Editorials Call for the Release of Ai Weiwei
One of China’s official newspapers has offered their opinion of international support for missing artist Ai Weiwei. But editorial boards around the world are continuing their support to Ai and calling for his release. From the Globe and Mail:
…He is an inconvenient patriot, the kind who demands better of his country. And so Mr. Ai denounced the stadium before the Games even began, rightly anticipating that the regime would suppress dissent in spite of the Games. His art celebrates, but it also laments, most notably in a memorial mural, made of thousands of children’s backpacks, to those killed in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake – victims on whose behalf he continues to campaign.
Why have the Chinese state and the Communist Party tightened the vise around Mr. Ai? Perhaps, as with the recent detention of journalists, it is a defensive measure, in the wake of recent revolutions in the Arab world.
And perhaps it is because Mr. Ai represents freedom. He cherishes it, even videotaping his regular encounters with the police. “When those in power are infatuated with you, you feel valued,” he has said.
Ai is the latest dissident in China recently detained or jailed for simply speaking out against the Communist Party. The fact that the country’s most famous artist – Ai helped design the bird’s-nest stadium for the 2008 Olympics – would suddenly disappear is a sign of just how much the party fears the Chinese people might follow the Arab spring and demand political freedom.
Ai is creative in both his political comments, usually transmitted via Twitter to 72,000 followers, and his art. When police set up cameras outside his studio, for instance, he not only mocked it smartly on his Internet postings, Ai also made sculptures that resembled the cameras.
Mr. Ai has thus joined the growing ranks of China’s new “disappeared.” In February amid the popular Arab revolt, an online petition urged a similar Jasmine Revolution in China. The government has reacted by criminally detaining dozens, if not hundreds or thousands, of the country’s most prominent human rights lawyers, bloggers, democracy activists and others.
The detention of Mr. Ai is especially notable because of his national stature. The son of a famous poet, he is a prominent artist, film-maker and architect in his own right, a popular Web communicator, and an advocate for the rule of law and individual freedoms. He is also unafraid: In 2009, when Mr. Ai tried to attend the trial of another activist, the police beat him so badly he got a brain bleed that almost killed him. He continued to speak out.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague called on the Chinese government Monday to “urgently clarify Ai’s situation and well being” and called for his immediate release. Germany’s Foreign Minister did the same.
The U.S. State Department managed to roll out spokesman Mark Toner, who said the U.S. government was “deeply concerned” but added “our relationship with China is very broad and complex, but it’s an issue where we disagree and we continue to make clear those concerns.” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and President Obama have been mute.
In the New York Times, art critic Holland Cotter profiles Ai and calls him “China’s conscience”:
…The Chinese government asked Mr. Ai to collaborate with the Swiss architectural firm Herzog & de Meuron on the design for the Olympic stadium, known the Bird’s Nest. He did so. The result was a triumph.
Then something startling happened: He denounced the Olympics as a feel-good whitewash on China’s repressive, market-hungry government. And after the Sichuan earthquake in May 2008, which killed thousands of children who were crushed when their shoddily built schools collapsed, he became an intrepid antiestablishment activist.
As China’s official news channels broadcast upbeat videos of earthquake rescue operations, Mr. Ai was in Sichuan making his own films of the destruction, talking with distraught parents of dead or missing children and using his widely read daily blog to accuse the Sichuan officials of financial corruption that resulted in structurally faulty schools. His accusations of a cover-up extended to the highest levels in Beijing.
To anyone familiar with China’s hardball official politics, Mr. Ai’s aggressive words sounded suicidally aggressive and the silence from the government in Beijing was perplexing. But at this juncture, both parties were almost ceremonially enacting ancient roles. In Chinese culture, going back to Confucius, there has been a tradition of individual scholars and intellectuals denouncing rulers for wrongdoing that was bringing disharmony to society, and particularly if that wrongdoing was injurious to innocence.
See also a Newshour report on Ai: