Ai Weiwei hospitalised
September 28, 2009 1:41 PM   Subscribe

Ai Weiwei, one of the leading Chinese artists of his generation, has undergone emergency brain surgery after being beaten by police.

Ai attracted the attention of the authorities for his involvement in the Sichuan Earthquake Names Project, which aimed to gather the names of schoolchildren killed in the 2008 earthquake in southern China. He was confronted by police on 12 August in the city of Chengdu and beaten. The officers threatened to kill him. Since the attack he has complained of dizziness and headaches. In mid-September he entered hospital for surgery.

“What does that say about our state, which is just getting ready to celebrate its sixtieth year of existence, when this is the answer to legal investigations?” Ai told the German media.

He has since released pictures of himself in hospital.

The attack and subsequent events have only filtered through to the Western media slowly, but could reignite the debate within the creative professions about engagement with China.

Previous posts on Ai Weiwei, Sichuan.
posted by WPW (13 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
What a brave man.
posted by jock@law at 1:43 PM on September 28, 2009

Missed out an important link: The Sichuan Earthquake Names Project.
posted by WPW at 1:46 PM on September 28, 2009

reignite the debate within the creative professions about engagement with China

But China makes widgets cheap. Globalism has little need for art, except maybe a painting or two in the boardroom foyer.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:51 PM on September 28, 2009 [3 favorites]

While I know it's not exactly equivalent, we've seen how successful disengagement was with Cuba. Can the rest of the world have any lasting positive impact on China? The older I get, the more I come around to thinking that states have to change from within. The pressures the west exerted which collapsed the Soviet Union may have freed some of the satellite states from its control, but haven't exactly made Russia a raging success as a state.
posted by BrotherCaine at 1:54 PM on September 28, 2009

I totally agree with you BrotherCaine, but the problem is Cuba isn't and wasn't our personal sweatshop.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 2:06 PM on September 28, 2009

Disengagement is ethically appealing, but on the other hand would might never have heard of Ai Weiwei if the art world wasn't engaged. The fact that Ai is internationally acclaimed greatly complicates the position of the Chinese authorities. In theory.
posted by WPW at 2:08 PM on September 28, 2009

It only complicates the position of the Chinese authorities if Ai Weiwei's international acclaim is known at home - by people in a position to make trouble for the authorities in question. That's a long chain to follow.
posted by Fraxas at 2:28 PM on September 28, 2009

Ai Weiwei's a very interesting and patient guy. I only wish there were more home-grown efforts like him. I would argue his acclaim is well known in China but just to the middle and upper classes. Look at his Siuchan names project, it includes a fair number of volunteers and supporters that help make it happen.

BTW, the guys at chinageeks do a good job of following Ai Weiwei and of providing translations of his news and blog entries. For example:
  • Weiwei's recent call to the public security bureau after he learned of the harassment one of his volunteers received
  • Weiwei's summary, in plain words, of why things aren't getting much better and that it's not because of "evil, foreign oppressors"
  • Select translations of netizen's response to the above essay, both supportive and condemning
posted by tksh at 3:24 PM on September 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

It only complicates the position of the Chinese authorities if Ai Weiwei's international acclaim is known at home - by people in a position to make trouble for the authorities in question.

Yet he doesn't seem to have any shortage of acclaim in China either. According to the links, he designed the Olympic stadium -- a major national commission by any standards -- and doesn't appear to have any trouble travelling to Germany to mount a show.

If there was a monolithic Chinese state determined to silence and oppress Weiwei and rob him of his civil rights, surely foreign travel would be the first thing that they'd put a stop to?
posted by PeterMcDermott at 4:28 PM on September 28, 2009

I had the pleasure of attending a lecture that Ai Weiwei gave in Boston two years ago, and he is an entertaining speaker and wonderful artist. He was involved in the conceptual development of the 'Bird's Nest' stadium for the olympics

He talked about how his parents suffered during the cultural revolution during that lecture. I imagine that is an influence on why he is so outspoken.
posted by a womble is an active kind of sloth at 4:51 PM on September 28, 2009

I often hear the free trade argument that by engaging foreign powers they will become more open to our "values". I know this is xenophobic, but if you accept that theory I don't think you can deny it also means we will become more open to theirs. The values I see expressed by the Chinese state through this article are such that I feel disengagement is appropriate.

But doing something like that would leave a person like Ai Weiwei without anyone to turn to. I don't understand why we have to accept the bad with the good. Why can't we accept foreign trade but tax goods which are produced by what (insert international organization here) would qualify as inhumane labor so extremely that it isn't profitable? I just can't accept the free-trade-at-all-costs position, I can't mount an ethical defense of it. Does anybody know any good writing on the subject, it is very hard to stop "thinking with my gut," when I read stuff like this.
posted by SomeOneElse at 7:32 PM on September 28, 2009

This is very bad news. I certainly hope Weiwei suffers no long term problems or complications from this, although it's entirely likely that he will. He's a fine artist. I've been meaning to get to a show of his work currently up at a Tokyo museum, but haven't been able to make it as of yet.

He is indeed, as noted upthread, a brave man.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:46 AM on September 29, 2009

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