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China: Everybody Can Become Ai Weiwei

Categories: East Asia, China, Digital Activism, Film, Freedom of Speech, Human Rights, Law, Technology

Good times for those [1] still trying to explain the irrelevance within Chinese society of all the people detained, arrested or disappeared [2] since late February. Chinese Internet services continue to block essentially any mention of these names, and Ai Weiwei [3]‘s situation remains unreported [4] by Mainland Chinese media.

Even Hung Huang [5], writing simply of Ai Weiwei, “Still no news.”, appears to have had that update censored from her [6] Weibo [7] account this week. A search on Weibo for Ai's name [8] brings back only the message that:


In accordance with the relevant laws, regulations and policies, the search results have not been displayed.


For more about what little is being said in public about Ai Weiwei's arrest, see GVO writer Andy Yee's post here [10]. Off Twitter, amid the relative silence among politically active ‘netizens’ as their peers and opinion leaders have disappeared, one of the few public statements in recent days came earlier this week from Guangzhou [11]-based academic, writer, feminist and filmmaker Ai Xiaoming [12], with her post on Canyu.org, ‘Today, everybody can become Ai Weiwei’ [13]:



Ai Weiwei was taken away yesterday at the Beijing Airport, and nothing has been heard since. His workspace and home have both been ransacked, and 30 computers were among the things seized. As of 9 pm today, media from all around the world have reported this news, but, predictably, Chinese mainstream media of course haven't written about it.

Many Twitter users are calling for Ai Weiwei to be released, and a petition is underway here [14], and a website to learn more about Ai Weiwei has been set up here [15]. Yesterday marked 36 hours since he was detained, but still there is no new information.


In addition to Twitter reactions seen in Andy Yee's post [10], Ai Xiaoming has also collected these:


Wuyue Sanren [17]: Relying on fear and disappearances to eliminate dissent and rule the country means, number one, that this is no golden age. A golden age does not take place among daggers and police batons; number two, it won't last long, there are many lessons we've learned which are testament to this much, and this still has yet to be proven again.


Zhai Minglei [18]: As a scholar who researches civil society, Ai Weiwei is one of the more outstanding citizens that I've ever seen, from his investigation [19] into the list of names of earthquake casualties to his work [20] on the Yang Jia case, fighting the beautiful fight, the kind of person who shouldn't now be locked up, but instead ought to be up on the chairman pulpit in place of those who only pretend to have any sort of moral authority. Of course, if Old Ai were to go sit in the chairman seat, he'd just flip everybody the middle finger.


Pu Zhiqiang [21]: In the Yang Jia [22] case, he called for justice. In the manmade disaster following the Sichuan earthquake [23], he launched an investigation. When Old Tan got put away, he went [24] to bear witness and instead got attacked; when his assistant Liu Yanping [25] was being held [26], he immediately turned around and went back to save her; when artists faced having their studios demolished, he went straight to Chang'an Avenue [27]; in the wake of the Jiaozhou fire [28], he went to seek out the truth; after Qian Yunhui [29]‘s tragic death, he spoke directly with the media. The world's not much difference only because of him, but without him, it becomes much, much different. He'll get out sooner or later, but I still want to see that chubby face of his again, which is why I can't stay silent.

Looking at how Ai Weiwei's art has come to overlap with his activism, particularly since last year, Ai Xiaoming continues:


Of the experiences created by Ai Weiwei, one example is his attitude toward conflict. In the past, when we encountered conflicts, we felt we could only film them covertly, because we have no power in conflicts with police. But Ai Weiwei and his group, they showed us their experience [26] of engaging police in direct conflict, and how to use technology to gain the upper hand. Because of this, Ai has managed to greatly legitimize the act of citizen filming, showing people that they have the right to film and record, as well as the right to scrutinize. He emerged to show public authorities just what kind of status those doing filming should have. In the past, emphasis wasn't placed on establishing such a status, because we all felt that people filming events were in a position of weakness, to be crushed at any time [30], and so we avoided it. When Ai Weiwei gave credence to this view, it was a giant breakthrough for him. A breakthrough not only in regard to the content of his films, but also quite important was that someone with a camera had stood up. In other words, he showed us that anyone with a camera doesn't have to run off, and this stance, that people with cameras can stand up, was hugely illuminating. Stand up, don't back off, keep on filming, filming each other. This was a breakthrough.


Another was that Ai Weiwei and company were quick to start filming, and quick to get it online. This is another idea he promotes: speed is important, and the impact of something is related to the speed at which you do it. Which is why he finishes shooting quickly, and uploads immediately. Another experience is in how he manages his team. When it works together, the strength this team has had, one person shooting alone is no substitute for their team coordination.



I wrote a bit today on Twitter: Ai Weiwei has been detained, and he might not come back within the next few days, or possibly even the next few years. But behind him stands an audience possibly in the hundreds of thousands. The majority of those were born in the 1980s and 1990s. Potentially, many of them are also his age. In this audience which Ai Weiwei has left behind, there are countless more people who will continue and seek to realize his ideals. In this sense, Ai Weiwei wins by default.


When I say he wins by default, I don't mean that he won't have to suffer, or that he doesn't stand to lose anything. Rather, I'm saying that with his approach to challenging power, Ai Weiwei incorporates his own unique vision. He's not just extraordinarily brave, but has a razor-sharp sense of humor, both funny and witty. This is the kind of person that China so lacks, and the kind of personality to which young people are so drawn.





China won't see a return of the red terror of arbitrary home ransacking and pervasive literary persecution, however incidents of home searches and confiscating computers [31] are now quite common. Someone said, if you open your mouth again, the next one to disappear will be you! To that, I might quote one saying from Ai Weiwei making its way around Twitter: “I'm very afraid, I'm not fearless. I might even be more scared than others. The reason I'm brave, though, is because I know what the danger is, and that if I don't take action, that danger will only grow stronger.” Please note that I said “might”, the implication being: do you really believe that he's afraid? If you look at the “Chinese Man” piece in Sensitive Parts [32] [an art exhibition held in Beijing last month which saw four artists arrested [33]], who wouldn't want to whip off their pants [34] and give it a go, streaking toward freedom.

Which is why I also tweeted that:

Today we don't see Ai Weiwei on Twitter; Today, everyone can become Ai Weiwei. If you like him, then live like him, and love like him. Love your friends, the children, every cat and dog. Love the people under torment, and speak for them. Countless numbers of you will become Ai Weiwei. China doesn't need to be a barren desert full of crabs [35]. As descendants of the grass mud horse, you can see and be proud, knowing that your offspring will evolve into humans—into happy Chinese people.

“Missing persons: Ai Weiwei”, a stickeraction from Chinese Wikipedian Shizhao's blog [36].