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February 16, 2012

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Group's 'performance art' crawl draws attention to gender equality

ON a muddy downtown street in a constant drizzle, the three men crawled slowly with a young woman sitting on one's back. With a green whip in her hand, she occasionally lashed them in front of a crowd of people.

For couples who were celebrating their Valentine's Day around downtown Shanghai's Nanjing Road Pedestrian Mall, it was quite an unusual scene. Some were so stunned that they capped their mouths and hastened their walking speed; some were amused and took photos and immediately uploaded them to social-networking sites.

Then to the surprise of onlookers, a pair switched roles as the woman bent over to the ground, letting the man sit on her back. Some in the audience hissed in disgust, some wowed in excitement, and many simply wondered why.

Kang Yi, 25, leader of the controversial performance art group that left the city yesterday for their hometowns in Hunan Province to "take some rest" before the next show, told Shanghai Daily that his performance was to promote "equality between men and women" and was their way to combat domestic violence.

Kang said he got the idea of the performance after seeing that Li Yang, founder of Crazy English, beat his American wife in a high-profile domestic violence case.

"Husbands beating their wives are only listed among the many unfair treatments to Chinese women, so I decided to perform on the streets to call on others to respect women," said Kang.

The performance in Shanghai follows a controversial show in Wuhan, Hubei Province, where the artists crawled in the provincial capital's central area with iron chains around their necks, and a woman followed them holding the chains tightly in her hand.

The men even licked female pedestrians' shoes randomly as they crawled.

The show in Wuhan attracted waves of criticism among netizens, with many accusing the men of "damaging images of Chinese men" and making a fuss about an "imaginary illness."

"I agree with their idea to respect women, but what they actually did was to disgrace men!" was one comment on the microblog

Kang said he expected such opinions. "For thousands of years, some women in China were not treated fairly but people saw the phenomenon as just too common. Now I spend only 30 minutes to lower men's social level by kneeling down and crawling with chains, and people start to criticize me heavily," he said.

Kang, a Hunan Province native, graduated from an art college and quit a job, which paid 7,000 yuan per month, because he was bored. He then became a street performance artist.

"When I crawled on Shanghai's streets, I was glad to see many people, especially female residents, read our illustration boards and show their support," said Kang. "Crawling on the rainy day is hard, but I guess the route to equality between men and woman is equally hard."

The performance sparked a discussion among local residents. "I don't know what they are trying to show exactly but I was amused," said Xu Boshi, 24. "Not everyone has the courage to do that."

"I appreciate their idea, but I don't like the show. It's embarrassing, and who knows whether they are just promoting themselves with such a public stunt to earn money," said a 52-year-old resident, Ni Liming. Kang, in response, said he paid for the shows without any sponsors.


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