Ai Weiwei has just given a revealing interview to Jonathan Landreth of the foreignpolicy.com website in which he talks about the freedom available to him in Beijing. As so often the case with Ai, his comments seem to put him on a collision course with the Chinese Government, accusing it of corruption and contempt for the poor. Here’s an excerpt.
“Beijing's greatest problem is that it never belongs to its people. Though it's a city of more than 10 million, people living here are like people living in a hotel. First of all, Beijing is a city of immigration. When it was liberated in 1949, the area of the city was equal to the area of construction built for the Beijing Olympics. Every year, the area of Beijing in 1949 has been added to the city again. In the past 10 to 20 years, Beijing has expanded 10 times on its size in 1949. They come from everywhere seeking opportunity because it's the capital and it controls all the resources. Every day 1,000 cars are sold in Beijing, a line of cars eight kilometers from front to back.
"It's growing at this rate, but why? Does Beijing have beautiful scenery? Does it have lakes and mountains? No. Every document, every order, comes from this city, and it presents enormous opportunities in land, roads, energy. You see good roads and good parks, and there are some changes. But what sustains them? The tax revenues of the authoritarian state. Its bureaucracy and capital make it like a monster, consuming everybody.
"There are only two types of people here. The people with power, who are ruthless, can take every inch of land and kick you out and pay you some money and build a skyscraper and make a fortune. There are so many billionaires who only need a government note to tell them, 'This belongs to you; you can do it now.' The rest are the silent people, who just have to bear it.
"We are not in a democratic society and the resources and decision-making aren't fairly distributed. So many officials are escaping China with huge amounts of money - shocking numbers, billions. Then you start to ask: Why can't they stay? China's like heaven for corruption. So why do they have to escape? Because the system will not protect them, because there are always political struggles here. They just take the money and leave.
Reminiscing on his ten years spent in New York, Ai says: "In Little Italy, you can still see the old buildings and the streets where they shot The Godfather and Mean Streets. That's a town where you can still relate to other people, your father's or your grandfather's joy or sadness. You can sense it. Normally we call it humanity. Where is the humanity in Beijing? Who can remember the corner where he went to school, or can touch a particular old piece of wall? Can you remember anything here? There's nothing left.
A city's at its strongest when it can reflect people's feelings, freedom, and desires. New York is a city of desire, for the powerful, and for beauty. But there's the American Dream -- equal opportunity to be rich and secured by the law. People feel nobody can touch them, because there's law. Beijing is a city with none of these qualities. An artist can be taken away from an airport with a black hood, disappeared for 81 days. When a nation can launch a satellite but cannot give a clear sentence about what happened to me, that scares people." Read the full interview at foreignpolicy.com