Commentary on Human Flow by Sarah Zhang

A reflection on Human Flow by Ai Weiwei

The film Human Flow is probably one of the very few times when I felt that my Chinese identity is connected to humanity class. It is interesting how Ai Weiwei’s past experience during the Chinese Cultural Revolution allowed him to establish his connection with the refugees. When Ai Weiwei was exchanging his passport with a Syrian called Mahmoud. This reminds me of the Make Your Own Passport event that artist Tintin Wulia did on campus. The Chinese passport wasn’t high in ranking in terms of the power Chinese citizenship has, but still I, holding onto a Chinese passport, have the privilege. I enjoy the rights, guaranteed by my Chinese citizenship, and the protection my country provides. But for the refugees, their citizenship is what prevents them from having the basic human rights, that objectifies them into something that fa be forgotten by the outside world, and it is their people in their country that practiced in all the violence. It is just ironic, citizenship in one place would mean sanctuary and on the other side of the world would mean hell. I cannot imagine myself being able to live through the helplessness and hopelessness that these people are experiencing.

            Another part in the film that shocked me is when the EU decided that they can return people to Turkey with a promise of 6-million-euro financial aid to support the government’s projects for refugees. The refugees had only two choices: they can either go back voluntarily or the police will arrest them. The next scene showed police forcing refugees through borders with force, and man crying behind the huge sign “Respect” and “EU, don’t send us back to hell.” This reminds me of how the international community reacted to what happened in Rwanda: people refused to admit that genocide happened, they forgot about the suffering they see, as mentioned by Sontag, and they don’t want to hear about it anymore, simply for the sake of economic and political benefits. I was confused, where is the place of humanity before profits? I understand that for countries like Lebanm, their social structure is incapable of handling a huge influx of refugees with no jobs. But what about the first world countries in EU? I understand that taking in refugees would mean a loss of resources for citizens in EU, but how much of a different do they think 6 million euro can make when there are millions of refugees fleeing their homes? For me, the money is nothing but a justification for active forgetting. It is an act of irresponsibility, actively distancing from what is happening, actively ignoring the fact that it was people suffering, actively dehumanizing these people. It is not fair, just because they are born in another country doesn’t give us a reason to take away their rights and their identities. But the question remains, what can we do? What can a nation do? This brings me back to a conversation I had with a hum fellow after sections. Essentially all of this will come down to individual actions. What are things that we can do?

            It is also ironic, they we are learning about things happened in the past, analyzing how people are justifying themselves for “wrong” acts. But how can we apply the lessons we learnt to what is happening right now, and what can happen in the future? Discrimination, inequality, and everything we know only too well should be reduced is still prevalent, why is that? Or another way to put it, do we actually care about these things, as long as we are not the victims?

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