Wandering China

An East/West pulse of China's fourth rise from down under.

Ai: China is ethically bankrupt [Yomiuri Shimbun]

Japan’s Yomiuri Shimbun talks to dissident artist Ai Weiwei in his home in Beijing where he is reportedly under close surveillance. Officially prohibited from using the web (I am subscribed to his Twitter account where he seems to be publishing regularly) and meeting the press (this interview may suggest otherwise), this interview suggests that Ai Weiwei still has an active voice in asserting the ethical bankruptcy of what he deems a dictatorship.

Critical of the ‘desperation’ of the Chinese state media’s “Learn from Lei Feng” propaganda campaign, he alleges it as a “patriotic drive to unite people’s thoughts and integrate people’s wills in the Internet age” (more China Daily coverage on the Lei Feng campaign here).

“The authorities now suspect I am trying to subvert the state. I’m simply appealing to the dignity of life, whose value is limitless. I can’t understand why the government is so afraid of one artist’s free thought.” Ai Weiwei

In a manner of speaking Ai’s contributions to the spectrum of Chinese-ness and cultural capital is certainly food for thought.

– – –

Ai: China is ethically bankrupt
Takanori Kato
Source – Yomiuri Shimbun, published March 4, 2012

BEIJING–Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei has criticized the Chinese government, accusing rulers of “manipulating the public for their own interests” and criticized Beijing’s patriotic education during peacetime as “sinful.”

In an interview with The Yomiuri Shimbun on Wednesday at his home in Beijing, where he is being kept under strict surveillance by Chinese authorities, the human rights activist said his country is “pursuing a one-sided pragmatism without freedom of speech and thought, and is in a desperate state in which it has become ethically bankrupt.”

As a pro-democracy activist, Ai has continued speaking out under the single-party regime of the Chinese Communist Party. His efforts to expose the regime have made him especially popular among young people.

In April last year, Chinese authorities, fearing the “Arab Spring” movement in the Middle East would inspire a pro-democracy movement in China, detained Ai on suspicion of tax evasion. He was released in June.

Based on the experience, Ai said: “The biggest crime of a dictatorship is to eradicate human feelings from people. I can endure this situation because I experienced many hardships as a child and I have many supporters. However, I doubt the average person could maintain a normal state of mind.”

Currently, Ai is prohibited from using the Internet and is not allowed to leave Beijing. Authorities have placed 14 security cameras around his home to monitor his moves.

“The authorities now suspect I am trying to subvert the state. I’m simply appealing to the dignity of life, whose value is limitless. I can’t understand why the government is so afraid of one artist’s free thought,” he said.

Ai said that expressing himself as an artist is his true vocation and is part and parcel of his life.

“Depriving me of this vocation is tantamount to killing me. We all think life is the most precious thing and would like to give the greatest possible expression to that. Isn’t that one of the essential characteristics of life?” he stressed.

Ai helped design the “Bird’s Nest,” the main venue for Beijing’s 2008 Olympics. However, he now regrets participating in the project.

“The Beijing Olympics have oppressed the life of the general public with the latest technologies and a security apparatus of 700,000 guards. It was merely a stage for a political party [the Chinese Communist Party] to advertise its glory to the world,” he said.

“I became disenchanted [over the project] because I realized I was used by the government to spread their patriotic education. Since the Olympics, I haven’t looked at [the stadium],” he said.

In late February, Chinese state media relaunched a “Learn from Lei Feng” propaganda campaign to celebrate the spirit of a hero of the People’s Liberation Army. Ai criticized it as a “patriotic drive to unite people’s thoughts and integrate people’s wills in the Internet age.”

“I have nothing to say, as I feel desperation over the campaign,” Ai said.

Lei Feng (1940-1962) was a truck driver in the PLA’s transportation corps. After his death in an accident at a young age, he became known among the public after former leader Mao Zedong praised him as a model of patriotic sacrifice.

The campaign was first started on March 5, 1963, by the People’s Daily, the Communist Party’s official paper. March 5 is the official “Learn from Lei Feng Day.”

Each year, as the day approaches, related stories are carried in the media. However, this year’s campaign is particularly outstanding, as it marks 50 years since Lei’s death.

Ai criticized the patriotic propaganda campaign, accusing government rulers of “manipulating the public for their own interests.”

He said the government’s creation of an ideological movement to suppress voices that are critical of the state is the work of “people who are out of their minds.”

“It may be all right for the government to advocate patriotism during a time of national crisis, such as the Sino-Japanese War, but we’re in a time of peace. Patriotism that places more importance on the state’s interests than on individual happiness, truth and life is sinful,” he said.

Ai said he hopes the Internet, which has become rapidly widespread in China, will help reshape China into a democratic nation.

“The Internet provides a space for individuals to independently and freely express their opinions, thereby giving the country a chance to become a democracy,” he said.

After a massive earthquake in Sichuan Province in 2008, Ai made a list of more than 5,000 students who were killed when school buildings collapsed, and demanded local authorities clarify who is responsible for the poorly constructed buildings. He was beaten by police and suffered serious injuries.

“To treat people’s lives lightly is to do away with ethics. We Chinese don’t know how many people’s lives were actually sacrificed in the Cultural Revolution or ‘Three Years of Natural Disasters,'” Ai added.

The Three Years of Natural Disasters is the period between 1958 and 1961, in which China suffered widespread famine, resulting in the deaths of millions of people. Failed policies by the Chinese Communist Party are considered to have contributed greatly to the high number of deaths.


ai Weiwei was born in 1957. He is the son of the famed poet Ai Qing, who was denounced during the Anti-Rightist Movement in the late 1950s. His family was sent to farms in Heilongjiang Province and the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. In 1978, after the Cultural Revolution, he enrolled in the Beijing Film Academy. In 1981 he moved to New York and became familiar with contemporary art, resulting in an expansion of his artistic activities to include sculpture and photography. He went back to China in 1993 and served as the artistic consultant on the Beijing National Stadium for the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

(Mar. 4, 2012)

Filed under: Ai Weiwei, Beijing Consensus, Charm Offensive, Chinese Model, Culture, Democracy, Domestic Growth, Economics, Government & Policy, Human Rights, Influence, Mapping Feelings, Media, Nationalism, Peaceful Development, People, Politics, Public Diplomacy, Reform, Social, The Chinese Identity, The construction of Chinese and Non-Chinese identities, Yomiuri Shimbun

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