A Message of Tolerance, Unrepressed

In the New York Times, Didi Kristen Tatlow connects the recent crackdown on free expression and activism in China with an exhibit now showing in Beijing of Enlightenment art:

An outspoken artist angers rulers with his savage, satirical wit. A crusader for political freedom and social justice, he lives in fear of arrest. Beaten and jailed, he becomes famous far beyond the borders of his land.

That was Voltaire, the hero of Europe’s 18th-century Enlightenment.

It is also Ai Weiwei, one of China’s best-known artists, seized by the police at the Beijing international airport on April 3, two days after a major German exhibition about the Enlightenment, Europe’s flowering of reason, science and tolerance, opened in the heart of the capital in the National Museum of China on Tiananmen Square.

“There is certainly a parallel,” said Bao Pu, the Hong Kong-based political commentator and publisher of New Century Press. His father, Bao Tong, a former aide to the liberal Communist Party leader Zhao Ziyang, was jailed for seven years after the crushing of the 1989 democracy movement.

Like Voltaire’s, Mr. Ai’s work points toward change, Mr. Bao said. “Art is at the forefront of social change,” he said. “In the end, it is part of a larger social context.”