Why Ai Matters - Why Not so MuchWritten by Julen Madariaga on April 13th, 2011
Interesting article by Evan Osnos, explaining Why Ai Weiwei Matters. He gives three good reasons why we should not dismiss the Ai WeiWei case as irrelevant. Despite the annoying tone (he seems to imply that foreigners ignoring Ai Weiwei are brainwashed readers of The Global Times), it is fair to say that he addresses the issue effectively.
The trouble is, I don’t think he chose the right issue to address. Many of us who (mildly) oppose all this Ai Weiwei fad don’t do so on the grounds of irrelevance, but for other more important reasons. In particular, we fear that the disproportionate focus of Western media on characters like Nobel Liu XB or Ai WW is counterproductive, and it can undermine the democratic dissidence in China.
Both Liu and Ai are quite extreme characters. Both have a few things in common: an aggressive style, an economic dependency on the West, and (coincidence?) a radically pro-Western stance. More crucially, both share a taste for expressing their views or creating “art”  by means of destroying the things that are dearest to all Chinese who love their country, communist or otherwise: their history, their culture, their wounds of the colonial period.
You could argue this is just a natural reaction because Liu and Ai both suffered the excesses of patriotism. You could argue that their pro-Western views are unrelated to their economic dependence. You may convince me of these points: but how are you going to convince the Chinese? If this is about promoting democracy, shouldn’t marketability to Chinese be a core consideration? Of all the remarkable dissidents that China has, how come we chose as our stars these two, a present on a silver tray for the editors of the Global Times?
Of course, Ai Wei Wei is just an artist, and it fine if he chooses to be bohemian and provocative. Liu is a writer, and good for him if he believes that Chinese culture is inferior to Western. Neither of them should be arrested for their ideas. But this doesn’t qualify them as political models either.
The point is, Liu and Ai do not stand for what most open-minded Chinese people want: pragmatic policy and progressive change. We choose to highlight these two characters not because they represent a Chinese ideal, but because they represent our ideal of what the average Chinese dissident should be. And I am afraid, by doing so we are pushing China even further apart from us.
Is there some aspect of Liu or Ai that I forgot in the equation? What do you think?
- I am just a simple engineer, you will excuse me for thinking that breaking historical vases or taking photos of your middle finger is not remotely art [↩]