China Development Brief Winter 2012
During her time with Green Web (绿网) and the China WTO Network(中国世贸网), Han Hongmei (韩红梅, formerly known as Han Qi, 韩祺) has worked in development education (发展教育), trade, community film and theater, and advancing the rights of marginalized groups. In 2006, Han participated in the preparations for Beijing’s first people’s theatre group, called Tanghulu Theatrical Troupe (糖葫芦剧团). In 2011, Han completed a community film project on domestic workers called “Us” (我们),and in July of that year she helped launch an organization called the One Yuan Commune (一元公社), which is devoted to social mobilization and spreading the ideals of civil society. Later that year, in September, she also helped to establish the ‘Lei Min Image Workshop’ (雷民影像工作室), using film as an agent for empowering marginalized groups. After her involvement in all of these projects she was chosen as a Gingko Partner in 2012.
A deep interest in public welfare
When Han Hongmei graduated from college, she could easily have chosen to return to her hometown and live a normal life. However, she decided to escape from the strict social ties of family life and go to Beijing alone. As she went about looking for work, she found that most companies required employees with work experience, so she set about finding ways to accumulate experience piece by piece. One day, she discovered that a volunteer organization called Guizhouren (贵州人) was recruiting a volunteer newsletter editor, and figured that the volunteer position was a good way to gain experience. It was this position that allowed her to take her first small step into the world of public welfare.
In this position, Han became acquainted with many like-minded friends with whom she discussed public welfare and their hopes and dreams. Six months flew by, and Han found that another institution, Green Web [绿网, a now defunct NGO], was recruiting for a full-time newsletter editor position focused on development education projects. As the work was similar, Han decided to switch jobs and work for Green Web.
Green Web is a well-established NGO; in its earliest form it served as an online discussion forum for those interested in environmental protection. It was founded by Gao Tian, the current vice-secretary of the SEE Ecological Association Foundation (阿拉善SEE基金会), as well as a group of dedicated volunteers. From 2005 to 2007, Han’s role at Green Web quickly expanded from producing newsletters on development education to participating in programs.
At that time, development education had just entered the mainland. When development education became a hot topic, Han and her companions worked tirelessly with university students by giving lectures, providing training, holding theatre workshops, and hosting discussion forums. Within a year Han had held 14 training sessions, and it’s impressive to consider how Han trained college students who were only a couple of years younger than herself.
However, problems soon emerged. As an educational system guided by a system of values, development education has an established theoretical framework and a clear developmental context. But the young Han was not too familiar with these. The training that she received made it difficult for Han to grasp the overall concept of social issues. She recalls how, at that time, she always aspired to reflect and think critically about social problems, but never thought about what critical thinking itself was. About, for example, what the reality of social problems really was, and how these problems actually related to young people.
Looking back, both the group of people involved in development education, and the modes of thinking that were employed, were equally young. Both also faced their own challenging issues. Development education trainers ought to have a degree of experience, otherwise their training loses value. For example, after receiving her own training, Han wanted to teach the college students about how society should be fair. However, how is fairness achieved? Everyone’s minds, including Han’s, were stuck on the question.
So, how can individuals grow? Han believes that young people must see themselves in relation to social development, and personally connect with it. A teacher could emphasize the importance of personal growth and improvement, but it is more important to emphasize how the individual relates to social development. By doing more than just sitting around and talking about social justice, an individual can develop themselves through creating real change in society.
How can one connect young people with society? The One Yuan Commune, the organization that Han currently manages, organizes lectures and discussions so that more young people pay attention to their community and establish critical perspectives on society. However Han also recognizes that it is even more important to let young people participate themselves in social movements, because social change can only come from action. For this reason Han began to get involved with actions that went beyond her work with Green Web.
Using film to connect with the marginalized
In 2006, Han designed a community media activity called ‘Let me come near you’ (让我走近你), which organized groups of young people to film a documentary about those who are marginalized. Han believes that using video demonstrates a kind of supremacy, something is imposed on the group being filmedIf you go to film marginalized groups, why should they let you? Why should they allow you to understand their lives? The process of solving this problem is a process of establishing contact and interaction with these marginalized groups.
Despite receiving 5,000 RMB from Green Web to fund the project, Han still struggled for money. Instead of sitting around worrying, she took action and looked everywhere for free resources. By doing this she managed to stay within the budget. The first resource that she found was Zhou Yu, who was working at Brooks NGO (天下溪). Through Zhou, Han was introduced to DV filmmaking [a film format], and began looking for filmmakers to volunteer their services. She looked to cafes to provide free rental space, and was especially grateful to the supportive Box Café (盒子咖啡馆), which not only provided her with a free venue, but also provided T-shirts as gifts to volunteers. The filming required equipment, and she managed to borrow three cameras from friends. This even included one very expensive camera worth over a hundred thousand yuan, which came from a volunteer who secretly borrowed it from an environmental organization. Han was terrified of handling such equipment, because with such a modest income, if an accident happened she could not repay the amount even if she gave all the money she had.
After a few months, several groups had released films. Protagonists included a young mechanic, and a musician named Wang Xu who busked below underpasses, but ended up hitting the big time and establishing his own singing group called ‘Xu Ri Yang Gang’ (旭日阳刚). The films were screened in Beijing’s International Trade Center, and Wang Xu made the visit on a bleak winter day to show his support. Wang Xu always remembered that, though the program could not afford to pay for transportation, Han paid the fee out of her own pocket. Even after becoming famous Wang still called Han to chat about this experience. There was also a film about the recent closure of Beijing migrant schools, with filmmakers interviewing migrant children. The film had the opportunity to be shown on television, but eventually was not because the technical quality wasn’t good enough. However, it attracted the attention of ‘Min Jian’ (民间) magazine, which in 2006 published an article based on one of the film’s interviews.
This project meant a lot to Han. It enabled her to witness how young people can participate in the development of society. The young people, all in their twenties, who took part, had a special sense of justice, passion, and action, and through encountering social problems, they demonstrated their own strength. However, at that time development education still encountered many difficulties and external controversy, with critics saying that development education had become like a theater workshop. Although Han had her own thoughts and practices, she was still too young to think about the field clearly, and to fight for its rightful recognition.
When the development education program encountered setbacks, Han sometimes felt defeated. Despite feeling that she was dedicated and confident about doing development education, she sometimes felt that she could not continue. At that time, she continuously tried to apply for funding programs. Program officials questioned why they should provide Han with funding. This frustrated her because she thought that funders and partners should come to agreements through collaborative and equal discussion, coming to a consensus rather than the partners get an idea first and then try to convince the funders by following their thoughts. With this, she believed, there were problems of equality, and also whether each side had a different understanding of the issue at hand.
At the end of 2007, an NGO network concerned with globalization called China WTO Network was recruiting. Han switched jobs and became the organization’s coordinator, working there until mid-2012. Her work at the China WTO Network had a great influence on her. Firstly, it helped her to partially solve some of the remaining problems of the development education programs. It also laid the foundations for the One Yuan Commune’s work at expanding public space. Established during a time of intensive globalization and just after China’s accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO), China WTO Network’s work clarified the problems Han encountered while engaged in development education work. She learned how to see the structural logic behind the rise of social problems. For example, intellectual property rights can protect innovation, but sometimes they restrict capital flow to secondary actors who have traditionally benefitted from a product. This can be the case when traditional Chinese medicine recipes are patented. These recipes have often been passed down through many members of a community, only to ultimately be exploited by one individual patent holder. This not only takes money away from communities, but also harms it through increasing the costs of the medicine after it has been patented.
The China WTO Network also had its limitations. Owing to the founder’s international background, discussion topics tended to come from the international level, not from the bottom-up, local-level community. Moreover, due to the all-encompassing nature of trade issues, Han found it difficult to do thorough, detailed work by herself, and found that it was hard for some trade issues to take root in the community.
During her time at the China WTO Network, Han continued to use her spare time working with the community theater and community video project. Throughout that time she therefore felt that she remained connected to the community. By 2010, she again sought a change.
The strength of marginalized groups
At the end of 2010, and because Wang Xu’s music group had become popular, Han had the opportunity to film a group of migrant laborers who worked as domestic workers.
With this new project lasting for 9 months Han considered taking the same approach as when she was doing development education, by asking young people to film marginalized groups and encouraging them to enact change. But early in 2011, Han saw a documentary film by the Taiwan Labor Organization Nanyang Sisters Association (台湾劳工组织南洋姐妹会) called ‘Sisters sell Winter melon'(姐妹卖冬瓜). Watching this film gave her new insight into the true context of her work: that workers should be involved in community groups themselves, so as to discover their own strength, and make their own voices heard.
Han improved her project strategy by giving filming equipment to the female domestic workers and allowing them to film themselves. This was very difficult at first, because although some worker sisters in the community recognized each other, no one was willing to contact anyone else for the purpose of shooting a film. Two weeks later when the team met up again, nothing had been shot. The process of going from individual to collective required constant engagement. In the initial, introductory stages, they needed help using social work methods. Han had never formally studied social work, but when she discovered that this was the issue, she started studying the methods used by social workers. Afterwards, she attempted to initiate group activities, first getting the workers together for a fun activity like singing or dancing, and then afterwards discussing common issues such as wages, security needs, domestic violence, children, and employer-employee relations. After identifying these common problems, Han introduced community theater to the group, enabling the sisters to tell their stories and identify with one other, acting out a collective story through their performance. In the end, everyone discussed how to solve their collective problems and shared their individual strategies and survival skills.
From this perspective, community video does not tell a tragic story, instead it discovers the strength of marginalized groups by enabling them to demonstrate their own value. After six months of training, the workers had established their own activist group, and began to solve their own problems. Han believed that this type of project provided far more practical benefits to the group, than if, for example, she had just provided them with legal training.
Public space expanding from the margins
When the domestic workers film project began to evolve, Han searched for a supervisor for each group of workers. She contacted social work expert Qu Ping and gender expert Lv Pin for help. However, the project had not budgeted for a professional supervisor, and after finding them, Han said: “I only have 100 yuan, which you could either split to cover transport costs, or perhaps we could have dinner together?” As Han expected, they got together to share a meal, and during the meal they laid out the plans for the development of the One Yuan Commune.
The idea to build a commune originated from the desire of the domestic workers to have a space for weekend activities. At that time, the China WTO Network and Lv Pin’s Gender Watch network (妇女传媒监测网络) were looking for an office, and decided to rent some small offices together. These offices could then also be used as an activity space when not in use by the NGOs. Soon, they found a suitable space near the Liu Fang metro station. The rent was over budget, but they sought donations from some friends and together compiled one year’s rent. In July 2011, the One Yuan Commune was opened.
After opening, the domestic workers had their own space, but they were only able to use it on the weekends when they had free time. Because NGOs are not accustomed to waste, Han and Lv began organizing all kinds of activities in the unused Commune space. These ranged from screenings, monthly talks, discussions among women, and advocacy salons that focused on rights and social development issues, to book club meetings that emphasized the development and training of youth, and NGO capacity-building training. After successfully hosting these events for more than a year the Commune had developed a good reputation within Chinese civil society. The activities allowed people from different sectors and areas to gather and meet, which enhanced public awareness of social issues and public interest organizations, whilst promoting exchange between NGOs and greater reflection on social issues.
More than a year after the Commune opened, they were holding regular lectures and seminars on rights and advocacy. In the social environment of the time, many said that public space was a sensitive subject. However, Han believed that in the process of transforming from a collective society to a capitalist society in which people can experience great losses, there should still be space to conduct public life. Currently, we are in an era where there is an extreme lack of public space, and many people have lost the ability to participate in public affairs as individuals. Public space encourages more people to consciously participate in public discussion, so that more people do not just care about their own lives, but become more concerned with social issues and the lives of marginalized people, and are encouraged to contribute to public welfare. Given the current restrictive social environment, the public space in China is not a suitable platform to assemble opposition parties for confrontation, but a channel to transform society in a positive direction.
When the Commune held events, they also encountered people with misunderstandings, but after sitting down and speaking candidly, the two sides would find that this is just part of the process of mutual understanding. Applying for funding is also like this, in that sometimes the degree of openness of domestic foundations will exceed the original NGO proposition; such was the case of Han’s application to Gingko Partners.
Serving as an advocate for Ginkgo Partners
One day in August 2012, a young man came up to Han after an event and asked: “Are you short on money?” Han, who had been working tirelessly juggling several projects, said: “We are not short on money, but short on people.” Han chatted with the young man and eventually agreed that she did indeed lack funding. He flashed his business card: he was Li Yusheng, of the communications department of the Narada Foundation, and he recommended that Han apply to the Gingko Partner program. A month later, she began the application procedure. For Han, this was a rare opportunity for reflection, so she sat down to analyze her past experience in the public welfare field, starting from the very beginning with the organization ‘Guizhouren’.
Since the overwhelming majority of Ginkgo Partners had been service-oriented organization leaders, Han thought her own application didn’t have much of a chance. She was therefore quite surprised when she was eventually chosen. Thinking about it now, she realises that some domestic foundations are more open than they are originally expected.
Han once heard Xu Yongguang [Chairman of the Narada Foundation] talk about the role of rights defense organizations. During his talk Xu pointed out that one function of such organizations is preserving stability. In Han’s opinion, this shows that Xu is an open-minded public service leader, and has enough insight and tact to effectively connect the resources of domestic foundations with the requirements of grassroots advocacy organizations.
After the Ginkgo Partners nominated Han, she could have heeded the advice of the judges by going to university to study sociology or anthropology, and continuing to participate in the management of the One Yuan Commune. However, with the end of the China WTO Network, the commune had already been relying solely on Gender Watch’s rent budget for half a year. It’s budget deficit therefore had continued to grow. With the soaring rise of Beijing rental costs, rent was even harder to find. However, this idea of public space with its meaning and value could not be limited to those few square meters. The space provides a unique environment where marginal perspectives and grassroots wisdom combine, and where social criticism and reflection flourish at a time when mainstream points of view dominate society. To this day they survive, relying on donations and support from friends. Han is also developing a new project, the ‘Lei Min Image Workshop’, to raise funds in order to ensure this space continues to expand and survive.
韩红梅大学毕业的时候，原本可以选择回到家乡做一个一辈子一眼望到头的体制内小爬虫，但为了逃开熟人社会中错综复杂的宗族关系网，毅然决定留在北京独自 闯。然而找来找去，公司都要有经验的熟手，她只得想法子积攒经验，有天看到志愿者联盟“贵州人”在招信息简报编辑志愿者，便盘算着当志愿者“混”一段经 验，这样误打误撞进了公益圈。 这么一撞，结识了很多志同道合的朋友，每天和朋友们谈公益、谈理想，转眼半年，又看到另一家机构——绿网，正在招募发展教育项目的简报编辑，全职有薪水，工作也近似，红梅便跳槽去了绿网。
问题很快浮现。发展教育作为一种以价值观为导向的教育体系，有成熟的理论框架，清晰的发展脉络。但作为培训者，年轻的红梅对这些不甚了了。她接受的 TOT（Training of Trainer）培训，主要由戏剧培训师主导进行分散的议题讨论，这让红梅难以形成对社会问题的整体概念。她记得那时候总是讲要反思，要批判性思考，但从 没想过什么是批判性思考，为什么要进行批判性思考，社会问题到底是什么，现实到底是怎么样的，社会到底出了什么问题，这些问题和年轻人的关系是什么？
现在想来，那时候做发展教育的这批人，和这一新舶来的理念一样年轻，一样有很多要思考的问题，而发展教育的培训者应当是有一定社会阅历和经验的人，否则， 培训者们接受的东西没有经过消化和思考就原封不动、甚至是有遗漏的传递给了参与培训的人们。比如说，接受培训后，她明确要传递给大学生们社会要公平的意 识，就跟大学生说，我们要公平，但如何实现公平？实现的路径是什么？大家的脑子其实都是一片浆糊。
红梅从绿网申请到五千元的经费，这很拮据，场地费往往都要一两千。然而坐着发愁，不如起而行动，她四处寻找不要钱的资源，后来五千块都没花完。先找的是当 时在天下溪工作的周宇，经后者介绍进入拍客云集的DV江湖，寻找专业或业余的摄影发烧友当志愿者；再跑咖啡馆，游说免费租借场地，她特别感激当时大力赞助 的盒子咖啡馆，不但免费提供场地，还送了一批T恤作为志愿者礼物；拍摄需要机器，就找朋友们借，6个小组借了三台摄像机，有一台还是通过志愿者偷偷从某环 保机构借的昂贵机器，价值十几万，她当时拿着都胆战心惊，因为月薪只有一两千，要出了点岔子砸锅卖铁也赔不起。
几个月过去，各个小组都出了片子，主角有修车行的小弟，还有那时候在地下通道卖唱的王旭，他后来大红大紫，成立个组合叫旭日阳刚。片子完成后去国贸放映， 王旭大冬天的跑到现场支持，项目没有钱给交通费，红梅自己掏了一百块给他，后来王旭一直记着这事，成名后还打电话给红梅回忆往事。拍摄的内容还包括那一年 北京打工子弟学校关闭潮，人们去金五星市场附近的打工子弟学校采访，探讨流动儿童的出路，身为打工者的父母们的愿望。片子原本有机会在电视台放映，但因为 技术质量不适合电视台播放要求而作罢，不过却引来公民杂志《民间》的采访，为此在2006年的《民间》刊发了一篇文章。
这个项目对红梅意义深远，她在这个过程中看到了年轻人如何参与社会发展的行动。二十出头的年轻人特别有正义感、热情和行动力，会因为社会问题聚在一起，展 现出自己的力量。但那时候，发展教育遇到许多困难，外界争议很大，很多人都说，发展教育做成了戏剧工作坊。红梅虽然有自己的想法和实践，但是她还太年轻， 想的也不够清楚，也就没有做出更多的争取。
发展教育项目遇到挫折的时候，红梅也有挫败感，她觉得自己是一个非常坚定的有信心的做发展教育的人，但是却做不下去了。那时候，她也曾尝试向资助方继续申 请项目。项目官员说，你来解释，我为什么要把资助款给你？说服了我，才可能给你。红梅更觉得受挫，她觉得，资助方应当是在和合作伙伴做一件共同认可的事 情，双方平等的坐下来谈，寻找共识，而不是合作伙伴有一个想法，再想法设法照着资助方的思路，去说服对方。这其中有权力平等的问题，也有双方的认识是否处 于同一出发点的问题。
2007年底，关注全球化背景下贸易议题的NGO网络——中国世贸网招人，红梅跳槽过去成为协调人。这份工作一直持续到2012年年中，对她有多方面的影 响，部分解决了红梅在发展教育项目中遗留下来的问题，也为后来成立拓展公共空间的一元公社打下多方面的基础。作为一家旨在为入世之后的内地NGO提供全球 化背景中贸易公平视角和意识、能力提升的NGO网络，世贸网的工作视野厘清了红梅从事发展教育工作时的困惑，让她得以学会看到社会问题发生背后的结构性逻 辑。举个例子来说，知识产权有时候是对创新的保护，有时候背后却隐藏着资本利益的最大化，比如涉及到传统文化的时候，很多时候中草药方剂的专利化，实际是 将传统社区无数人历经多少辈积累的经验据为己有，之后对社区缺乏反哺，甚至对社区带来害处，如中草药专利化后的昂贵价格反而让社区的人难以承受。
红梅改进了项目策略，她把机器给了家政工姐妹们，让她们自己拍。这起初很艰难，她发现，虽然有些姐妹在一个社区里，平时见了面也认识，但没人会为了拍摄去 联系另一个人。两周后小组再集合的时候，大家什么都没拍。从个体到集体的过程是需要不断培力的。在破冰阶段，必须要有社会工作方法的介入，红梅没学过社 工，但是她意识到问题后，自学社工。之后尝试小组活动，让姐妹们先为了一个好玩的事情如唱歌跳舞聚起来，彼此看见，再在相处的过程发现共同的需求，如工 资、保障的需求，还有家庭暴力、子女相处、与雇主相处时的种种问题。
从这个角度上说，社区影像并非诉说悲情的故事，而是发现边缘者的力量、边缘者的价值。经过六个月的培育，姐妹们真的成立了合同小组、维权小组，并开始解决 问题。红梅觉得，如果只是为姐妹们提供法律培训，由上而下，无法对接家政工自身的经验，而从社区得出的朴素经验，往往比法律上规定的条文更适应她们的生 存。
建公社的想法起源于为家政工姐妹提供周末活动空间的愿望。当时，红梅的世贸网和吕频的妇女传媒监测网络正好都在寻找办公室，两家预算凑一凑，能合起来租套 不大的办公室，会议室空出来，就可以当作活动场地。很快，她们在城铁柳芳站附近找到合适的办公室，房租超出预算，她们又向一些朋友募捐，凑到第一年的房 租，2011年7月，一元公社开张了。
开张之后，姐妹们有了属于自己的空间，但她们只有周末有空的时候才会来。NGO没有浪费的习惯，红梅、吕频们开始组织各种各样的活动，从关注权利和社会发 展议题的彩色放映室、发展悦月谈、女行论坛、倡导沙龙，到关注青年人发展与培养的青年社会性别读书会与重视人文关怀的小泥屋青年读书会，以及为NGO提供 能力建设的培训、为缺乏资源的NGO提供免费活动场地……一年多下来，一元公社发展出许多在公民社会的多个领域中小有名气甚至形成品牌的公共活动。这些活 动让不同阶层和领域的人们在这里聚集，彼此看见，不仅提升了公众对社会议题和公益组织的了解，引导公众参与社会发展思想的辩论与传播，也促进NGO之间的 交流，促进对社会议题的反思。
一元公社开张一年多，常常组织关于权利和倡导的讲座、沙龙，很多人会觉得在当前的社会环境中，公共空间具有一定的敏感性。红梅却认为，在从集体社会向资本 社会转型的过程中人们丧失的很多东西之中，就有进行公共生活的空间。当前的我们处在一个极度缺乏公共空间的时代，很多人丧失了作为个体参与公共事务的能 力。公共空间鼓励更多的人有意识地参与公共话题的讨论，让更多人不只是关心自己的生活，而且更多关心社会问题和边缘人群的生活，然后再去做公益。公共空间 对于当前这个缺乏弹性与润滑剂的社会来说，不是反对派集结的场所，而是寻求社会向更美好的方向转变的途径。
2012年8月份的一天，一个小伙子在活动结束后上来问红梅：“你这里缺钱不？”几个活动间忙的团团转的红梅说:“我们不缺钱，缺人。”小伙子很意外，和 红梅聊了起来，最后下结论，你这里还是缺钱。他亮出自己的名片，南都公益基金会传播部的李玉生，建议红梅申请银杏伙伴计划。红梅确实缺钱，之后的一个多 月，她寻找推荐人、写申请材料，做了认真的准备。对她来说，这是个难得的反思机会，沉淀下来完整梳理了一遍从贵州人以来的公益发展轨迹。
获选银杏伙伴之后，红梅可能会听从评委的建议，去读社会学或人类学的课程，也会继续参与一元公社的管理运营，但随着中国世贸网的结束，一元公社的租金已有 半年只靠妇女传媒监测网络的租金预算独立支撑，原本就有的预算缺口越来越大。随着北京的房租猛涨，租金更难筹集，她们甚至萌生过关张的念头。但一念及这样 一个公共空间，它的意义和价值绝不限定在那小小的几十平米，在那里碰撞过的边缘观点和草根智慧，激荡过的社会批判和行业反思，在主流观点近乎占据所有讨论 空间的当前社会是如此珍贵，而它的存在和延续，也让更多人看到，这样一个场所也有生存和生长的空间，因此，她们依靠着朋友们的捐款，支撑至今。为此，红梅 还在努力为新成立的机构——“雷民影像工作室”筹款，从而继续以机构租金合作的方式，让这一空间继续生存拓展。