In an interview with Rebecca MacKinnon, Chinese artist turned political activist Ai Weiwei speaks on a number of timely issues, from the election of President Barack Obama to the question of individual responsibility:
I don’t think there’s such thing as the “outside world” anymore. …If you are using the products that people have made somewhere else in the world, if you don’t concern yourself with their lives, you’re committing a crime. I think everybody should be clear on this. They have responsibility. Either you’re part of the crime, or you’re compassionate. Domestically it’s the same thing. If a child is killed by a crumbling building in an earthquake and it’s not your child, maybe you don’t care. Yang Jia was sentenced to death, maybe you don’t care. Poisoned milk has affected 300 thousand children, but it may have nothing to do with you. But this does have to do with you.
…We will never have a real civil society, a democratic society, unless people take responsibility. Why Chinese citizens don’t take responsibility and speak their views is partially for cultural reasons, and partially due to circumstances created by government policy. They don’t let people take responsibility, don’t let them vote, don’t let them say ah, I made the wrong choices and I take responsibility for them. Like Americans said, we made the wrong choice with Bush and now we choose Obama. Maybe they’ll decide that Obama was the wrong choice too. But they take responsibility for choices made according to their conscience and their duty. They say next time we’ll do a better job. Chinese citizens aren’t that way. They say well I didn’t choose this party and this government, how you build each road is none of my business. How you spend your funds you won’t tell me anyway. Why do I want to take any responsibility? Democracy is not a political ideal. Democracy is a means of handling problems. This method is effective, why? Because everybody in society takes responsibility. If nobody is taking responsibility, it shouldn’t be called “society.” Or its a slave society anyway.
…Even people in the police, even people who make policy, they are all able to make choices. Otherwise my blog wouldn’t survive. There are always people who insist. One person says, “this post has to be deleted,” but another says “it’s best not to delete it.” I believe somebody must have worked to make it happen. So I believe the desire for justice and equality is something that people must have in their own hearts. This isn’t something that one person can give to another. This is a right that must be exercised. If you don’t exercise your right society will be in a difficult state.