Ai Weiwei

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Re:publica, 2013+ interview with Ai Weiwei.

Ai Weiwei (Chinese: 艾未未; born 1957 in Beijing) is a leading Chinese artist, curator, architectural designer, cultural and social commentator and activist.




Ai Weiwei during documenta 12 (2007).

A Kind of True Living, 2007


Tinari, Philip. “A Kind of True Living.” Artforum, Summer 2007, 453–459.

  • A fine line separates Chinese intellectuals and professors from the political gangsters who protect them.
  • Block [my blog] if you want, but I cannot self-censor, because that is the only reason I have the blog. We both know this is a game. You have to play your part, and I have to play mine.
  • Modernism represents a true kind of living. Modernism is not about form or method or the works of a few artists, but rather about a necessary way of living. And only this kind of lifestyle can save China, because if we don’t have modernism, then we will die under the grasp of one or another ideology. Modernism at least says that every person is free and needs to honestly encounter his own life.


  • We should leave behind discrimination, because it is narrow-minded and ignorant, denies contact and warmth, and corrodes mankind’s belief that we can better ourselves. The only way to avoid misunderstanding, war, and bloodshed is to defend freedom of expression and to communicate with sincerity, concern, and good intentions.
  • Today China and the world will meet again. People will see that the planet is now smaller than at any time in history, that mankind should bid farewell to arrogance and indifference, to ignorance and discrimination, and understand that we share the same small piece of land. It will be a time to rediscover each other, to share what is good in life, to look each other in the eye and link all ten fingers.
  • I’m not sure I’m good at art, but I find an escape in it.

Ai Weiwei: A Rebel of Poet Roots, 2008


Hsieh, Catherine Yu-Shan. "Ai Weiwei: A Rebel of Poet Roots." New York Arts Magazine, March–April 2008.

  • Living in a system under the Communist ideology, an artist cannot avoid fighting for freedom of expression. You always have to be aware that art is not only a self-expression but a demonstration of human rights and dignity. To express yourself freely, a right as personal as it is, has always been difficult, given the political situation.
  • Art is not an end but a beginning.
  • I don’t know about five years from now. I have no plans for that. Maybe I’ll be forgotten by then.

Truth to Power, 2008


Kirby, Simon. "Truth to Power." Index on Censorship 37:2 (May 2008), 20–34.

  • Self-censorship is insulting to the self. Timidity is a hopeless way forward.
  • The fundamental problem is not that there are limits on voicing different opinions here. The problem is that the whole society is dying through lack of responsibility or involvement.
  • [The Olympics are] an event manipulated into misleading people into believing that we have entered a new, successful and harmonious period in our history. This is not true.
  • Contemporary art and the [Communist] Party are an impossible situation. It’s like oil and water—they can never mix.
  • We see plenty of artistic work that reflects superficial social conditions, but very little work that questions fundamental values.
  • There is no revolution like the Communist revolution. You simply burn all the books, kill all of the thinking people and use the poor proletariat to create a very simple benchmark to gauge social change.
  • The great success of this system is that it makes the general public afraid of taking responsibility, afraid of taking a position or giving a definite answer, or even of making mistakes.
  • The government may be made up of clever, sensible people. But if they do not believe in basic human values, the more clever or shrewd they are the greater the tragedy they will create.
  • It is better to have a retarded president who respects human values than a clever government without human values.
  • Any power or structure that seeks to maintain full control and is not open in any way to loosening its power eventually makes itself ridiculous.
  • The Chinese [government] only superficially speaks the language of the international community.
  • My blog is an extension of my thinking. Why should I deform my thinking simply because I live under a government that espouses an ideology which I believe to be totally against humanity?
  • The population is in a constant state of enforced dislocation. So let us hope that a totally new culture will come out of this.

Happiness Can’t Be Faked, 2008


"Happiness Can’t Be Faked." Guardian, August 18, 2008.

  • No matter how long our politicians order people to sing songs of praise, no matter how many fireworks they launch into the heavens, and no matter how many foreign leaders they embrace, they cannot arouse a genuine mood of joy and celebration among the people.
  • It is as difficult [for Chinese politicians] to get a real smile [from the people] as it is to keep the sky blue and clouds white.
  • The Olympics are an opportunity to redefine the country, but the message is always wrong.
  • They tell us it will be about “emotions” and “friendship,” that it will be a night of joy. Who are they kidding?
  • The 2008 Olympics has created an illusion of China to the public and to the outside world. It is so fantastic, so unreal, that the entire meaning of the games is being distorted.
  • Anyone who cares about truth should avoid not politics, but Olympic lies.
  • It is absurd that so much money has been wasted on manipulating public opinion, on simulating emotion. This nation is notorious for its ability to make or fake anything cheaply. “Made-in-China” goods now fill homes around the world. But our giant country has a small problem. We can’t manufacture the happiness of our people.
  • Neither fairness nor justice, neither reality nor humanity can be simulated or manipulated by wires or remote controls.


  • My favorite word? It’s 'act.'
    • Karen Smith et al. Ai Weiwei (Contemporary Artists (Phaidon), London: Phaidon Press, 2009.
  • "It became like a symbolic thing, to be “an artist.” After Duchamp, I realized that being an artist is more about a lifestyle and attitude than producing some product."
    • Karen Smith et al. Ai Weiwei (Contemporary Artists (Phaidon), London: Phaidon Press, 2009.
  • My activism is a part of me. If my art has anything to do with me, then my activism is part of my art.
    • “Ai Weiwei’s Year of Living Dangerously.” Art in America, September 2009, 28.
  • They don’t believe in liberty. They don’t believe in China before the Communists. There is only one simple, clear task: to protect their control, to maintain their governing. Which is such a pity.
  • I think strategically China has come to a very crucial moment. They [the government] have to re-justify themselves. Even the past 20 to 30 years are based on a kind of destructive, suicidal act. Now they are trying to reach a higher level, but I think in any society, culture should have its own rights: not to be touched by the government, not to be promoted by the government, also not to be destroyed by the government.
  • I think right now is the moment. This is the beginning. We don’t know what is it the moment of, and maybe something much crazier will happen. But really, we see the sunshine coming in. It was clouded for maybe a hundred years. Our whole condition was very sad, but we still feel warmth, and the life in our bodies can still tell that there is excitement in there, even though death is waiting. We had better not enjoy the moment, but create the moment.
    • Tinari, Philip, and Angie Baecker, eds. Hans Ulrich Obrist: The China Interviews. Beijing: Office for Discourse Engineering, 2009.
  • I always have an attitude. Even if there are no plans, I have an attitude. Perhaps I answered imprecisely before, saying that I am just a person. I am actually a person with an attitude.
    • Sans, Jerome. China Talks: Interviews with 32 Contemporary Artists. Beijing: Timezone8, 2009. P. 9.

Twitter feeds, 2009

  • Overturning police cars is a super-intense workout. It’s probably the only sport I enjoy.
    • Ai Weiwei Twitter feed: @AiWW (6:46 p.m. June 15, 2009).
  • Tips on surviving the regime: Respect yourself and speak for others. Do one small thing every day to prove the existence of justice.
    • Ai Weiwei Twitter feed: @AiWW (12:39 p.m. August 6, 2009)
  • If there is one who’s not free, then I am not free. If there is one who suffers, then I suffer.
    • Ai Weiwei Twitter feed: @AiWW (6:38 p.m. August 23, 2009)
  • Choices after waking up: To be true or to lie? To take action or be brainwashed? To be free or be jailed?
    • Ai Weiwei Twitter feed: @AiWW (8:50 a.m. September 5, 2009)
  • What can they do besides exile [me] or make me disappear? They have no imagination or creativity.
    • Ai Weiwei Twitter feed: @AiWW (5:41 p.m. November 19, 2009)
  • The world is not changing if you don’t shoulder the burden of responsibility.
    • Ai Weiwei Twitter feed: @AiWW(4:19 p.m. December 2, 2009).

Our Duty Is to Remember Sichuan, 2009


"Our Duty Is to Remember Sichuan." Guardian, May 25, 2009.

  • The disaster-makers always get away, while the innocent are always punished.
  • Once again, the facts have been erased.
  • The Sichuan disaster is not the first nor the most wrongful. But all the details of this tragedy will be forgotten, and once again it will be like nothing ever happened. Eventually all these disasters will together create a bizarre miracle called civilization and evolution.
  • Cover-ups and deception are the nature of this society. Without lies it won’t exist.
  • A society that has no ideals, that discards the principles of humanitarianism, that abandons the fundamental rights and dignity of humanity, can only survive by denying truth, fairness and justice.
  • Behind every political deal in this country, the first casualties are always the ordinary people, who are barely treated as human.

Meet the Most Interesting Person in China, 2009


McLaughlin, Kathleen. "Meet the Most Interesting Person in China." Global Post, June 23, 2009.

  • A small act is worth a million thoughts.
  • I want people to see their own power.

Escape from Propaganda, 2009


Worrall, Julian. "Escape from Propaganda." Japan Times, July 31, 2009.

  • My work has always been political, because the choice of being an artist is political in China.
  • I think all aesthetic judgments—all the aesthetic choices we are making—are moral choices. They cannot escape the moral dimension in the broader sense. It has to relate to the philosophical understanding of who we are and how so-called “art and culture” functions in today’s world.
  • To me, to be political means you associate your work with a larger number of people’s living conditions, and that includes both mental and physical conditions. And you try to use your work to affect the situation.
  • To what degree does it help us to change our life, or even to sense our existence, to really evaluate “why?” I think those questions cannot be escaped. Sometimes in history it’s more hidden; somewhere these can be very personal and individual questions. But in certain times and certain places, your existence has to be associated with other people’s situations. You have to make a reaction to the living conditions. It’s not avoidable. You cannot just be blind about what is happening there. Such is the case in China.
  • In talking about memory and our history, I think our humanity, especially in China, is cut. Cut, broken, separated. If we have a character from our history and memory, the character is broken, it’s shattered.
  • Tradition is only a readymade. It’s for us to make a new gesture—to use it as a reference, more as a starting point than conclusion. Of course, there are very different attitudes and interpretations about our past and our memory of it. And ours is never a complete one, but is broken. In China, but also in my practice.

Who Is Ai Weiwei?, 2009


"Who Is Ai Weiwei?," Artinfo, August 11, 2009.

  • 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. It’s very essential values that we all have to protect. But in Chinese society, people are giving up on protecting these values.
  • My messages are temporary and shouldn’t be our permanent condition. And like the wind it will pass. We’ll have another wind coming.
  • 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.
  • Because of the economic crisis, China and the United States are bound together. This is a totally new phenomenon, and nobody will fight for ideology anymore. It’s all about business.
  • Anyone fighting for freedom does not want to totally lose their freedom.
  • I think we have too much history. It’s not so important. I think people should have fun and enjoy their own time. I haven’t done much, so why should I waste people’s memory?"

Truth to Power, 2009


Frazier, David. "Truth to Power: Ai Weiwei’s Public Discontent is an Anomaly in the No-Politics World of Chinese Contemporary Art." Taipei Times online, August 16, 2009.

  • 'Why are you so concerned about society?' That is always the question. And my answer is simple: 'Because you are an artist, you have to associate yourself with freedom of expression.'
  • Antiques exist as evidence of the cultural tracks we made in the past.
  • We need to get out of the old language.
  • The language of communication will always need to be renewed.
  • When I returned to China [from the United States], I didn’t have a U.S. passport, a wife, or a university degree. From the Chinese point of view, I was a total failure.
  • I often think what I’m saying is for the people who never had a chance to be heard.

Ai Weiwei, Nursing Head Wound, Sharpens Criticism, 2009


Hickley, Catherine. "Ai Weiwei, Nursing Head Wound, Sharpens Criticism: Review.", October 14, 2009.

  • We have to give our opinion, we have to say something, or we are a part of it. As an artist I am forced to say something.
  • A land that rejects the truth, barricades itself against change and lacks the spirit of freedom is hopeless.
  • Being an artist is more of a mindset, a way of seeing things; it is no longer so much about producing something.

An Artist’s Ordeal. 2009


"An Artist’s Ordeal," Newsweek, November 11, 2009.

  • In China, there is a long history of the government not revealing information, so it’s difficult for the Chinese people to ever know the truth. It is vital that we try to bring that truth to life.
  • What does it matter if China’s economy grows when there are no basic protections for its citizens?
  • When I checked into a hospital [in Germany, after having been beaten by police in Sichuan], I was told there was bleeding in my brain and I was near fatal collapse. I was rushed into surgery. When I awoke I felt like a normal person again. But I will not feel whole until I and my fellow Chinese can live freely.


This raincoat has a hole near the waist which is covered with a condom. The work is intended to describe the AIDS crisis as Ai saw it in New York City. From "According to What?," Exhibition at Brooklyn Museum, April 18–August 10, 2014 by Ai Weiwei.
  • The Internet changes the structure of society all the time—this massiveness made of individuals.
  • I wouldn’t say I’ve become more radical: I was born radical.
    • Artist’s Quotes”. Excerpted from a conversation with curators Juliet Bingham and Marko Daniel, Beijing, May 31 and June 1, 2010. Tate Museums, UK.
  • I always want to design a frame that’s open to everyone. I don’t see art as a secret code.
    • Artist’s Quotes.” Excerpted from a conversation with curators Juliet Bingham and Marko Daniel, Beijing, May 31 and June 1, 2010. Tate Museums, UK.

Twitter feeds, 2010-12

  • No outdoor sports can be more elegant than throwing stones at autocracy; no melees can be more exciting than those in cyberspace.
    • Ai Weiwei Twitter feed: @AiWW (8:03 a.m. March 10, 2010)
  • Not an inch of the land belongs to you, but every inch could easily imprison you.
    • Ai Weiwei Twitter feed: @AiWW (9:10 a.m. May 21, 2010)
  • House arrest, travel restrictions, surveillance, stopping phone service, cutting the Internet connection. What we can still do is greet the crazy motherland once again.
  • One of the reasons religions are widely accepted is spiritual laziness and its resulting fear.
  • In an environment without public platform nor protection, the individual is the most powerful and most responsible.
  • This is a decadent era. Its main characteristic is that it’s dependent on lies and cheating. Once it loses this characteristic, it can’t survive for even a day.
  • During the days in detention, I thought most about the moon.
  • Freedom of speech implies the world isn’t defined. It is meaningful when people are allowed to see the world their way.
    • Ai Weiwei Twitter feed: @AiWW (8:16 p.m. December 22, 2011).
  • I don’t see myself as a dissident artist. I see them as a dissident government!
    • Ai Weiwei Twitter feed: @AiWW (January 25, 2012)
  • Three years after the CCTV headquarters fire [in Beijing in February 2009], human skeletons lie forgotten. Is anyone accountable?
  • When the mayor of Nagoya denies the Nanjing Massacre, he gets blacklisted by the city of Nanjing. When the government of Sichuan denies “tofu dregs” construction [which caused the collapse of several schools], they get blacklisted by me.

Digital Activism in China, 2010


Ai Weiwei, "Digital Activism in China." Conversation with Jack Dorsey and Richard MacManus at The Paley Center for Media, New York City, March 15, 2010.

  • China [is a] society which forbids any flow of the information and freedom of speech. This is on record, so everybody should know this.
  • I think China is in a chaos now and it could be more chaos. It’s an orderly chaos. It’s a party that ruthlessly violates every human’s basic rights to serve its own purpose."
  • They just don’t trust people. They don’t trust individuals, they don’t trust any change that should serve and benefit people, and they try to stop it.
  • [With] 140 words in Chinese, you really can write a novel. Most of Confucius’s sentences [are] only four words, so 140 words [might] take his whole life to write. And you can discuss the most profound ideas related to democracy, freedom, poetry.
  • Nothing can silence me as long as I am alive. I don’t give any kind of excuse. If I cannot come out [of China] or I cannot go in [to China] this is not going to change my belief. But when I am there, I am in this condition: I see it, I see people who need help. Then you know, I just want to offer my possibility to help them.

I have to speak for people who are afraid, 2010


"Ai Weiwei: ‘I have to speak for people who are afraid." Guardian, March 17, 2010.

  • I also have to speak out for people around me who are afraid, who think it is not worth it or who have totally given up hope. So I want to set an example: you can do it and this is okay, to speak out.
  • The state is taking action against people who have peacefully demonstrated their ideas. They are writers—all they did is to express their minds through the Internet. So the pattern is very clear. The state tries to maintain stability by crushing any thought of making change. It could happen to me, because I did the same thing and in many cases I went much further and deeper. But I always think the government can learn from their mistakes—they should learn and understand; they should be just as intelligent as anyone else.
  • Life is never guaranteed to be safe, so we better use it while we are still in good condition.
  • People often say I started to become too outspoken after a certain period. It’s all because of the Internet. If we didn’t have this technology I would be same as everybody else. I couldn’t really amplify my voice.
  • You can see China still cannot offer any real value to the world except as cheap labor, manufacturer, and its own so-called stability. Besides that, I don’t see any creative values and creative mind or thinking [that] can be announced from China. So this is the struggle China has to face in the next decades.
  • People have said, if you leave, you may never come back. Or they may not even let you leave. So this is always a cost you may have to pay. But I don’t want to restrict myself: When it happens, it happens. I have to deal with it, but not to prepare for it, because it is a kind of stupidity. If you prepare for it too much, you become a part of it.
  • I loved New York—every inch of it. It was a little bit scary at that time, but still, the excitement was so strong—visually and intellectually. It was like a monster.

Ai Weiwei, interview by Christiane Amanpour, 2010


Ai Weiwei, "interview by Christiane Amanpour, CNN." YouTube video, uploaded by asianrapworldwide, March 21, 2010. (YouTube)

  • They all ask: Why? Why is it that this man’s name [Ai Weiwei] can never be typed on a Chinese computer or the whole sentence will disappear?
  • Myself, I try to search for the new way, always trying to set up a new possibility and to find the new tools to express myself. To reach a broader audience.
  • I think by shattering it we can create a new form, a new way to look at what is valuable—how we decide what is valuable.
  • I am always trying to find how to get the message through. [In Munich] we custom-made five thousand backpacks like the ones of those students [who died in Sichuan] to construct a simple sentence [spoken by the] mother of a dead student. It was: 'She has been happily living in this world for seven years.'
  • You see a Party system that crushes down anybody who [has] different opinions, who has different ideas in their mind. Simply to have different opinions can cost someone their life. They can be put in jail, they can be silenced, and they can [disappear]. And the other people would take it, not giving support.
  • I try to encourage people to look at our past in a critical way because as our education, we have a great, great history. But in reality we are poorest in ethics and philosophy, so I try to raise people’s consciousness on how we deal with our past.

China’s ‘Mozart’ Drops Off State Hit Parade, 2010


Anderlini, Jamil. “China’s ‘Mozart’ Drops Off State Hit Parade.”, May 12, 2010.

  • The people who control culture in China have no culture.
  • The officials want China to be seen as a cultured, creative nation, but in this anti-liberal political society everything outside the direct control of the state is seen as a potential threat.
  • Police in China can do whatever they want; after 81 days in arbitrary detention you clearly realise that they don’t have to obey their own laws.


  • I lost all connection with the outside world and was immersed in a world of darkness. I was scared that my existence would fade silently. No one knew where I was, and no one would ever know. I was just like a small soybean—once fallen to the ground, it rolls into a crack in the corner. Being unable to make any sounds, it will forever be forgotten.
  • Today, the West feels very shy about human rights and the political situation. They’re in need of money. But every penny they borrowed or made from China has really come as a result of how this nation sacrificed everybody’s rights. With globalization and the Internet, we all know it. Don’t pretend you don’t know it. The Western politicians—shame on them if they say they’re not responsible for this. It’s getting worse, and it will keep getting worse.
    • interview in Newsweek, 21 November 2011.
  • If there is no freedom of expression, then the beauty of life is lost. Participation in a society is not an artistic choice, it’s a human need.
    • Solway, Diane. “Enforced Disappearance.” W Magazine, November 2011.
  • I think restrictions are an essential condition in the fight for freedom of expression. It’s also a source for any kind of creativity.
    • Solway, Diane. “Enforced Disappearance.” W Magazine, November 2011.
  • Art is always about overcoming obstacles between the inner condition and the skill for expression.
    • Solway, Diane. “Enforced Disappearance.” W Magazine, November 2011.

The City: Beijing, 2011


"The City: Beijing." Newsweek, August 28, 2011.

  • A city is a place that can offer maximum freedom. Otherwise it’s incomplete.
  • Cities really are mental conditions. Beijing is a nightmare. A constant nightmare.
  • Beijing is two cities. One is of power and of money. People don’t care who their neighbors are; they don’t trust you. The other city is one of desperation. I see people on public buses, and I see their eyes, and I see they hold no hope. They can’t even imagine that they’ll be able to buy a house. They come from very poor villages where they’ve never seen electricity or toilet paper.
  • The worst thing about Beijing is that you can never trust the judicial system. Without trust, you cannot identify anything; it’s like a sandstorm. You don’t see yourself as part of the city—there are no places that you relate to, that you love to go. You have no memory of any material, texture, shape. Everything is constantly changing, according to somebody else’s will, somebody else’s power.
  • [People] always tell me, “Weiwei, leave the nation, please.” Or “Live longer and watch them die.” Either leave, or be patient and watch how they die. I really don’t know what I’m going to do.
  • You’re in total isolation. And you don’t know how long you’re going to be there, but you truly believe they can do anything to you. There’s no way to even question it. You’re not protected by anything. Why am I here? Your mind is very uncertain of time. You become like mad. It’s very hard for anyone. Even for people who have strong beliefs.

Ai Weiwei Does Not Feel Powerful, 2011


BBC. "Ai Weiwei 'Does Not Feel Powerful'." at October 13, 2011.

  • I think it’s a responsibility for any artist to protect freedom of expression and to use any way to extend this power.
  • I think art certainly is the vehicle for us to develop any new ideas, to be creative, to extend our imagination, to change the current conditions.
  • I don’t have this concept that separates my art from my daily life. They are one thing to me. They are always one. How do you find the way to express yourself and how to communicate with others?
  • I don’t feel powerful at all. I am still under this kind of detention, and you know, this is kind of a bail. Even yesterday I realized while trying to take care of the baby, [at] the park, [I had] been secretly followed and it’s quite fragile. Maybe being powerful means to be fragile.
  • The only reason they put me in jail is my involvement in politics, my criticism of the authorities. Later the excuse for my detention became my “tax problem.” But internally they never told me anything about it. I don’t want to underestimate their intelligence, but up to this day I think what they did is very stupid. In fact, they even helped me in an ironic sense. They gave me a chance to explain what is happening with this system. They provided such a platform for me.
  • In a society where there is no freedom of the press, it is difficult for victims to be noticed. Just take the example from yesterday: I had given a telephone interview to CNN. Then, suddenly, CNN was shut down for a couple of minutes. It was the first time I experienced that my television went totally dead. I realized: Oh my God, it’s because of me. This is crazy! Which nation would do that? Maybe Cuba, North Korea, China. But what do they want, what are they so afraid of?

Ai Weiwei: ‘Shame on Me.’, 2011


"Ai Weiwei: ‘Shame on Me.’." Der Spiegel, November 21, 2011.

  • My definition of art has always been the same. It is about freedom of expression, a new way of communication. It is never about exhibiting in museums or about hanging it on the wall. Art should live in the heart of the people. Ordinary people should have the same ability to understand art as anybody else. I don’t think art is elite or mysterious. I don’t think anybody can separate art from politics. The intention to separate art from politics is itself a very political intention.
  • Life is art. Art is life. I never separate it. I don’t feel that much anger. I equally have a lot of joy.
  • On the Internet, people do not know each other, they don’t have common leaders, sometimes not even a common political goal. But they come together on certain issues. I think that is a miracle. It never happened in the past. Without the Internet, I would not even be Ai Weiwei today. I would just be an artist somewhere doing my shows.
  • As an artist, I am very familiar with how to show the details, how to transform them into a language people can understand. They [the government] know that the Internet is a strong force, unbearable for them.
  • If a nation cannot face its past, it has no future.
  • During my detention, they kept asking me: Ai Weiwei, what is the reason you have become like this today? My answer is: First, I refuse to forget. My parents, my family, their whole generation and my generation all paid a great deal in the struggle for freedom of speech. Many people died just because of one sentence or even one word. Somebody has to take responsibility for that.
  • It doesn’t matter where I am—China will stay in me. I don’t know how far I can still walk on this road and what is the limit.
  • There were thousands of moving messages. People sent money from their first month’s salary. Others said: This is my retirement payment—take it. This is the money for my next pair of shoes—take it. It was very important for me to see and hear those things. Normally you do not see the warmth, humor, care and generosity of the people while writing a blog. You just feel like you are walking in a dark tunnel and you feel alone.
Part 2

"Ai Weiwei: ‘Shame on Me.’” Part 2: “Do They Want Me to Leave?" Der Spiegel, November 21, 2011.

  • I definitely know people who are shameless enough to give up basic values. I see this kind of art, and when I see it I feel ashamed. In China they treat art as some form of decoration, a self-indulgence. It is pretending to be art. It looks like art. It sells like art. But it is really a piece of shit."
  • They detained me for 81 days, but they never killed me. They clearly told me: 'If we were in the Cultural Revolution, you would have been killed 100 times.' They said: 'We have already improved.' I said: 'I thank you very much. Yes, you have improved. Not because you are really willing to improve yourself, but only because improvement is a matter of surviving.'
  • Do they want me to stay? Do they want me to leave? Do they want me to hang myself? To kill myself? What do they want?
  • Nothing. Jail is about nothing. Completely blank.
  • This is something you can never erase. It leaves a scar on you.

Ai Weiwei: 'Every day I think, this will be the day I get taken in again...', 2011


"Ai Weiwei: ‘Every day I think, this will be the day I get taken in again...'," Guardian, November 25, 2011.

  • My voice is not for me. Every time I make a sentence I think how many people for how many generations had a voice that no one could hear. At most they will be remembered as numbers; in many cases, even numbers don’t exist.
  • It’s hard to recover. You become not so innocent. You become, in a way, more sophisticated, which I think you shouldn’t. We should all have more simple happiness . . . . You become bitter.
  • Maybe there is something I got from it. Maybe you also start to be clear on certain things.
  • Every day I think, this will be the day I get taken in again . . . .
  • I think I have this responsibility to my father’s generation, and especially future generations.
  • I don’t really care that much about if I want to be more successful or less successful in art, because I never think life and art should be separate. What’s life if you don’t have conversation and joy and anger?

Ai Weiwei: The Dissident, 2011


Beech, Hannah, and Austin Ramzy. "Ai Weiwei: The Dissident." Time, December 14, 2011.

  • Citizens should bear the responsibility to act.
  • They [the government] cannot stop people from communicating freely, to get information and to express themselves. When they do that, this nation is not a right place to live. They sacrifice generations of people’s opportunities. This is a crime.
  • I cannot ever accept the kind of conditions where you can sacrifice someone’s rights.
  • To express yourself needs a reason, but expressing yourself is the reason.
  • I’m an artist who is always looking for what is possible. I’m always looking to extend the boundaries.
  • They [the government] really want to maintain power. At the same time, they refuse to communicate. They refuse to have good intentions. They refuse to be sincere. How can that last?
  • We need clear rules to play the game. We need to have respect for the law. If you play a chess game but after two or three moves you can change the rules, how can people play with you? Of course you will win, but after 60 years you will still be a bad player because you never meet anyone who can challenge you. What kind of game is that? Is that interesting? This game is not right, but who is going to say, 'Hey, let’s play fairly?'
  • Later I became very involved in writing. I really enjoyed that moment of writing. People would pass around my sentences. That was a feeling I never had before. It was like a bullet out of the gun.


  • In a society like this there is no negotiation, no discussion, except to tell you that power can crush you any time they want—not only you, your whole family and all people like you.
  • Tax crimes should be investigated by the tax bureau, not through secret police detention.
  • I am very much interested in the so-called useless object. I mean, it takes perfect craftsmanship, beautiful material carefully measured and crafted, but at the same time it’s really useless.
    • Ai Weiwei, interview in “Change,” Episode 1, Season Six, Art: 21—Art in the Twenty-First Century, PBS, April 2012.
  • Very few people know why art sells so high. I don’t even know.
    • Ai Weiwei, interview in “Change,” Episode 1, Season Six, Art: 21—Art in the Twenty-First Century, PBS, April 2012.
  • The individual under this kind of life, with no rights, has absolutely no power in this land. How can they even ask you for creativity? Or imagination, or courage or passion?
  • My current situation is, I always want to find a new possibility. China is in a changing stage, and that puts me in a very difficult situation, because anytime a new condition is announced there is a lot of struggle between the new and the old. So the establishment really becomes extremely nervous because they are refusing to meet very basic human rights or values. I don’t know how long I can still struggle in China, but I will try my best. Because this is a land I am very familiar with, and we have been in the same kind of struggle for generations. I think it’s a time for change."
    • Ai Weiwei, “In China, Is Censorship the Mother of Creativity?” Interview on The Stream, Aljazeera, April 16, 2012.
  • I think the government [will] lose the battle. Because for a nation to develop, the government needs to correct the information, they need to have a space for people to be involved, to discuss, to participate in the change. Otherwise, I don’t think they can really last in this kind of development, because economically it goes so fast but politically it stays the same as many, many years ago. I think even the government senses that this is impossible.
    • Ai Weiwei, “In China, Is Censorship the Mother of Creativity?” Interview on The Stream, Aljazeera, April 16, 2012.
  • [My family] suffer so much. My mother was much older when I came out [of detention]. She had problems with her hearing and high blood pressure. But they still support me. When you make somebody disappear and you don’t announce it to the family, what is this? You make people desperate and bring them close to death. If our cat or dog is lost, it makes us desperately want to know where it is—so for humans disappearing, you can barely imagine the pain. What kind of society is this? If a society cannot even support somebody like me, then people ask: Who is under protection, then? That’s why there is such support for me. It is not because I am so beautiful or so charming. People feel, This guy is fighting for us.
  • 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.

Never Sorry, 2012


Ai Weiwei. Never Sorry. Documentary film directed by Alison Klayman. Produced by Expression United Media in association with MUSE Film and Television, 2012.

  • I don’t want the next generation to fight the same fight as I did.
  • I’m so fearful, that’s not fearless... I act more brave because I know the danger’s really there. If you don’t act, the danger becomes stronger.
  • Once you’ve tasted freedom, it stays in your heart and no one can take it. Then, you can be more powerful than a whole country.

You’re There but You’re Not Existing, 2012


Ai Weiwei, "You’re There but You’re Not Existing." Interview by Jian Ghomeshi, Q, CBC Radio Canada, March 22, 2012.

  • You know, if they can do this to me they can do this to anybody, and they have been doing this for over sixty years . . . . it’s a very strange world.
  • I have to respect my life, and free expression is part of my life. I can never really silence myself.
  • I have the responsibility to let the people know what happened to me, and did I commit the crime or if I didn’t, what is the real accusation? Why am I in this condition today? I think it reflects our human condition in this piece of land, and if I don’t bear some responsibility . . . . many, many people, their voice can never be heard.
  • The frustration mainly comes from trying to understand what they really want. Also, you cannot understand how can such a large nation maintain its so-called stability by doing something very unlawful. I mean, how can they possibly manage to stabilize the whole social condition by not [acting with] justice and fairness.
  • It’s really life and death [not art].When they tell you your mother is 80 years old but you cannot see her again, you can never call it performance art. Or when your son is three, and they tell you that when you are released he will be in his teens and can never recognize you as a father. You feel terrible inside, to lose those chances. Each day, they tell you, 'You will spend your life day after day the same, minute after minute the same. You just have to pay [with] your life for this kind of so-called freedom that you are fighting for.' There is no sense of justice there. Why do I have to do this with them? Why do I have to argue or play this game?"

Life’s Work: Ai Weiwei, 2012


Larmer, Brook. "Life’s Work: Ai Weiwei." Harvard Business Review, April 6, 2012.

  • Creativity is part of human nature. It can only be untaught.
  • I feel powerless all the time, but I regain my energy by making a very small difference that won’t cost me much.
  • I see myself not as a leader but as somebody who initiates things or finds the problem or provokes a discussion. You have to be always ready to engage, willing to participate. When events or history happen, you just have to be aware and respond.
  • I’ve never planned any part of my career—except being an artist. And I was pushed into that corner because I thought being an artist was the only way to have a little freedom.

China’s Censorship Can Never Defeat the Internet, 2012


"China’s Censorship Can Never Defeat the Internet. Guardian, April 15, 2012.

  • But censorship by itself doesn’t work. It is, as Mao said, about the pen and the gun.
  • At midnight they can come into your room and take you away. They can put a black hood on you, take you to a secret place and interrogate you, trying to stop what you’re doing. They threaten people, your family, saying: 'Your children won’t find jobs.'
  • The Internet is uncontrollable. And if the Internet is uncontrollable, freedom will win. It’s as simple as that.
  • China might seem quite successful in its controls, but it has only raised the water level. It’s like building a dam: it thinks there is more water so it will build higher. But every drop of water is still in there. It doesn’t understand how to let the pressure out. It builds up a way to maintain control and push the problem to the next generation.
  • China might seem quite successful in its controls, but it has only raised the water level. It’s like building a dam: it thinks there is more water so it will build higher. But every drop of water is still in there. It doesn’t understand how to let the pressure out. It builds up a way to maintain control and push the problem to the next generation.
  • But the internet is like a tree that is growing. The people will always have the last word – even if someone has a very weak, quiet voice.

Ai Weiwei Says Blind Dissident’s Escape Will Inspire Chinese, 2012


Wee, Sui-Lee. "Ai Weiwei Says Blind Dissident’s Escape Will Inspire Chinese." Reuters, May 29, 2012.

  • This simple form of repression, of using the method of not letting anyone speak, will never succeed.
  • The most unfair things that could have happened in a society fell upon a blind man. This is something that no one can accept or explain away with any excuse. Everyone will ask: 'Do we actually have to exist in a society like this?'
  • I will never leave China, unless I am forced to. Because China is mine. I will not leave something that belongs to me in the hands of people I do not trust.

Living in Fear Is Worse Than Imprisonment, 2012


"Living in Fear Is Worse Than Imprisonment." Mail and Guardian, June 29, 2012.

  • China has not established the rule of law and thus there is no justice.
  • 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?"
  • The 81 days of detention were a nightmare. I am not unique; it 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.
  • 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.
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