Ai Weiwei in Canada, … almost

The Globe and Mail article quoted by Paul Manfredi is well informed and sympathetic. But it doesn’t spell out any concrete reasons for Ai Weiwei’s singular status. Ai Weiwei’s status, even after his imprisonment, is that of a “princeling”. It seems to be easier to get rid of Bo Xilai. Bo’s father was one of the “eight immortals” of the Communist Party. Ai Weiwei’s father Ai Qing was a persecuted Communist writer, persecuted under Communist rule since the 1940s. Persecuted before, that’s where he got his name. Most of his colleagues denounced each other. Among famous writers, few seem to have been as obstinate as Ai Qing. He was banished to an army town in Xinjiang, a huge city today. There he cleaned toilets, together with little Weiwei. But after Deng Xiaoping came to power in 1978, Ai Qing became an icon. Unlike Bo Xilai and his henchmen, Ai Weiwei did not build labor camps and organ-harvested Falungong-followers. Before he was arrested, Global Times had published many sympathetic articles about his civil rights activism. And even after his abduction and imprisonment at an unknown location, Ai Weiwei gets to keep his comparatively huge house and grounds and most of his fortune. If he was persecuted too much, the main reason for Ai Weiwei’s status would come out too clearly: It would be awkward to discuss his father’s fate in detail. Cultural policy since the 1940s is no secret to anybody in and around the arts in China. But still. Maybe it would come out too clearly how control over art and literature and everything connected to culture was deemed even more important than in other Socialist countries. How idealism had been betrayed again and again, most effectively with broad domestic and international participation in economic growth after 1989. Ai Weiwei is very different from his father Ai Qing in many aspects, as well from his older brother Ai Xuan, who is also a well-known artist in China. But like his father, Ai Weiwei remains an icon of idealism. It would be awkward and politically dangerous to challenge such icons too much and thus revive ideals in a big way.

The Globe and Mail article quoted by Paul Manfredi gives convincing evidence of Ai Weiwei’s civil disobedience and civil rights engagement. Another good recent piece on Ai Weiwei, his imprisonment in 2011 and comparable phenomena elsewhere around the world is a TED-talk by An Xiao Mina.

Ai Weiwei wrote an indignant indictment of the US behaviour in the Snowden case in The Guardian back in June. That was before the plane carrying Bolivia’s president was refused airspace by France, Spain and Italy on US orders on July 3.

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