US mayor lectures Chinese official on freedom of speech

By William Lowther  /  Staff reporter in Washington

Mon, Sep 10, 2012 - Page 1

Beijing is fighting to have an artist’s mural promoting independence for Taiwan and Tibet removed from a brick wall in the small town of Corvallis, Oregon.

Two officials from the Chinese Consulate General in San Francisco have written to the mayor of Corvallis about the mural and last week visited the town to lodge a formal complaint.

“As you are aware, the First Amendment of the US Constitution guarantees freedom of speech in this country and this includes freedom of artistic expression,” Corvallis Mayor Julie Manning has told them.

She has refused to do anything about the 3m by 30m mural, which was painted last month on the wall of an old building by Taiwanese-born artist Chao Tsung-song (趙宗宋).

The vividly colored mural was commissioned by the building’s owner, Taiwanese-born David Lin (林銘新), who is determined to leave it there.

It depicts “images of Taiwan as a bulwark of freedom,” Chinese riot police beating Tibetan demonstrators and Buddhist monks setting themselves on fire to protest Chinese rule.

The wall on which the mural has been painted is part of a building being redeveloped by Lin as a restaurant.

“There is only one China in the world and both Tibet and Taiwan are parts of China,” the letter to Manning from the Chinese Consulate General said. “To avoid our precious friendship from being tainted by so-called ‘Tibet independence’ and ‘Taiwan independence’ we sincerely hope you can understand our concerns and adopt effective measures to stop the activities advocating ‘Tibet independence’ and ‘Taiwan independence’ in Corvallis.”

After Manning replied saying that she had no authority to regulate art and could do nothing about the mural, Vice Consul Zhang Hao (張浩) and Deputy Consul General Song Ruan (宋如安) visited the town last week.

The two officials met with Manning and City Manager Jim Patterson.

Patterson later told the Corvallis Gazette-Times: “They expressed their concern and the concern of the Chinese government about the mural on Mr Lin’s building. They viewed the message as political propaganda.”

After making it clear that the city could not — and would not — order the mural’s removal, Manning and Patterson agreed to pass on Beijing’s concern to Lin.

“We also had a conversation with them about the US Constitution,” Patterson said.

The Taipei Times was unable to reach officials for comment at the Chinese embassy in Washington or the consulate in San Francisco.

Lin told the Corvallis Gazette-Times that no representatives of the Chinese government had contacted him directly.

However, he said that friends and family were concerned they might face some form of retaliation if they visited China.

“I am under a lot of pressure to take down the mural, but have no plans to do anything of the sort,” he said. “I’ll just keep it the same, I’ve got to live my life, that’s all.”

Lin was born and raised in Taiwan and went to the US in the 1970s.

He said that he was a strong supporter of a free Tibet and an independent Taiwan.