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Artist and dissident Ai Weiwei pens damning critique of modern China.
Artist Ai Weiwei has published a brutal condemnation of life in modern Beijing, in comments likely to infuriate the Chinese government and possibly land him back in jail only two months after his most recent release.
The dissident and artist who designed Beijing's Olympic Bird's Nest stadium wrote in U.S. magazine Newsweek for the first time about his jail experience and the horrors of life in the Chinese capital, in what was reported as a direct contravention of his unofficial parole terms.
He said life in Beijing was split between the opulent and corrupt world of the privileged elite, and the miserable poverty of migrant workers whom he described as "slaves."
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.
He warned the world to be wary of the official face of business-friendly China.
Officials who wear a suit and tie like you say we are the same and we can do business. But they deny us basic rights. You will see migrants’ schools closed. You will see hospitals where they give patients stitches - and when they find the patients don’t have any money, they pull the stitches out. It’s a city of violence.
The 54-year-old artist described in The Wall Street Journal as China's "most recognizable dissident" said there was no justice in modern China, leaving citizens groping for identity.
Of his most recent stint in jail - almost three months for alleged tax evasion amid a wider crack down on dissidents - Ai likened it to a Kafka novel.
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.
This city is not about other people or buildings or streets but about your mental structure. If we remember what Kafka writes about his Castle, we get a sense of it. Cities really are mental conditions. Beijing is a nightmare. A constant nightmare.
And of his most famous work, the iconic Olympic stadium, he says he has blotted it out of his mind.
None of my art represents Beijing. The Bird’s Nest - I never think about it. After the Olympics, the common folks don’t talk about it because the Olympics did not bring joy to the people.
Ai has also posted a series of anti-government comments on Twitter, in breach of what he has said were his parole terms, including that he refrain from using social media and talking to foreigners for a year.
The Wall Street Journal said the Newsweek piece "has taken things to a new level in what appears to be a direct challenge to the powerful security services who many Chinese and foreign analysts believe were behind his original detention."
Other than the Bird's Nest stadium, Ai's most famous pieces include the "Sunflower Seeds" installation at the Tate Modern gallery in London, featuring a hundred million hand-painted porcelain seeds, and "Surveillance Camera", a marble security camera.