduction gives me a very neutral. So far I haven’t heard that the name is wrong. I also believe that any name of a place can be wrong. A name is a name. So let us begin our journey from here. What my understanding of the HCMT will always develop and change, to me there is no fixed meaning, as Prof. Lu was just trying to explain. To me, born in 1960, I also grew up with the memory of the HCMT. Because at that time, all four countries (china, vietnam, cambodia, laos) were very well connected. That’s what we mean, geographically, historically, and politically, we share some kind of connection. Again, we are not making judgements, I am talking about a historical fact. The memory is in these spaces, in these locales, in different people, who have different ideology and personal memory. That is why we want to be here, to try to think of this traumatic personal experience connected as a collective social memory. Thinking of globalization and the past of capitalism and communism and their problems. For example, is there anyone who can describe here what is your problem or your praise of capitalism?
Billy: I don’t have a comment on that. But I can only say I enjoy individualism.
Lu Jie: So what does HCMT means to me. It is a symbolic but physical space which can connect us together and it is happening now. Regardless of your understanding, your embrace, or your rejection, your voices are all great. At least our dialogue can slowly moving away from the very dominating present discourse making which is always only between the east and west. In the past two years of the project, we begun with research to building connection with people, organizations, groups to come up with a collection of questions or motives for discussion and some kind of conversation platform. Imagining this conversation for learning is like a journey without knowing where we will arrive. We believe that history has multiple reasons, multiple layers that could be unfolded.
Billy: So you are trying collect data and personal knowledge. But what will this knowledge be used for?
NZ: I think instead of finding to figure out one point of this whole thing, I think this forum tonight is a fantastic discussion to bring a whole group of people together. I don’t know very much about the history of HCMT itself but just to go back to Lu Xinghua’s idea of radical politics. I agree with Ian that there is no such thing as radical politics but in terms of radicalism, I feel that in Cambodia it is a very different meaning to be radical here. Radical behavior here is actually very gentle and very under the radar. And it may be woman, and it’s people who are making positive change in their own lives through owning their own businesses, taking control of their own futures and children education. It’s about saying, “okay, government, you’re not taking care of my needs, so I’m going take care of them myself.” And reaching out to their communities and their wider families–you know, everybody is everybody’s cousin and uncle and auntie here. This is something so foreign to me as an australian. In australia, each individual is valued as an island. Cambodia has a broader network of people that really nurtures and values each other. And that’s how this country is progressing, and that’s how cambodia’s radical, in my opinion.
Sopheap: Thank you for your presentations. I agree with the presenters and I even support using the name HCMTP. Not because of any particular issue or perspective, but because we are neighbors and brothers and sisters. I will choose to support people in this region rather than support capitalism, as in capitalists in the US or EU. So let me discuss how Khmer Rouge came to power; there are many reasons and our cambodian friends tonight have raised some. But we also have to look broader. At that time it was the conflict between the ideologies of capitalists and socialists. But at that time they did not call it capitalist. The meaning of capitalists meant that you support the multi-corporation, benefit of the rich and powerful people like they do now. But they also called this democracy and this is what the socialist fought against. People questioned about the vietnamese but no one questioned about the US and when the US bombed Cambodia. People focus on the questions about Khmer Rouge but no one questions about US bombing Cambodia. It’s something we need to discuss.
LJ: Thank you very much, you touched my heart. After being here for a few days, and during our past research, we feel that history has been fragmented. We feel that on one hand, there is so much knowledge and images and archives and dialogue within one particular sided point of view. Hardly is the other side ever heard. We are talking about a period history that cannot simply be judged by some image, some data, some figure, some personal memory. It is something that has to be much more thoroughly discussed and debated. How this period of history is connected with the history of how modernity had arrived, the rule of christianity, the nation state, national independence; all of these issues are also linked with migration, ideology, to class struggle. I totally agree with your comment that being politically correct is something we are very worried. People within our traveling group are writers, scholars, artists from China (Hong Kong, Taiwan, Mainland) and local people (Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos). People are forming from all different political generation and knowledge field. Everybody here is to put your own memory, feeling, bodily senses to join this journey and try to unfold who we are.
SC: As a Chinese, you will hear from many chinese that fulfillment of basic needs is number one task in their lives. Many are still struggling for survival and they are quite determined on this fulfillment. So HCMTP has been ongoing for the last two years. And from these years of discussion, research, and learning, have you discovered anything or anyway that we as individuals could make a difference or help us go on?
LJ: This is a journey and everyday is a new beginning. We are hoping to ask you, once this mobilization of building communication and dialogue and listening, is there, we will know.
SC: Well maybe some people here today have discovered something and have thus achieve satisfaction.
NZ: Maybe this kind of reaction is coming from the feeling of being observed and it’s not a contributory observation, a feeling of being under the petree dish
Jude: My name is Jude and I am American. It seems like the artists are trying to add a different subjectivity to how people, including themselves, understand the HCMT. It’s mentioned that a lot of what we know about the HCMT comes from a very dominant discourse produced by the west. It seems that the project is trying to learn about what other perspectives not only in this physical space tonight. The process is very messy and I don’t think there can be a clear and concrete result that can be attertained. At least not in the immediate moment while the journey is going on. As humans, as we hear from other more organically about this project, I don’t think something neat and clean can come out of a process that has just begun.
LJ: Actually there is something concrete that has come out of this project. It is called the Knowledge of the Ignorant. We declare ourselves as ignorant but we possess knowledge which is containing us. We have a discursive journey, and we also have a physical journey. These two journeys are interconnected.
The Knowledge of Ignorant is an archive of a records of dialogue between us and all our friends from these four countries. And the research is not limited to war memory or contemporary art or environmental issues, but also physical, anthropological papers. All this information has been input into the archive everyday.
The other tangle result is an educational program in 2009. We invited curators and artists from Cambodia, Vietnam, US, Korea, and China to spend one month together to research, debate, and think together. This was congregated everyone in China, and this journey we are doing now is trying to do the opposite. We are hoping to collaborate with local organizations and try to build the program together for the next stage.
Interesting that tonight’s conversation started with an NGO practice (which is very political) to an architect’s point of view of social construction and engineering (which is also very political). So we not believe that anything is not political. Everything has its ideological input. The constant dialogue we have here seems to be between individual and collective, local and international, theory and practice. The HCMTP an art project. What is the boundary of art, as what is the boundary of an architect, of a filmmaker? Yesterday we ad a wonderful discussion about whether story can be archived? Can an archive be totally neutral?
EP: Coming back to the idea of capitalism, from an Cambodian American perspective, capitalism means made in china. Communism working for capitalists.
LJ: I heard that there are people who want to respond to the previous talk?
Reap: if you encountered a Cambodian traveling in china, you would certainly ask, why do you spend a lot of money coming one country to ask a lot of questions for no purpose? Are you going to compile the answers you get for academic use? for political use? or for an economic institution? if you open the door there will be more people talking.
LJ: i totally understand your point of view. There is nothing hiding. There are many different kinds of journeys. The journey you have just described about you going to china and people saying you are crazy spending so much money to ask questions, that you must want to do something. Last night we had a very interesting discussion about archiving history and how can an archive be totally neutral.
EP: Doubt is the starting point of knowledge
LJ: Can your arrival and departure can be synched together as planned? There are many journeys that could happen and it is so hard to explain our journey because we are so used the kind of materialized narrative and agenda. we are always planning everything to achieve this very capitalist kind of cultural logic of progress with tangible results.
Reap: When you dare close the door, people cannot open their hearts to talk because they don’t know the destination of your journey. I’m very new to you, you’re very new to me. I don’t know your purpose, are you going to serve politics? If I share I am putting myself in a very dangerous position. Even here it seems like a democratic country, but you know better than i do, that the country is related with political violence and a lot of things.
PR: I am a scholar and do ethnographic research. It will be difficult to unfold things in this space without knowing the purpose. From my understanding you are doing research about the legacy of this history the region. You are tracing along this trail what and how have things happened and how are they expressed. From an ethnographic point of view, observations and interviews in this Cambodian situation are difficult because people are scared to talk.
LJ: We do have a very clear agenda tonight.
Sheryl: The original title for tonight’s discussion was about transnationalism and whether multiple histories can coexist in a space without boundaries.
LJ: We are hoping we can share debate, agreement, disagreement. We have a very clear agenda everyday. So what is the architecture’s point of view of transnationalism and what is the possible way of sharing/
Billy: It’s hard to understand this process that is happening now because it sounds like your are preaching. I’m assuming that you are trying to knowledge but what is this knowledge?
LJ: I understand that you are hoping for me to give a lecture here. But we are here to create a forum for discussion for everyone to put knowledge together. Before we put it together, how can we know what kind of knowledge we have? We have so many people here, I cannot impose my own answer of transnationalism on everybody. I want all of us to talk about this idea of time, are we synched on the same page of history.
Wang Jianwei: I am an artist. Everyone knows a globalized world gives us an illusion that the world becomes more free and values become fairer. But this kind of equality is only limited to the materialist aspects.
We can drink French beer, eat Mcdonalds, and buy every capitalist country product everywhere. The logic capitalism to make products easier to be attained. This convenience gives a misunderstanding that capitalism has fully globalized. But there is deeper question: the body itself cannot be fully free. Everytime I applied for visa application, I keep the materials. Everytime I answered the questions from the visa office, I have felt that I have lost my dignity. Everytime european nations come together to talk about furthering economic globalization, they are also discussing how to adjust their migration policies. Perhaps through body and physical movement, we open these boundaries?
Before I began this journey, I had prepared a lot of questions. Ultimately there is a greater question. If I have already finalize and clarify these questions before I even enter Cambodia, why would I come here? Whenever we participate in the exhibitions and conferences in different countries, we have to play a particular role, I for example have to play the role of a chinese person. Postmodernism holds a theory that everyone has to respect local culture and logic. But this kind of theory has a problem. You can only display/express the difference between each other. You can only care about what your difference with the local. In this process, everything about philosophical and knowledge problems have been correctly dismissed. Can we use our body and action to create a new direction?
When I return back to my home after this journey, I will return to my pre-journey questions and see if they are questions to me. I am willing accept every question about why I had those questions in the first place.
NZ: Everybody here is incredibly brave to be speaking and translating through all different language barriers.
Wang Jianwei: Silence is a kind of communication. Distrust is a kind of communication. This is a very open structure of communication here. We are not here to share secrets. Our discussion is not for a desire of secrets.
Reap: But the political is linked to the secret.
Wang Jianwei: political secret and personal secret are two different things. Only through ideology do you link these two together. When personal secrets become political then there is violence.
Reap: Every four years, we vote for government officials. Everytime we ask each other who we will vote, how many times do you think we tell the true answer?
Wang Jianwei: Firstly, I don’t have this kind of experience. Secondly, I don’t ask this kind of question. There should be a suitable official from the government to answer this question.
Gao Shiming: Today’s discussion begun with the name HCMT. This trail is loaded with a lot misunderstandings. The original topic for today was transnationalism. We cross countries it seems the most easy and convenient way is without products and capitalism. When we try to cross borders through history, art, and memory, it is very difficult. Perhaps this HCMT have already been very fragmented. Perhaps this is very the reason why we had begun this project. Thank you all, especially local participants here today. We will use our hight sincerity to understand, discuss, and contemplate upon this imagined shared memory that may not exist. History always happen in the present.