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Ai Weiwei - "China's Conscience"

And Another Dissident Bites the Dust
The Western media are once again having a field day about the detention of yet another "dissident", this time the artist Ai Weiwei.

To hear the New York Times tell it, "Ai Weiwei Takes Role of China’s Conscience". We could legitimately ask if Bradley Manning or Julian Assange are taking the role of "America's conscience", but perhaps we'll leave that one for another time.

Ai Weiwei, Whom the NYT Rather Inappropriately calls "China's Conscience"
  • An Error in Fact

  • First, let's clear up a few misconceptions - starting with Beijing's Olympic Stadium, the Bird's Nest.

    According to the NYT, "... 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."

    Or, according to the LA Times, "The 53-year-old Ai, designer of the "Bird's Nest" stadium built for the 2008 Summer Olympics ..."

    Or The Economist, who wrote, ".. a lasting legacy in the shape of the “bird’s nest” stadium in Beijing built for the 2008 Olympics ...
    Ai Weiwei did not design Beijing's Olympic stadium. In 2001, even before Beijing had been awarded the right to host the 2008 Summer Olympics, the city held a bidding process to select the best arena design.

    Of the final thirteen evaluated designs, Li Xinggang of China Architecture Design and Research Group (CADG) exhibited a model of the bird's nest, and this design became official in April of 2003 - fully five years before the Olympics began.

    The innovative structure was designed by Herzog & De Meuron Architekten, Arup Sport and CADG, and was nicknamed the "bird's nest" due to the web of twisting steel sections that form the roof.

    Ai Weiwei was not involved in any way in the building's design. He made repeated attempts in 2006 and 2007 to become part of the design team, but without success. The Chinese government did invite him much later to offer his suggestions and opinions to the architects, but it appears his many suggestions were not implemented.

  • Things Are Not Always What They Seem

  • The WSJ had it a bit closer to the truth; "Mr. Ai (helped to design) the Bird's Nest stadium ... but then boycotted the Opening Ceremonies. He has since become increasingly politically active, prompting frequent confrontations with Chinese authorities, who demolished his studio in Shanghai in January."

    The house that Jack did NOT build.
    It would seem Ai was so bitter at the rejection of his design suggestions that he not only boycotted the Olympics but made great efforts to sabotage them in print. Some examples:

    "An Olympics far from the will of the people and the spirit of freedom, a national ceremony without the inspiration of the citizenry, a myth so far away from modern civilization, the end result will be endless nonsense and a bore.

    No one can win the people’s support through deceit and betrayal."
    As to the Olympic slogan of "One World, One Dream", Ai had this to say: "What world? No justice or equality, only deceit and betrayal. What dream? More corrupt officials, more shady deals, continued lies and questionable prosperity." All this while presenting himself as the co-designer of the Bird's Nest.

  • Let's back up a step and take a look at Ai's earlier career.

  • Ai and his parents were caught up in China's Cultural Revolution and were sent off to some rural area for a time, returning to Beijing in the 1970s. We might argue that the family had some reason (as did others) to resent that intrusion into their lives. However, Ai appeared to specialise in venting his bitterness in ways apparently designed only to create animosity.

    Ai in Tianmen Square. If I felt this way about my country, I'd move to the US where "dissidents" like this are apparently treasured.
    Politically, he was coming to be known to the Chinese authorities as a loose cannon with a suspect history: a late-1970s free-speech agitator, and later a member of renegade art movements. He fairly quickly managed to antagonise almost everyone in the government.

    The New York Times put a cute twist on it:

    "When the ideological climate grew icy again, he left for the United States. He had no American career to speak of — New York wasn’t looking at contemporary Chinese art in the 1980s — but he circulated widely in the downtown art world and learned a lot."

    That's another way of saying that Ai bummed around NYC for almost 15 years, doing nothing, but "learning a lot".

    According to the NYT, "He took this 'knowledge' with him when he returned to China in 1993.
    There is an article available on Ai Weiwei's almost 15 years in NYC from 1981 to 1994. He was basically a street rat with no purpose in life, despite the elegant way western media try to portray him.

  • In 1983, he was expelled from a New York design school for chronic absenteeism
  • He forfeited his visa due to the expulsion, and was an illegal immigrant in the US for much of his stay.
  • The US government later rewarded him with a permanent Green Card, for his willingness to protest against China.
  • He was charged with doing construction work without a license
  • He worked as a "tourist guide" in the 42nd Street Red Light district - apparently earning commissions by acting essentially as a pimp.
  • He spent two years gambling in Atlantic City; some say he was actually just buying free chips from bus tourists and reselling them.
  • He also apparently spent several years drawing sidewalk portraits.
  • In his own words, he spent "every day waiting for darkness to come, then waiting for the night to become bright again. It was always waiting, without any purpose."

  • And how much sympathy does he have from the Chinese people?

  • One commenter noted that "if you look at the life detail of the 'hero', it isn't surprising to find that, like most Chinese dissidents, he is no good."

    Another noted that "It seems to me that the west in its bid to create problems for China, is having difficulty recruiting intelligent and decent Chinese persons to go against the Chinese government. The selections have degraded to lowlifes, losers and psychopaths. This by itself reveals much regarding the nature of these western countries and their motives. This has gone as low as when Chinese were sold and forced to consume opium."

    Another commenter stated, "No Chinese is going to bother him if he keeps his lifestyle and his insanities to himself. Nobody is going to bother him for being a lowlife. But if foreign powers are using him to contaminate China, his rightful place should be in jail. If he is going to use his prominence and foreign support to spread his "lowlifeness" and disrespect for his country, then he should either be jailed or live in the US which is a more suitable place for that kind of bum."

  • A Deranged Artist?

  • "In Beijing he helped spearhead new, radical, often conceptually based underground movements."

    "To anyone familiar with China’s hardball official politics, Mr. Ai’s aggressive words sounded suicidally aggressive ... His attacks on political authority grew sharper, more persistent, more amplified. The noble Confucian model of the morally grounded intellectual speaking truth to power in a single dramatic confrontation was called on so often as to become, seemingly by intention, an unnoble and relentless insistence. And as a result, whatever immunity from reprisal he might once have enjoyed was soon gone."

    But it went farther than that. Ai's writings appeared increasingly bitter and wide-ranging. There was no simple 'political dissidence' involved, no pleas for fairness or justice, or more freedoms or a greater say in government. His comments were hateful, vicious and contemptuous, claiming China had no hope, no dreams, no future. Even before the Olympics, he was calling China "a broken vehicle" that would soon disintegrate.

    Even trying to wear a kind hat, it truly seemed Ai was either stoned or had flipped out, because much of his ranting wasn't even coherent. He seemed to be lashing out at anything and everything. He claimed that China had made no progress of any kind in the past 30 years, that the country had more poor people today, that everything was worse now, that government leaders were (in some way) stealing all the money from all the citizens in the country.

    Ai Weiwei's wonderfully charming, "artistic", video about his country.
    My other strong recollection was the feeling of hatred that this man must feel toward his country, to have made many of his comments that were astonishingly bitter, while personally slandering some government leaders.

    His hate was directed everywhere, with wild generalisations that slandered pretty much everything from the Olympics to prices to pollution to the people. He ranted about "the incompetence of the regime", the "increasing poverty", essentially condemning everything about his country.
    Another of Ai's "artistic works" can be seen in a YouTube video that was widely promoted by him in Germany; click here. You will need someone to translate the Chinese for you, but you won't be impressed. The title of the video is "F*** You, Motherland". Hardly the sort of thing we might expect from what the New York Times chose to call "China's Conscience".

    The world has no shortage of flaky artists, but Ai stirred things up again in 2000 during the Shanghai Bienniale, when he and Feng Boyi co-curated a show called "F*** Off," a show packed with provocative works, including one installation that included the bodies of two dead babies. That show was closed rather quickly.

    Ai apparently believed that his country, and China's art, were somehow pathetic and illegitimate unless they were 'Westernised'. He made a bizarre point in saying that all China ever did, in all of its history, was to produce cheap labor. He claimed there was "nothing, absolutely nothing, creative, nothing which shares the ideology of the other parts of the world".

    It was unfortunate that he used his public status in ways that may have caused considerable damage. In a recent interview with the Economist magazine, Ai addressed himself to all the Chinese people born in the 1980s and 1990s: "Prepare your English, and leave this nation. This will be your best choice." A rather pathetic endorsement from "China's Conscience".

  • The Demolition of Ai's Studio

  • The Western media have made great fuss over the demolition of Ai's studio in Shanghai. According to the NYT, "in 2010 ... a newly built studio in Shanghai was razed by city authorities on the pretext of having been built without proper permits."

    As with most stories, there is often more than one side, and such is the case with the demolition of Ai‘s studio on the outskirts of Shanghai.

    It is unfortunate that these accounts paint a very different picture than the narrative being presenting by the Western media sensationalist China reporting. These disproportionally one-sided narratives, twists of facts and half-truths, have greatly contributed to America’s resurging anti-Chinese sentiment we are now witnessing.

    The construction of Ai's studio was not at the invitation of the Shanghai city government, but by a Jiading District official named Sun Jiwei. It appears neither the district nor township government that proposed this construction had made the relevant building permit applications. Ai was notified of this, but construction continued to completion nonetheless. Meanwhile, the other eight artist’s projects in the same complex were unaffected because they had obtained proper building permits prior to construction.

    Efforts were made to save Ai's building. The government suggested that Ai could donate it to the village collective that owned the land, and it would then qualify for public project exemption. In this event, the Jiading District offered Ai 50% more compensation for the studio, but Ai refused to accept the offer and instead chose to criticise the authorities for 'selective enforcement'. When negotiations broke down at the end of October, 2010, the building was demolished according to the regulations.

    It would seem it was more important to Ai to thumb his nose at the government and to resist any form of authority, than to accommodate the rules and have a happy ending. His choice.

  • Once Again, Follow the Money

  • Readers would have noted that his earlier brief article had almost two dozen live links to the China Digital Times (Hong Kong) which, as I'm sure most readers know, is funded by the CIA (through the NED). And whether you like China or don't, much of the Times' content is a rather dirty piece of work.

    The glorious CIA; always ready to help destabilise your country or overthrow your government - even if you don't want them to.
    For those of you who still feel like defending the downtrodden, try to keep in mind that China does not have NGOs in the US, spending huge amounts of money trying to stir up the Tea Party or the Black Panthers, or even crying for Bradley Manning's release.

    But the US, through the NED and other similar NGO fronts, spends a lot of money financing "dissenters" and does a great deal of work to try to stir up trouble, dissention, insurrection, sedition and worse.

    The US did the same with Liu Xiaobo, financing a high life style and stoking his seditious rantings until he finally went too far and got himself tossed into prison. I suspect the same has happened again.

    And then of course, the US can santimonioulsy crow about how China is being brutal by harrassing an "innocent" dissenter.

    If you're a good Christian or a cocky American you might easily dismiss all this as just good clean fun. But it isn't fun, it isn't good, and in truth it is dirty as hell.

    If I were China I wouldn't be happy about the CIA financing unrest on my doorstep either. This is a very dirty political game that is being played, and there is almost no way for China to deal with it in a way that won't let the US claim yet another propaganda victory.
  • Maybe the US Should Mind its Own Business

  • I think it would be appropriate to remind readers (AND the US media) that we wouldn't be having this discussion if not for the extensive foreign meddling in China's internal affairs.

    It is only because of the US-sponsored subversion that any of this has happened. If it were not for the US government, the NED, the CIA and its financing, we wouldn't have had an issue with any of these "dissidents". It is only due to their CIA financing and NED encouragement that these people obtain public attention and eventually get themselves in trouble.

    Nor would we have had US Ambassador Jon Huntsman sneaking around WangFuJing like a weasel, looking to admire the handiwork of his "Jasmine Revolution".

    Nor would we have had the riots in Xinjiang that were organised by the NED-financed and guided World Uigur Congress of Rebiya Khadeer. Nor would China have had the Olympic birthday gift of the externally-financed riots in Tibet the year prior.

  • Why is the Focus on China, Rather Than on the US - Where it Belongs?

  • This is typical schoolyard bullying. I provoke and provoke until you retaliate in some way, then point all the fingers at you while I walk away with my halo intact.

    Why aren't we having a discussion about the US, about its pathological determination to interfere with and meddle in the internal affairs of so many other countries?

    In all of this, why are we studiously ignoring the clear fact that the US, the great protector of freedoms and human rights, has instigated all of these troubles? Why are we in fact blaming the victim instead of the perpetrator?

    You won't like this, but here we have a perfect example of American Exceptionalism and White Supremacy in action. That's the root of it; make no mistake.

    Read also: "Noble, Noble, Nobel" - A touch of hypocrisy, anyone?