Ai Weiwei criticizes Beijing's rampant growth, judicial system
Ai Weiwei has long been critical of Beijing's uncontrolled growth and chaotic sprawl. On Sunday, Newsweek published an online editorial by the artist-activist in which he inveighs against the city, its power structure and its dangerous sense of anonymity.
"Beijing is two cities. One is of power and of money. People don't care who their neighbors are; they don't trust you," Ai wrote.
"Every year millions come to Beijing to build its bridges, roads, and houses. Each year they build a Beijing equal to the size of the city in 1949. They are Beijing's slaves."
Those familiar with Ai's art will recall that he has addressed some of these same themes in his video series devoted to Beijing's ring-road system of highways. Ai and his team took fixed-length video shots of points around the city's concentric ring roads and assembled them into a minimalist commentary on the city's impersonal sprawl.
Ai's 2004 video "Beijing: Chang'an Boulevard" is a 10-hour video installation that similarly depicts points along the city's famous east-west highway. (The work was acquired by the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles in 2009).
In an interview with the Times in 2007, Ai said that "the whole development of China is quite blind .... We always think that growth is positive. But it also causes problems. There's no aesthetic discussion of today's growth. There's no rationality. It's like a giant monster."
In his Newsweek piece, Ai doesn't directly address his pending legal case or his months spent in secret detention this year. But he does make a few veiled references to his situation.
"The worst thing about Beijing is that you can never trust the judicial system," he wrote. "There are many hidden spots where they put people without identity. With no name, just a number. They don't care where you go, what crime you committed."
-- David Ng
Photo: A scene from Ai Weiwei's "Beijing: Chang'an Boulevard." Credit: Ai Weiwei