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. They can’t even imagine that they’ll be able to buy a house. They come from very poor villages where they’ve never seen electricity or toilet paper.
Thus begins Ai Weiwei’s concise and lucid evaluation of Beijing, in which he touches upon the myriad indemnities of the city. In true gadfly fashion, he flits from issue to issue, landing only long enough to raise one’s ire. The things he mentions, in roughly chronological order: poor treatment of migrant workers, official corruption, unaffordable house prices, preferential treatment of foreigners, lack of health care, lack of an independent judiciary, rule of power, Beijing’s lack of vitality, black jails, arbitrary justice. He ends with a simple conlusion:
Beijing is a nightmare. A constant nightmare.
When Ai Weiwei walked out of a Beijing prison last month after 81 days of imprisonment, there was one question on everyone’s mind: had the most consistently vocal dissident in China finally been silenced? On the night of his release, the artist could only manage a terse response when reached on the phone: ”I’m released, I’m home, I’m fine…. In legal terms, I’m—how do you say?—on bail. So I cannot give any interviews. But I’m fine.”
But two days ago, news outlets reported that Ai has accepted a guest professorship at the Berlin University of the Arts. Ai also broke media silence when he described some details of his semi-house arrest.
The day after Ai Weiwei’s Shanghai studio was demolished, my morning mobile phone newspaper opened with the following piece entitled “National Public Relations”: