China’s Impolitic Artist, Still Waiting to Be Silenced

The New York Times profiles artist and activist Ai Weiwei:

At 52, Mr. Ai, a beefy, bearded man with an air of almost monastic composure, is an international figure in the art world, successful beyond what anyone might have predicted even a decade ago. He is a celebrated architect, a co-designer of Beijing’s landmark Bird’s Nest Olympic stadium, an installation artist and a documentary filmmaker with a 100-member staff.

Artistically, he can do almost anything he wishes, like personally shipping 16 40-foot containers, including 9,000 custom-made children’s backpacks, from Beijing for his recent exhibition in Munich.

Yet clearly, all is not rosy in Mr. Ai’s world. In one of his early acclaimed works, a series of three photographs called “Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn,” he dispassionately shatters a priceless ancient Chinese vase, striking a theme — destruction and recreation — that runs through much of his art.

[...] Then there are his politics, an in-your-face criticism of China’s leaders that, given Beijing’s limited tolerance for dissent, seems almost suicidal. Long before the Olympics, Mr. Ai disavowed his role in designing the Bird’s Nest, saying the government had transformed the Olympics into a patriotic celebration instead of using them to create a more open society.

In a 90-minute interview in his minimalist studio in north Beijing, Mr. Ai called the government unimaginative, prevaricating, suspicious of its own people and utterly focused on self-preservation.

Read CDT’s blogger profile of Ai.

Also related, a lengthy article in Global Times looks at Ai Weiwei and other bloggers profiled in a new book Bold China Blogs edited by the Journalism and Media Studies Center at the University of Hong Kong:

The newly-published Bold Chinese Blog showcases public intellectuals who refuse to remain silent, dare to confront, are capable of clarifying their opinions to the public and opening up the frontiers of freedom by making comments and taking actions, according to Chan Yuen-Ying, director of the Journalism and Media Studies Center at the University of Hong Kong.

As the Internet enjoys much broader freedom than newspapers and broadcast compa-nies, the best blogging can often be found in the cracks between traditional and new media.

“Blogging is like making love without wearing a condom,” said magazine reporter Wang Xiaofeng, one of 17 named in the book.

[...] To write a blog, Ai often racks his brains and knows his words might reach maybe 10,000 readers. Twitter is different, he said. He never knows how many people will read his message as it is constantly reposted by other Twitterers, spreading fast like a virus.

Because of its high speed and unknown scope of distribution, Ai believes Twitter will replace the traditional blog.

“A bullet targeting nowhere and anywhere is the most dangerous,” he said.