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     Xiao Wu     Chengdu, P.R. China 2007

We are re-enacting the final scene of the film Xiao Wu by Jia Zhang Ke (1997) in Chengdu:

After having been arrested by a police officer the notorious pickpocket "Xiao Wu"
is handcuffed to the cable of a concrete mast. The police officer leaves the scene.
More and more people start to gather around the squatting protagonist. Finally, the
credits start to roll.

We get some handcuffs in Chengdu and search for a location similar to the one in the movie.
Sylvia handcuffs me, takes a picture and then leaves with the keys.

Just like in the movie more and more people start to gather – among them many children who
are coming out of school. The circle of the onlookers gets smaller and a tight crowd starts to form.

As I am constantly looking down just like Xiao Wu I can see nothing but shoes. Several people
talk to me in Chinese. A young man squats down beside me at eye level. I tell him in English that
a friend will un-cuff me later and that everything is okay. Since he cannot understand me he takes
off only to return a little later in the company of a young woman who speaks some English. "Can I
help you?", "What happened?", "You want to make phone call?", "I call 110, yes?".
"Don’t worry", I say, "my friend will come later". She leaves and then brings me something to drink.

I can hear the subdued honking of cars through the crowd, and the street around me seems to be
already blocked. My glance locks onto a man’s red cord slippers with the embroidered letters "USA".
The children look at me like I am some trapped animal and I wonder what kind of memory is created
in their heads. Some of them start to touch the handcuffs. The young man from earlier wipes the
particles of rust off of my hand, which had come loose while the handcuffs had been rubbing against
the anchor of the wiring. One of the children says: "Good morning teacher!"

Like Xiao Wu - the antihero - I try to avoid all questions and looks, as well as any direct communication.


After roughly 45 minutes, a guard in a grey uniform fights his way through the crowd and, after a certain time,
he pulls out a key ring from his pocket to unlock Chinese handcuffs. Simultaneously, two police officers wearing
black uniforms appear and instantly the guard returns the key ring back into his pocket. A club dangles before
my eyes.
One of the police officers shouts at the crowd to disperse and orders the guard to unlock me. While trying to do
so, the guard’s cigarette slips as he bows down. He is not able to unlock the handcuffs. The police officer shouts
at the crowd again. Some of the people move back startled. He then gets his own key out of his pocket and
unlocks me.

As I get up, I can see that some 200 people have gathered around the scene. The police officer takes the
handcuffs, which are not allowed to be sold to civilians in China. I say: "thank you very much" and leave
without looking back.