Ai Weiwei: The Most Interesting Man in China

Chinese authorities would beg the differ, as they see Ai Weiwei as being one of the most dangerous men in their country. So much so that he has been illegally detained, assaulted by police, and put under constant surveillance. Not because he has made direct threats at the government or its citizens, instead because he has become a symbol for the struggle of human rights in China. Through all the governments coercion they haven’t changed Ai’s tune.

Currently Ai Weiwei has had his passport revoked and cannot leave the country. After being detained for 81 days in 2011 he was released, but with stipulations. During his detention Ai was interrogated daily about his online activities, and had guards by his side at all times – including when he slept and used the bathroom. Part of Ai’s “bail conditions” was that he was “prohibited from giving interviews about his detention, being active on social media, or traveling outside Beijing for one year” (Ai Weiwei – Never Sorry). Above is a link to the documentary entitled Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry. I strongly recommend everyone watch this fantastic documentary.

Residents of Toronto and the General Toronto Area (GTA), will be lucky to know that Ai Weiwei’s exhibit According to What? is making it’s only Canadian stop at the AGO in Toronto on August 17th. The exhibit will run until October 27th. This gives residents a couple months to look at some very unique and politically driven pieces of contemporary art.

As the constant struggle for human  rights is being waged in all countries, both democratic and undemocratic; I am often reminded of the stark difference between my country and China, and potentially some of the similarities. The main difference is that I have the freedom and  right to oppose my government openly, without fear of reprisal. It’s that freedom that I am thankful for, as freedom of opinion and expression are at the core of liberty. This freedom does not always act as the barrier that prevents governments from violating personal freedoms and rights, as we are all too well aware of in North America. However, what it does do is hold governments accountable for their actions. This is why people such as Ai have turned to Twitter and Blogging as a means of holding their government accountable, as there is little to no other options. Ai most notably accused the government of having shoddy construction in the province of Sichuan, that lead to 5,212 students dying during an earthquake in 2008. The total loss of lives during the quake was around 90,000. The government refused to release the names of the students who were killed in the quake, stating that it was “confidential information”. Ai launched a citizens investigation to gather a list of the all the names of the students who had died. It was about transparency, and not allowing those children’s lives to be forgotten. Ai created an installation called Remembering, it was made out of nine-thousand children’s backpacks to help represent and remember the students that lost their lives.

The government of China fears social media to be the counter-balance to its oppressive laws and lack of concern for the rights of the individual. That fear drove the government to shut down Ai’s blog. The government of China also subverts any attempt made by any citizen to openly oppose the government, especially when talking about political reformAnyone who engages in this act is seen as an enemy of the state and can be thrown into jail for extended periods of time. It is easy to oppose a government when there are rules and laws to protect you, but in China the risks are more serious – as are the consequences. It is common for people to go missing or end up in jail when they start vocalizing opinions that are contradictory to state policy.

“Freedom is a pretty strange thing. Once you’ve experienced it, it remains in your heart, and no one can take it away. Then, as an individual, you can be more powerful than a whole country.” – Ai Weiwei

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