Ai Weiwei: The Need for Change

After some time in Europe, which he spent doing art stuff and recuperating from what Professor Farnsworth would call his stylish head wound, Ai Weiwei is back in Beijing. And thanks to Tiger Temple (Ai’s own blog seems to be gone, we can’t access it even here in the States), we’ve got some pretty solid updates.

First up is a twenty minute video “diary”, which is really more of a loose conversation on a number of topics, such as Ai’s involvement and what he said in a Western newspaper article. The recording isn’t great, and they’re speaking too quietly to hear at points, but it might be of interest to some (obviously it is all in Chinese, though).

More interesting, though, is this video of a phone interview with Ai Weiwei on a TV program (I think it’s an HK program but it’s hard to tell as the name of the show is blocked). He has some interesting things to say about his frankness, society, and all things personal. Some especially interesting snippets below:

A person, if he doesn’t have any means of communicating his ideas to the public, is impossible to listen to. For example, if you take a taxi in Beijing, [you will find that] every driver will talk about some social or political issues, but you wouldn’t say that he is focused on society or politics because he doesn’t have a way of communicating publicly about them, he can only tell you, right? But if you’re a bit more famous, many people aren’t willing to talk about anything publicly, because…well, there are some people like me, who basically just say whatever they see.

The internet is very important, partially as technology and partially because it allows for widespread mutual identification between people.

The reason I have some [social] influence is because […] lots of people are paying attention to the same topics [as me], so I hope that in the future I become more influential, so more and more people pay attention to these topics. This is obviously a necessary condition for a civil or democratic society.

Of course some people will be unhappy [with having many people paying attention to social issues], but I feel, as to the people who are truly unhappy, can we still call them people?

This world may never change, but we need to change. That is, we ourselves must change. Otherwise, if we don’t speak out, we will be changed by others […] if we don’t keep persisting in saying these things, we will be changed by others. That’s how it is.

The interview touches on some other stuff, including Ai Weiwei’s thoughts on some of his classmates (the famous first class to graduate from Beijing Film Academy after the Cultural Revolution, which included film luminaries Chen Kaige and Zhang Yimou, among others), and his $1600 t-shirt. It’s well worth a watch for anyone who speaks Chinese, but the big takeaway line, I think, is “If we don’t change ourselves, we will be changed by others.” Tiger Temple liked that line, too. (The original Chinese is 如果我们自己不改变,就会被他人改变).

Although Ai Weiwei’s blog seems dead, his Twitter is alive and kicking.

(Note: my translations here should be considered even more suspect than usual as it’s much easier for me to translate text than something I’m listening to.)

0 thoughts on “Ai Weiwei: The Need for Change”

  1. @ Wahaha: To be fair, they are called that mostly by other idiots.

    Also, have you considered how incredibly presumptuous it is for you to say what Ai Qing would have wanted in a son? Did you know him? No, my guess is you’ve never met him or anyone in his family, you just learned about him in school and read some of his poems. And yet you feel this qualifies you to judge what his values would be and whether or not he would be proud of his son? Ridiculous.


  2. Yes. It is an opinion, one that I disagree with, and I would submit that if Ai Weiwei “nauseates” you, it’s because you don’t understand him. (Not saying I do, either, but I do think that some of what he does that pisses people off is actually going over their heads, i.e., his middle finger photos)


  3. That has nothing to do with Westerner.

    Give you an example :

    One of them notoriously claimed that China would be better off if she had be colonized by Britain for another 300 years.

    Now some of them even tried to find excuse for one of the most notorious traitors in China’s history.

    so go figure.


  4. I don’t like Ai weiwei – he has demonstrated zero artistic talent and (perhaps because of lacking of any) seems desperately trying to cover his mediocracy with an “freedom fighter” image.

    But I do think that he is harmless, perhaps even somewhat useful because he does put some pressure on the government to improve. Note, despite tightened control over foreign-originated information, the unusual openess of domestic media (especially the official media such as Xinhua and People’s Daily) on social problems ranging from “black jail” to “chai”. Recently the government seems to be very responsive to public concerns – they are modifying the “chai” rules and just yesterday suspended an unpopular new standard on e-bikes.


  5. Oh, they killed the e-bike thing? I was thinking about translating Han Han’s rant about that, but I figured no one in the West cares about e-bikes.

    As for Ai Weiwei, I think the artistic talent is there (see the Bird’s Nest), but a lot of his work is art only in the sense that it’s designed to make people think a little (i.e., “Fuck Off”). But the whole rebel thing and open dissent didn’t really start, as far as I can tell, until after the Beichuan earthquake. And whether you think he’s self-promoting or not, he brought a lot of attention to the citizen’s invstigation of the student deaths in that earthquake, which seems like a pretty unequivocal good thing. (Bringing attention and memorializing students, I mean).


  6. Yes, the e-bike can continue to spawn and roam – the news was out on Xinhua (which, along with the People’s Daily, offers the most crucial information for my trade – I’m an equity analyst). Personally I hope they at least mandate a jingle bell for every e-bike so that fewer people are mowed down by those silent killers (it is also good for GDP by the way).

    I have no further to say if you consider the bird nest as a showcase of “artistic talent”. It is nice to memorise the earthquake victims, however the Sichuan school building issue is much more complicated than mere corruption as suggested by Ai weiwei – it in fact is a good (in the sense of being non-intuitive) economics story fit for the book of Freakonomics. Ai is too shallow to pursue the right story.


  7. The “story” Ai was pursuing was just a list of names and information of all the students who died.

    And what’s wrong with the Bird’s Nest? As far as stadium architecture goes, I’d say it’s the coolest thing I’ve seen done.


  8. What’s the issue with Ai Wei Wei. He stated his opinion, thats it. And everybody should be free to do that.

    All these arguments just sound like “Oh, he said something bad against my beloved country, therefore I hate him”.

    Guys, you have to learn dealing with criticism.


  9. To the person above:

    Actually, there is only one guy above who has a problem with Ai’s comments. The other person doesn’t like him because he/she thinks Ai is talentless and harmless.

    Try not to fall into the generalization trap.


  10. C.Sheidenbisser,

    Are you a German ?

    Your country sold billions of dollars of weapons to Saddam Hussin to kill innocent people.

    German should give Iraq people hundreds of billions of dollars for their their misery.


  11. @ Wahaha: You may be right, but what does that have to do with what he was saying? The whole idea of “you can’t criticize another country until your own is perfect” is really nice sounding, but no country is perfect, and even someone from a deeply flawed country can have something of value to say about another country or society. If you refuse to listen just because their country has some domestic problems, too, well…that kind of makes you an idiot.


  12. Custer,

    The point ?

    The point is that the feeling I mention is shared by all the people around world.

    Funny, French people still have trouble swallowing that English is more popular than Frence, British still think that US took advantage of two WW to become the #1, one of the reason Hilter became so popular in Germany cuz of patriotism, Stalin is the 3rd most popular Russian in Russia history.

    Well, if Chinese have the same feeling, it must be stupidity, isnt it ?

    What kind of F@#$ing moronic logic from moronic minds ?


  13. Wahaha: Read or GTFO. First of all, I’m not even going to explain how your comment completely ignores what I was actually saying and argues a totally different point. Second, for the ONE BILLIONTH TIME,if I “censored” your comment, you would know. Whatever you wrote probably got caught in the spam filter.


  14. Custer,

    I was talking to the German, Sorry if I offended you.

    It is not about “you can’t criticize another country until your own is perfect”, it is a suppress on the feeling of chinese people using @$$hole’s logic, and I hate it.

    If a Westerner burned the national flag in China, what other westerners would think of him ? @$$hole, and that is what Ai Weiwei is.


  15. Some people would think that, but as we’ve said before, there are plenty of American artists who have done that — and worse — to the American flag. Most people don’t care; modern artists are always doing provocative stuff like that.


  16. @Wahaha
    Yes, I am German, but you know what, I don’t give a damn. I have lived in Asia, in the US and all over Europe. Nationality is not a matter of proud for me, its more a bureaucratic annoyance. In my life I’ve found that people who are patriotic are usually quite poor souls who have nothing else to be proud of. You know, no own achievements, no goals in their lives. So they need to concept of patriotism to make themselves feel better. They need somebody to tell them what to be proud of. So it also usually comes that such people end up being exploited by someone. Exploited to go to war and die, or exploited to work for somebody else. If you are a real Chinese, do you just want to be somebody else slave, or, do you want to have your own thought and goals! (and I don’t mean the thought which is told you by TV). Obviously you are no good business men. If you would be that, you would try to convince, and not insult.


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