Analysis

Living in fear is worse than imprisonment

Ai Weiwei

"Wei" means "future" and also "uncertainty" - and the future really is unknown, writes nternationally acclaimed Chinese artist Ai Weiwei.

Talking to the wall: Chinese artist Ai Weiwei has been victimised and imprisoned for his sociopolitical commentary. (Mark Ralston, AFP)

On June 22 last year I was released from more than two months of secret detention. Police told me last week that they had lifted my bail conditions. I am happy that, a year on, bail is up, but I also feel sad. I have no sense of why I lost my freedom and if you do not know how you lost something, how can you protect it?

“Wei” means “future” and also “uncertainty” – and the future really is unknown. They say I cannot leave China because they are still investigating cases against me for porno-graphy, exchanging foreign currency and bigamy. It is very, very strange.

The 81 days of detention were a nightmare. I am not unique; it has happened to many people in China. Conditions were extreme, created by a system that thinks it is above the law and has become a kind of monstrous machine. There were so many moments when I felt desperate and hopeless. But still, the next morning, I heard the birds singing.

You have to ask yourself: Can you afford to give up the fight for freedom of expression or human dignity? As an artist, these are essential values that can never be sacrificed.

I often ask myself if I am afraid of being detained again. I love freedom as much as anybody else, maybe more than most. But it is a tragedy to live your life in fear. It is worse than actually losing your freedom.

My involvement in so-called political affairs started in 2008. After I designed the so-called Bird’s Nest Stadium in Beijing, I realised the Olympic Games was not going to bring real joy to society – just propaganda. I criticised it. I wrote about judicial procedures and made documentaries. I got support from young people and online. I think this scared the government.

Questioned
I asked: Why can they not solve minor problems rather than have them blow up? Of course, no one listened. You talk to the wall and the stones. Every time you try to correct something or demand a clear answer, your situation becomes more miserable.

They destroyed my studio and fabricated a crime that gave me a ¥15-million tax bill. We are now suing the Beijing tax authority for abuse of power. It refused to let our manager and accountant be witnesses at the trial last week or let me attend court. It even made my friend Liu Xiaoyuan, a lawyer, disappear before the hearing.

Friends of mine say: “Weiwei, my father has been questioned, my mother has been questioned, my sister has been questioned because of you.” I do not know these people. Why does the system make them suffer? Because it cannot allow anybody to exercise their humanity. But when your children will never have a chance to have their voices heard, do you turn away?

Reflect on the cases of Bo Xilai, Chen Guangcheng and mine. We are very different: you can be a high party member or a humble fighter for rights or a recognised artist. The situations are completely different, but we have one thing in common: none of us has had a fair trial or experienced open discussion. China has not established the rule of law and thus there is no justice.

I am just a citizen. My life is equal in value to any other. I am thankful that when I lost my freedom so many people put such effort into helping me. It gives me hope. Stupidity can win for a moment, but it can never really succeed because the nature of humans is to seek freedom. Rulers can delay that freedom, but they cannot stop it. – © Guardian News & Media 2012  

Ai Weiwei is an internationally acclaimed Chinese artist

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