Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei
Ai Weiwei, the
world-acclaimed Chinese artist and activist, disappeared at Beijing
international airport when he was boarding a plane to Hong Kong on April 4th,
2011. Many days have passed, and nobody knows where
he is. Government officials contacted, including the police, have denied
knowing where he is, while the propaganda machine launched into a smear
campaign against him. The Chinese national news agency, XinHua, published an
article pointing out that nobody is above the law and called Ai Weiwei a
third-rate artist. Another state-run news agency claimed he was arrested for tax
fraud.People are using Twitter to spread the gossip that he has an illegitimate
son with a young woman – and to provide her name and address.
neglected to mention that Ai Weiwei is one of those outspoken artists and activists
appealing for the government to be more transparent and obey laws. He supports
the parents who lost their children in the Sichuan earthquake in 2008, in which
thousands of children died under the rubble thanks to what is being called “Tofu
construction”, a Chinese expression for the shoddy work of local government and developers. The government
has denied these claims and has jailed justice-seeking parents and activists. When
he went to Sichuan last year to support a human rights lawyer, Tan Zuoren, Ai was
severely beaten and had to have brain surgery shortly afterwards on a visit to
Ai Weiwei - Leapfrog with Cao Ni Ma (2009)
Ai Weiwei is holding a model of a type of horse called “Cao Ni Ma”, which was created by Chinese web bloggers and only exists in the virtual world to express people’s anger and dissatisfaction. “Cao Ni Ma” is the homophone of “fuck you” in Chinese; the literal translation is “ grass-mud horse”. Ai Weiwei's pose, covering the mid-section of his body, is a homophone of “the central committee of Chinese Communist Party” (Dang Zhong Yang), which is also taboo.
Ai Weiwei is a
provocative avant-garde artist. His
latest exhibition Sunflower Seeds is currently
showing at Tate Modern in London. His most famous work is the Beijing Olympic
stadium, the Bird’s Nest. Not even his eminence has saved him from disappearing
along with over 100 other dissidents in the aftermath of January’s “Jasmine Revolution”
His father, Ai
Qing, was a popular revolutionary poet, reportedly among those invited by
Chairman Mao to Tiananmen Gate to the announcement of the founding of the
People’s Republic of China in 1949, Ai Qing was invited. One of his famous
lines in a poem written during the Japanese occupation is: “Why are my eyes
always full of tears? As I am deeply in love with this land.” Some web writers are now changing this to read, “Why are my eyes always
full of tears? Because my son has disappeared in this land.” In an interview
with the BBC, Ai Weiwei’s mother said he was prepared for this day, and that he
had told her that three possible fates awaited him: jail, exile, and accidental
strikes me most is why, in China, citizens can disappear like this, with no legal process whatsoever. Launching a smear campaign when the person in
question is nowhere to be found is a very old-school Chinese Communist Party tactic.
And they will, if they wish, convict Ai Weiwei. There’s a Chinese saying that the
authorities can always trump up a charge if they are
out to condemn someone.
This is the saddest aspect of this economically-developed
giant. Any voice that challenges authority is stifled even though it is very
small compared to the state-controlled media. Talk about political reform, human
rights, and freedom of speech are still taboo. After 60 years of absolute
power, the Chinese Communist Party is more fragile than the world thinks – and
has trouble dealing with any criticism or challenge,
especially from its own people.
An international petition appealing for Ai’s release has been set up online, and artists
from Sweden to Beijing have launched protests
designed to draw attention to Ai Weiwei’s plight.
Since his name, Ai Weiwei, literally
translates as “love future,” thousands of messages of support for him on
Chinese websites have used the homophone of his name
- “love future” – to get around the
censors, while wondering if the future will
really love us back.
The BBC has recently aired a compelling documentary about Ai Weiwei’s life and work.
Though the man has disappeared, the artist continues
to make his mark.
Yan Liang is a prize-winning journalist and translator based in Montreal
with more than ten years’ experience working in Canada and China. She
presently works for Radio-Canada International (RCI) as a host and
journalist. She was involved in several translation projects, such as
Arthur Miller’s autobiography Time Bends (2010, Shanghai 99Read), Stan Douglas’s film transcript Journey into Fear (2004) and others. She is also a freelance writer for several magazines in Taiwan and China.
Photo of Yan Liang by Li Zhao.