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Ai Weiwei on Modern China

Why is Chinese artist Ai Weiwei an outspoken critic of China’s government?

April 8, 2011

Why is Chinese artist Ai Weiwei an outspoken critic of China's government?

1. How do you describe modern-day China?

“China is like a runner sprinting very fast — but it has a heart condition.”

(April 2010)

2. What is your main frustration with China?

“Even after 30 years of opening up with such an economic boom, the government doesn’t want to change the political structure.”

(August 2009)

3. What other problems plague China’s society?

“There are so many hidden problems — corruption, total loss of ideology, the tendency of the judicial system to stick to party lines. There’s no fairness or justice.”

(August 2009)

4. In your view, what is the main duty of an artist?

“To protect the right of expression is the central part of an artist’s activity. In China, many essential rights are lacking, and I wanted to remind people of this.”

(August 2009)

5. Are you frustrated that more Chinese don’t protest?

“I tell people that because you don’t bear any responsibility, you put me in danger. If we all say the same thing, then I think the government has to listen. But because no one is saying it, I become singled out, even though what I’m saying is common sense.”

(August 2009)

6. In other words?

“I think a lot of people — especially artists and intellectuals — just try to make excuses.”

(May 2010)

7. What do you seek to accomplish with your art?

“My work is always dealing with real or fake, authenticity and value and how value relates to current political and social understandings and misunderstandings.”

(March 2011)

8. Do you view your activism as an integral part of your art?

“I think my stance and my way of life is my most important art. Those other works might be collectible — something you can hang on the wall — but that’s just a conventional perspective.”

(May 2010)

9. Do you cherish your status as an iconoclast?

“We shouldn’t do things a certain way just because Rembrandt did it that way. If Shakespeare were alive today, he might be writing on Twitter.”

(May 2010)

10. And finally, why do you welcome the Chinese government’s suspicion of you?

“Being threatened is addictive. When those in power are infatuated with you, you feel valued.”

Editor’s Note: The quotes in this Read My Lips are drawn primarily from interviews of Ai Weiwei conducted by The New Yorker and Artinfo.

Each edition of “Read My Lips” presents quotes made by the featured individual at the time specified in the answers. However, it is a “virtual” interview only — insofar as we have added questions in order to provide a better context to the thoughts expressed.