Ai Weiwei’s Beijing

Sep 2 2011 @ 8:32pm

by Maisie Allison

In what is presumably a daring breach of his parole, Chinese artist and political activist Ai Weiwei published a provocative, despondent essay on life in Beijing in the latest Newsweek:

The worst thing about Beijing is that you can never trust the judicial system. Without trust, you cannot identify anything; it’s like a sandstorm. You don’t see yourself as part of the city—there are no places that you relate to, that you love to go. No corner, no area touched by a certain kind of light. You have no memory of any material, texture, shape. Everything is constantly changing, according to somebody else’s will, somebody else’s power.

Shikha Dalmia elaborates on the plight of China's migrant workers. Evan Osnos previously discussed Ai's bold "standoff with his state." Reihan Salam adds:

We’ve all read many critiques of American life written in a similar spirit. And it’s hardly surprising that I find those accounts hysterical and overblown while I find this one affecting. I suppose this reflects a certain attitude on my part regarding the uses of moral urgency, and when a polemical stance is defensible. The unfreedom Ai Weiwei describes strikes me as very important. He is painting in broad brushstrokes. But I can see why.