China's Age of Madness
It is now a week since Ai Weiwei, China’s preeminent avant-garde artist, was detained by security personnel as he was boarding a flight to Hong Kong.
To say he was arrested is too dignified, he has simply disappeared. In December Chinese citizen Liu Xiaobo won the Nobel Prize for Peace – but he couldn’t collect the prize, because he is a political prisoner in China.
Last months Index on Censorship’s Bindman’s Law and Campaigning Prize was awarded to the Chinese citizen Gao Zhisheng, but the prize was collected by Gao’s wife. He himself is a political prisoner in China. Ai Weiwei is a courageous artist and spokesperson for freedom of speech, a man who has been detained before, who has been terrorized and severely beaten by secret police, but who has refused to do what they want, which is shut up or leave China. Instead he has disappeared into the Kafkaesque labyrinth of China’s apparatus of oppression.
Ai Weiwei has become the latest well known victim of a system of repression that has been emboldened by the successful and globally publicized bloody suppresion of Tibetan demands for autonomy. Since the Olympic Games of 2008 the repression has grown worse, and the current wave is probably a nervous backlash against the news of successful Arab revolutions. 1989 is often remembered as the year of successful revolutions in Eastern Europe – but it was also the year of the Tiananmen Massacre, a lesson not lost on the Chinese leadership.
Just days before his disappearance, Ai Weiwei met with German journalist, Henrik Bork. He told Bork: “We Chinese are living in an Age of Darkness. There is an economic boom and the living standards are improving. At the same time China has reached a new deep point, where freedom of speech is concerned, where freedom of artistic expression and freedom of education is concerned. This is a new deep point for our civil society”. He admitted that the security services were placing pressure on him to force him to leave China permanently. Already he has become a non-person in the Internet – a search for “Ai Weiwei” in China results in message “technical error”. Nevertheless, the artist had decided that he will not leave China.Continued on the next page