As news of Chinese artist Ai Weiwei's studio demolition, courtesy of Shanghai city authorities, circles the globe and stirs indignation throughout various onlookers (see a previous post from November which prompted a brief Twitter exchange between myself and @aiww), what is important now is to note the artist's own reaction to the situation at hand:
"It all goes down so fast. There's no reason to stay. Everything is in the past. And we have to look forward," he told The New Yorker yesterday. (Ai is already back in Beijing.)
Although these circumstances will undoubtedly prompt deep feelings of resentment and disgust towards the Chinese government -- particularly from Westerners -- it is important to recognize the actual degree of human rights issues here. Ai Weiwei knows how to push the boundaries in which he exists, and he does so with socially-challenging symbols and productions within a country he ultimately loves (he didn't create the famed "Bird's Nest" because he lacks pride and hope for China, "fake smile" or not).
Similar to AIDS activist Wan Yanhai (who fled China and is now a fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy), food activist Zhao Lianhai (sentenced to 2 1/2 years in prison for his assertiveness in the baby formula scandal) or Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo, Ai Weiwei still maintains a very public position in Chinese society no matter where he goes. As a Chinese citizen, he understands the complex issues within such a rapidly developing, crowded and hyper-ambitious nation.
It's too easy for the Western onlooker to chalk up everything negative about China to the failure of China. But the context of such progressive individuals, though they may remind many of fundamentals that need to evolve, will be what ultimately documents some extremely substantial conditions in not only China but other states throughout various regions. In this sense, Ai Weiwei's challenging role at home only contributes to his country's evolution.
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