Though there was doubt that after his release detained Chinese artist Ai Weiwei would be able to return to his position as the most outspoken member ofthe Chinese art world, the artist has proven that his vocal politics are here to stay. Ai has given his first post-release interview to the Global Times, a daily Chinese newspaper that is run under the umbrella of the official Communist Party paper, the People's Daily. This "6 hour long interview" has been condensed into a two-page article for the Global Times. Here, ARTINFO has collected some highlights and takeaways from the interview:
AI WON'T STAY SILENT
Though Ai endured confinement and mental torture from the Chinese government, the threat of more won't keep him from continuing to push for greater openness and freedom in the country. "I've been drawn into the vortex of politics," Ai told the Global Times. "I will never avoid politics, none of us can. We live in a politicized society." Echoing a philosophy that he outlined on his iconic blog (published in book form by MIT Press), Ai argues that to be unengaged is to give up hope: "You give up your rights when you dodge them. Of course you might live an easier life if you abandon some rights. But there are so many injustices, and limited educational resources. They all diminish happiness. I will never stop fighting injustice."
AI IS ONLINE, DESPITE HIS BAIL CONDITIONS
The Global Times article states that "Ai said he has resumed normal lifeand although a condition of his bail forbids him from using Twitter, he still surfs the Internet for news." This, however, would seem to be contradicted by the artist's recent return to Twitter, which made headlines because he publicly criticized the Chinese government and called for the support of dissident Chinese activists Wang Lihong and Ran Yunfei (Ran Yunfei, in fact, was just today released after 6 months of custody. The blogger and writer was originally charged with "inciting subversion.") After an initial press silence, he quite quickly returned to the public eye via Google Plus and Twitter, referencing the torture that he underwent during his arrest and denouncing the government's actions against his colleagues, who were also arrested. He recently tweeted that studio employees and associates Liu Zhenggang, Hu Mingfen, Wen Tao, and Zhang Jinsong, "were illegally detained because of me.... They innocently suffered enormous mental devastation and physical torture." The government just can't seem to keep Ai from the Internet.
GLOBAL TIMES SIDES WITH AI, SORT OF
Throughout the article, the Global Times comes out in support of Ai through a number of passive but notable ways. Most prominent among them is their argument that Ai isn't actually committing the cardinal sin of trying to start a revolution. "While Ai continues to demand reforms, he said he has never called for a change to the form of China's government," Global Times writes. "Overthrowing the regime through a radical revolution is not the way to solve China's problems," Ai is quoted as saying. "The most important thing is a scientific and democratic political system." Calling for democracy, of course, is dicey — but China's number one political crime is attempting to overthrow the government, which the Global Times articles goes out of its way to state that Ai is not doing.
The article also takes care to state that Ai is willing to take responsibility for the "crimes" that the government has accused him of — tax evasion — and accept the punishment — a fine. Ai "agreed that if he were proven guilty he would accept the punishment." These statements on the part of the newspaper point toward quiet support of the artist.
CHINA IS STILL TRYING TO DOWNPLAY CONTROVERSY
Nevertheless, a series of quotes at the very end of the Global Times article point towards a more official line on Ai's crimes. The Chinese government attempted to keep their justification for arresting Ai apolitical, charging him with tax evasion in an effort to downplay accusations of blocking freedom of speech. "The crux of the matter is simple: Ai is involved in a criminal case. He was detained because he was suspected of having evaded a large amount of taxes," Liu Nanlai, vice director of the Research Center of the Human Rights at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) — a hard-line Chinese socialist research organization — tells the Global Times. Xiong Qiuhong, the director of the Institute of the Criminal Action Law at the CASS, "wants the local authorities to try Ai in a public trial on tax evasion," the Global Times says. "In this way, we can prevent Westerners from politicizing the case," Xiong says. Clearly, the case is already politicized in Western eyes, but the government would probably prefer that this not be the case.
GLOBAL TIMES MAKES AI A PUBLIC HERO
So, what's the ultimate takeaway here? Through the interview, the first Ai has given since his arrest, and consequently a text that will doubtless be read all over the world, the Global Times quietly supports Ai against the government. Through the platform provided by the article, Ai speaks openly about his sustained criticisms of the government and shows himself to have endured an open attack on his work and survived. The Ai Weiwei in this article is unrepentant, bruised, but remains bravely outspoken. It is clear that he will keep working, keep agitating, and keep his voice heard for the foreseeable future.