So Ai Weiwei has been in the news recently because he spoke for the first time about the details of his 3 month detention. “Who the heck is Ai Weiwei?”, you ask? LET ME TELL YOU.
Some background: Ai is sort of a politically active artist (or artistic political activist) who’s famous for speaking against the People’s Republic of China, specifically its inhibition of free speech and cover-ups of police brutality and general nastiness towards anyone who complains about anything the government’s doing. The People’s Republic of China demolished Ai’s studio earlier this year and arrested him on April 3rd (just as he was getting ready to fly to Hong Kong) for the kind of horrifyingly vague reason given that he had “other business” to attend to. One of Ai’s anonymous associates was quoted by the New York Times as saying: “[Ai] told me that when he was taken from the airport, the police told him: ‘You always give us trouble, now it’s time for us to give you trouble.’”
Later the People’s Republic of China rather unconvincingly changed the charge on Ai to tax evasion.
Most everyone else, however, figures that the reason has something more to do with his vocal political activism, both on his Twitter account and in his artwork, like the photo triptych of him breaking a Han Dynasty urn, or Grass Mud Horse Covering the Middle, which doesn’t seem terribly political until you find out that the title, in the original language, sounds something like “F*** your mother, Chinese Communist Party.”
The Growing Human Rights Movement in China
Ai Weiwei is just the most media-visible figure in a large network of grass-roots human rights activists in China, one that can only continue to grow. And every effort the People’s Republic of China makes to cover up a situation or detain an inconveniently vocal activist creates a chain reaction of others publicly calling for that person’s release and bringing more, not less, attention to protestors: Zhao Lianhai, who spent time in prison after he organised a group seeking compensation for families of children who died or became ill due to tainted baby formula, was shortly detained after calling for Ai’s release; this drew more attention to Zhao and his claim that he was force-fed through the nose while on a hunger strike. Wang Lihong, an activist who draws attention to and investigates instances of suspected government injustice, was arrested in March and faces prison time for “creating a disturbance“; her case is in turn receiving public attention largely because Ai Weiwei is calling for her release.
It’s kind of nerve-wracking to watch but it seems sort of inevitable that as China becomes more prevalent in the international economy, it will become harder for the Chinese government to censor communication across the internet, and the human rights movement will become something impossible for the government stifle.
Things are going to get serious, is what I’m trying to say, and the human rights movement in China is going to be getting a lot of attention in the next decade.