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Why I am going to FISM in Beijing

Fism2009logo_2As you know, FISM is being held in Beijing, China, next year.

The decision to hold FISM there has been controversial from the beginning with some people not wanting FISM to leave Europe, and others feeling China "bought" the event.

POINT ONE: FISM is 'The World Championship of Magic', and as such I can understand how the FISM leadership want FISM to expand beyond the boundaries of Europe. (They have even been investigating the viability of Australia staging a World Championship event).

AGAINST FISM IN CHINA: Many of the delegates attending FISM in Europe drive or take trains. Obviously, whether FISM is in China, Japan, Australia or the USA, it means that many regular attendees will have to face the prospect of international air travel with all it's security measures and luggage restrictions.

FOR FISM IN CHINA: Having FISM "overseas" means that it opens up the event to a lot of fresh, new talent and attendees who cannot afford to travel to Europe. It all reinforces FISM as a truly global event.

POINT TWO: Did China "buy" FISM?

AGAINST CHINA HAVING "BOUGHT" FISM: China was the underdog from the start, as many people did not want FISM to leave Europe and had their own personal or political reasons to dislike China as a FISM host. As such, China was going to have to try twice as hard as any of the other destinations and, by enlisting government support, they were able to offer registrants and FISM Presidents bonuses that no other FISM bidding city had ever been able to do before.

FOR CHINA HAVING "BOUGHT" FISM: The two European bidders, Vienna and Granada, offered good facilities and, to some extent, what we have come to expect from a FISM bid. However, China changed the ground rules by coming in with government funding and being able to offer great facilities at very appealing prices. They came in marketing themselves aggressively and won a lot of people over, as was reflected in the voting.

(Some argued that FISM International President Eric Eswin was "pro-China" from the start, and even though some of his speeches could be interpreted that way, he wasn't. Regardless, voting was left to FISM Presidents in secrecy and no one person could have asserted that much power over the votes. In fact, some Presidents who felt Eric was pro-China voted for Granada in protest to what they interpreted as his bias. The votes were counted and scrutinised correctly). 

POINT THREE: By holding FISM in China, the country that manufactures many unauthorised copies of tricks, we are condoning the piracy of magic effects.

AGAINST CHINA PIRATING MAGIC EFFECTS: There can be no denying this. Many, many unauthorised copies of magic tricks are manufactured in China. However, the majority of these tricks are being manufactured in China in order to fill orders from... you guessed it... the West. Companies like Magic Makers want to bring out products at the lowest possible prices, and Chinese factories are willing to do it for them. It will take a long time for the idea of copyright to become a part of a culture that has never had any need for that concept before. (Though, ironically, they are really cracking down on anyone making copies of their Beijing Olympics merchandise. Maybe they are starting to understand!)

FOR CHINA PIRATING MAGIC EFFECTS: Again, we cannot endorse this practice, but should if we deny the magicians of China the opportunity to host FISM because they have failed to stop factory owners (usually non-magicians) from manufacturing tricks? How can we expect the magicians to stop them? The Chinese factories currently producing magic tricks are simply filling orders. If the unethical companies in the West stopped ordering copies to be made, the factories would manufacture plastic soup spoons, or graters, or fake iPods or whatever the next client wants them to order. So, if we were to say no to China hosting FISM because they haven't wiped out piracy, we should also deny America, Hong Kong, Thailand, and several European countries the right as they all house companies who manufacture rip-offs of other magicians tricks or DVDs. And we should definitely not go to any magic events in Michigan until they shut down Dave J Castle and his exposure business! ;)

(Regarding China and copies, by holding FISM in China it's put the spotlight of the magic world on the issue of piracy. Chinese organisers have put FISM President Domenico Dante in charge of the dealers room and authorised him to throw out any dealer caught selling pirated magic. They've also announced they will limit the number of Chinese dealers. To some extent, this is China's big opportunity to prove to the magic world that they are doing the "right thing" and, if they mess up, they know they'll never get the opportunity again).

POINT FOUR: By holding FISM in China, we are rewarding a country with a terrible track record in human rights. We should boycott the event.

AGAINST BOYCOTTING FISM IN CHINA: We are witnessing a similar scenario unfold, on a much larger scale, with the Beijing Olympics. Many people feel that China should not be permitted to be a part of these social/economic events until they "get their house in order". Again, such arguments can be made against many other countries. Should the Olympics (and in turn FISM) be kept separate from politics? Will a boycott of the Olympics (or FISM) make any difference to the way China is governed? Many people feel that by holding the Olympics in China we are putting the world spotlight on the country and letting the world see much, much more of what the real China is like than we would have seen otherwise. No matter how hard China tries to conceal any human rights violations, it would be much easier for the government to hide them if they didn't have the Olympics. When it comes to FISM, how will it look if an artist performs an act with a political agenda and the Chinese authorities step in and punish him or her? That would have far more reaching international repercussions than any boycott would. Chinese citizens pushing for change can be punished by their government, non-Chinese pushing for change from the safety of their own countries can be ignored by the Chinese government, but non-Chinese who are invited into China by the Chinese government are in the best position to trigger change than anyone.

But, looking specifically at a boycott of FISM in Beijing... will it hurt the Chinese government? No. Will it free Tibet? No. It will hurt FISM as an organisation and will not only hurt by demonise the Chinese magicians who have no say in their governmental policies and just want to share and enjoy magic like you and I. In fact, staging FISM in Beijing is the only way most of these Chinese magicians will ever get to see Western magic live. We have the chance to help improve the standard of magic in China and bring them up to date with not only the latest effects, but the concepts of ethics in magic as well.

FOR BOYCOTTING FISM IN CHINA: Some feel that a boycott will work. That by turning our backs on China and refusing to play until they change their ways, they'll change. Some argue that process worked to stop apartheid in South Africa. Others say we could boycott China more effectively by refusing to buy products 'Made in China'. So, the theory is, that if we all refuse to attend FISM in China the message will get through to the Chinese government that they need to change their ways. Others say that it will not achieve anything, but they "can not stand by and give my support to an event that will pour millions of dollars into the coffers of the Chinese government." Will FISM put money into the Chinese governments coffers? Truth be told it will cost the government a lot more financially than it could ever make. It will run at a large loss, but the government is prepared to subsidise this.

Personally, I feel that boycotting FISM in China will do more damage to the industry we love than affect any change in China whatsoever. However, look at what Kevin Rudd did recently when he addressed a Chinese university. He spoke about Tibet and human rights and, though it was the absolute minimum he could have done as PM, it was more than he could have possibly achieved by staying home and saying a whole lot more here in Australia.

I have been to China and met the Chinese magicians. They are good people who love magic and, like us, want to learn and improve. The government makes it difficult for them to travel overseas to see us perform, but they are willing to let us come to China and teach them. I don't want to "punish" the Chinese magicians for what their government has done (and in many cases is still doing). I want to help them, support them, and encourage them in spite of it.