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Ai Weiwei

  • Chinese artist
  • Born May 18, 1957

Ai Weiwei (Chinese: 艾未未; pinyin: Ài Wèiwèi, English pronunciation ; born 28 August 1957 in Beijing) is a Chinese contemporary artist and activist. His father's (Ai Qing) original surname was written Jiang (蔣). Ai collaborated with Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron as the artistic consultant on the Beijing National Stadium for the 2008 Summer Olympics. As a political activist, he has been highly and openly critical of the Chinese Government's stance on democracy and human rights. He has investigated government corruption and cover-ups, in particular the Sichuan schools corruption scandal following the collapse of "tofu-dreg schools" in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake.


People are always wondering if I am an artist or political activist or politician. Maybe I'll just clearly tell you: Whatever I do is not art. Let's say it is just objects or materials, movies or writing, but not art, OK?




Chinese citizens have never had the right to really express their opinions; in the constitution it says you can, but in the real world it is more dangerous. In the west people think it's a right they're born with. Here it's a right given by the government, and one that's not really practised.




When you have strict censorship of the internet, young students cannot receive a full education. Their view of the world is imbalanced. There can be no true discussion of the issues.




To survive, China had to open up to the West. It could not survive otherwise. This was after many millions have died of hunger in a country that was like North Korea is today. Once we became part of global competition, we had to agree to some rules. It's painful, but we had to. Otherwise there was no way to survive.




I call on people to be 'obsessed citizens,' forever questioning and asking for accountability. That's the only chance we have today of a healthy and happy life.




China and the U.S. are two societies with very different attitudes towards opinion and criticism. In China, I am constantly under surveillance. Even my slightest, most innocuous move can - and often is - censored by Chinese authorities.




Widespread state control over art and culture has left no room for freedom of expression in the country. For more than 60 years, anyone with a dissenting opinion has been suppressed. Chinese art is merely a product: it avoids any meaningful engagement. There is no larger context. Its only purpose is to charm viewers with its ambiguity.




Historically, China is not a nation of sportsmen. We traditionally put more emphasis on being close to nature than pushing endlessly to excel. A philosophy that values tranquil contemplation of the landscape cannot easily be adapted to the Olympic slogan of 'higher, stronger, faster.'




As a person, I was born to give out my opinions. By giving out my opinions, I realize who I am. As long as I can communicate, I'm not so lonely. If I cannot travel, or do art, or have company, if they take away all my belongings, it doesn't matter at all.




For me, it is OK as long as I can breathe, as long as my heart is pumping, as long as I can express myself.




The American experience influenced my understanding of individuality, basic human rights, freedom of expression and the rights and responsibilities of citizens.




This week, the world gathers in Beijing for the 2008 Olympic games. This is the extraordinary moment China has been dreaming of for 100 years. People have been longing for this moment, because it symbolises a turning point in China's relationship with the outside world.




China is an old nation with a colourful history. Its booming economy has triggered an appetite and a curiosity around the world for its art and culture, one that continues to grow. I can, however, tell people that it is a show with no actor.




This nation is notorious for its ability to make or fake anything cheaply. 'Made-in-China' goods now fill homes around the world. But our giant country has a small problem. We can't manufacture the happiness of our people.




To the media, I have become a symbolic figure, critical of China. According to the government, I am a dangerous threat.




The 'Bird's Nest' National Stadium, which I helped to conceive, is designed to embody the Olympic spirit of 'fair competition.' It tells people that freedom is possible but needs fairness, courage and strength.




So maybe there are three parts in my life - earlier background living in exile in Xinjiang in a very political circumstance, then later the United States from 24 to 36 years old. I was quite equipped with liberal thinking. Then the Internet. If there is no Internet, of course, I cannot really exercise my opinion or my ideas.




Recently I danced in a video spoof of the song 'Gangnam Style,' and it was quickly banned across multiple Chinese online video platforms. But the story still traveled all over the world, carried in hundreds of international media reports.




To protect the right of expression is the central part of an artist's activity... In China many essential rights are lacking, and I wanted to remind people of this.




To work in architecture you are so much involved with society, with politics, with bureaucrats. It's a very complicated process to do large projects. You start to see the society, how it functions, how it works. Then you have a lot of criticism about how it works.




Since the global economic crisis began, the change in global attitudes is clear to see - and I think it is pitiful. Barack Obama came to China and he is probably the only president of the United States never to mention the words 'human rights' in public.




I think Chinese leadership is trying to tell the world they have another set of logic or reasoning or values which are different from yours. Of course, I don't think they believe that. It's just an argument that's made when you can't confront the truth and facts. They really want to maintain power.




The seed is a household object but at the same time it is a revolutionary symbol.




Censorship is saying: 'I'm the one who says the last sentence. Whatever you say, the conclusion is mine.' But the internet is like a tree that is growing. The people will always have the last word - even if someone has a very weak, quiet voice. Such power will collapse because of a whisper.




The Chinese art world does not exist. In a society that restricts individual freedoms and violates human rights, anything that calls itself creative or independent is a pretence. It is impossible for a totalitarian society to create anything with passion and imagination.




A nation that has no music and no fairytales is a tragedy.

A nation that has no music and no fairytales is a tragedy.




Police in China can do whatever they want; after 81 days in arbitrary detention you clearly realise that they don't have to obey their own laws. In a society like this there is no negotiation, no discussion, except to tell you that power can crush you any time they want - not only you, your whole family and all people like you.




I don't think it's worth discussing new directions in the context of Chinese art - there were no old directions, either. Chinese art has never had any clear orientation.




Now the British are coming. I think Cameron should ask the Chinese government not to make people 'disappear' or to jail them merely because they have different opinions.




China has not established the rule of law and if there is a power above the law there is no social justice. Everybody can be subjected to harm. I'm just a citizen: my life is equal in value to any other. But I'm thankful that when I lost my freedom so many people shared feelings and put such touching effort into helping me.




We see the tendency in the world to criticise democracy and sometimes even to say that authoritarian countries like China are more efficient. That is very short-sighted. China looks efficient only because it can sacrifice most people's rights. This is not something the west should be happy about.




The internet is a wild land with its own games, languages and gestures through which we are starting to share common feelings.




For all the tough talk about China during the presidential debates, Romney and Obama evaded any mention of China's suspect human rights record, corruption, and rule of law. By not tackling these controversial topics, the candidates are protecting a strategic partnership with China at the expense of essential human values and beliefs.




Everyone wants an iPhone, but it would be impossible to design an iPhone in China because it's not a product; it's an understanding of human nature.




Twitter was like a poem. It was rich, real and spontaneous. It really fit my style. In a year and a half, I tweeted 60,000 tweets, over 100,000 words. I spent a minimum eight hours a day on it, sometimes 24 hours.




The Olympic Games are highly commercialised. They purport to follow the traditions of an ancient athletics competition, but today it is the commercial aspect that is most apparent. I have seen how, through sport, cities and corporations compete against each other for financial gain.



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