Around the mid-2000s in China, it was impossible to walk the streets of major cities without encountering a 拆 sprayed at every turn. Pronounced “chai,” the word means “to demolish,” and the authorities used it to mark buildings that would soon be razed. More often than not, the structures in question weren’t dilapidated or dangerous—they just happened to be on a plot that local governments could sell to real estate developers for a tidy sum. That made the character a symbol of forced evictions and government bullying moreover.
It’s curious then, that the subversive tagger marked the Chinese Embassy in Washington, DC, for demolition on Wednesday. It’s not clear exactly who’s responsible, as China blogger Beijing Cream reports, though it may have been in support of a land rights protection movement called the Sparrow Initiative.
But the timing is diplomatically awkward, coming just as the fifth Strategic and Economic Dialogue, the annual meeting between top leaders from the US and China, opened. Hence the prompt removal of the graffiti from the walls:
Unfortunately, the photos had already gone viral on Sina Weibo (registration required), where opinions about the graffiti ranged from outraged to celebratory, pronouncing the vandals as “national heroes.”