New Leftist Targeted in Shoe-Throwing Protest

A student at Hainan University hurled a shoe at prominent neo-Maoist Sima Nan after a lecture on Sunday, earning cheers from others in the audience. Global Voices’ Oiwan Lam translated the thrower’s introductory comments, which were caught on video (embedded below):

First I would like to welcome Mr. Sima Nan for coming to Hainan University. I am also a student here. I want to make a few points. First of all, I have read about Socrates, who once said, I know nothing except that I am ignorant. Secondly, I need freedom and democracy is a means to protect freedom. Thirdly, I have to say, your talk against democracy has invaded my freedom. We are not equally able to exercise our freedom of speech. The four points that you have mentioned, I cannot go against them because of political correctness. Even if your talk is not good, you can go back to your hotel. If I argue against it, certainly I will be locked up in a tiny dark room. Please don’t interrupt me. You should have the manners not to interrupt me. Here comes my question, can I throw my shoe at you? As my freedom is harmed in this country, I am here to protect my freedom.

Lam also translates another student’s account of the incident and a selection of online reactions, which varied from praise and concern to condemnation:

古月照兰芳: You don’t like Sima Nan’s talk, you throw shoes; I don’t like He Weifang’s talk, I throw eggs; You don’t like Kong Qingdong’s talk, you throw mud; I don’t like Zhao Qulai’s talk, I throw rocks; You don’t like Zhang Hongliang’s talk, you throw tear gas; I don’t like Lao Yung’s talk I throw bombs; You don’t like Han Deqiang’s talk, you throw nuclear bombs — can we have democracy by throwing things at each other?

Another netizen, however, argued that shoe-throwing should be considered a gesture of protest rather than a genuine attack. ‘Father of the Great Firewall’ Fang Binxing was pelted with eggs and shoes at Wuhan University in May last year, while Wen Jiabao was targeted during a 2009 visit to Cambridge University in the UK. Sunday’s incident also propels Sima Nan into an international club including George W. Bush, Tony Blair, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (twice) and Norwegian mass murderer Anders Breivik.

Brian Spegele explained the political backdrop to Sunday’s episode at China Real Time Report, including the new left’s varying fortunes following the fall of figurehead Bo Xilai and a recent altercation between new leftist Han Deqiang and an elderly man who had “disrespected” Mao Zedong.

The incident marked the latest case of ideological tension between new-left activists seeking to roll-back economic reforms of the past three decades and those looking to leave behind the economic and political experiments of the Mao era. Last month, at the height of massive anti-Japan protests that saw the unexpected emergence of Maoist imagery, another leading new-left activist scuffled in the streets with an old man who derided Mao’s legacy.

[…] Following the incident, Mr. Sima took to Sina Corp’s Weibo microblogging platform, where he has more than a half-million followers. He cited the execution of Socrates in ancient Greece, democracy’s birthplace, after a trial on charges of impiety.

“Democracy can also give rise to tyranny,” read one of Mr. Sima’s posts.