I met Wu in March, not long after that protest. I was researching a profile on Ai Weiwei, the artist and activist, and I arranged to have coffee with Wu to get his sense of how younger artists like him regarded Ai’s take on the role of intellectuals in today’s China. He is in his late thirties, with a rugged outdoorsy look that owes something to the years he spent in wide open spaces in western Canada. (His wife, Karen Patterson, is a Canadian citizen.) Some people had started calling Wu “Little Ai” because of his activism; his blogs had been shut down in recent years, and he told me that he had begun to see a growing sense of social awareness among his peers.
“In China, you can sense there is a change,” he told me. In the past, people were content to “watch the flames from the opposite side of the river,” he said, using the Chinese idiom for regarding somebody else’s troubles with indifference. “We always viewed society like that. But now we are the ones who are on fire. Each of us can be a victim. This makes us want to fight.”