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http://www.thedailybeast.com/newsweek/2 ... ty.htmlThe City: Beijing
Ai Weiwei finds Chinaâ€™s capital is a prison where people go mad.
by Ai Weiwei | August 28, 2011 10:0 AM EDT
Beijing is two cities. One is of power and of money. People donâ€™t care who their neighbors are; they donâ€™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 canâ€™t even imagine that theyâ€™ll be able to buy a house. They come from very poor villages where theyâ€™ve never seen electricity or toilet paper.
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 Beijingâ€™s slaves. They squat in illegal structures, which Beijing destroys as it keeps expanding. Who owns houses? Those who belong to the government, the coal bosses, the heads of big enterprises. They come to Beijing to give giftsâ€”and the restaurants and karaoke parlors and saunas are very rich as a result.
Beijing tells foreigners that they can understand the city, that we have the same sort of buildings: the Birdâ€™s Nest, the CCTV tower. 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 migrantsâ€™ schools closed. You will see hospitals where they give patients stitchesâ€”and when they find the patients donâ€™t have any money, they pull the stitches out. Itâ€™s a city of violence.
For a man imprisoned and conditionally released, neither neighbors nor strangers nor Beijingâ€™s officials nor courts can be trusted., Chien-Chi Chang / Magnum Photos
The worst thing about Beijing is that you can never trust the judicial system. Without trust, you cannot identify anything; itâ€™s like a sandstorm. You donâ€™t see yourself as part of the cityâ€”there are no places that you relate to, that you love to go. No corner, no area touched by a certain kind of light. You have no memory of any material, texture, shape. Everything is constantly changing, according to somebody elseâ€™s will, somebody elseâ€™s power.
To properly design Beijing, youâ€™d have to let the city have space for different interests, so that people can coexist, so that there is a full body to society. A city is a place that can offer maximum freedom. Otherwise itâ€™s incomplete.
I feel sorry to say I have no favorite place in Beijing. I have no intention of going anywhere in the city. The places are so simple. You donâ€™t want to look at a person walking past because you know exactly whatâ€™s on his mind. No curiosity. And no one will even argue with you.
None of my art represents Beijing. The Birdâ€™s Nestâ€”I never think about it. After the Olympics, the common folks donâ€™t talk about it because the Olympics did not bring joy to the people.
There are positives to Beijing. People still give birth to babies. There are a few nice parks. Last week I walked in one, and a few people came up to me and gave me a thumbs up or patted me on the shoulder. Why do they have to do that in such a secretive way? No one is willing to speak out. What are they waiting for? They always tell me, â€œWeiwei, leave the nation, please.â€ Or â€œLive longer and watch them die.â€ Either leave, or be patient and watch how they die. I really donâ€™t know what Iâ€™m going to do.
My ordeal made me understand that on this fabric, there are many hidden spots where they put people without identity. With no name, just a number. They donâ€™t care where you go, what crime you committed. They see you or they donâ€™t see you, it doesnâ€™t make the slightest difference. There are thousands of spots like that. Only your family is crying out that youâ€™re missing. But you canâ€™t get answers from the street communities or officials, or even at the highest levels, the court or the police or the head of the nation. My wife has been writing these kinds of petitions every day, making phone calls to the police station every day. Where is my husband? Just tell me where my husband is. There is no paper, no information.
The strongest character of those spaces is that theyâ€™re completely cut off from your memory or anything youâ€™re familiar with. Youâ€™re in total isolation. And you donâ€™t know how long youâ€™re going to be there, but you truly believe they can do anything to you. Thereâ€™s no way to even question it. Youâ€™re not protected by anything. Why am I here? Your mind is very uncertain of time. You become like mad. Itâ€™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.
August 28, 2011 10:0am
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I have also heard of guys who have the Bohemian, rebel look also getting into legal trouble in Japan. I think if you want to have a scruffy beard and be an individual, it is probably safer to stay out of Asian countries. I wonder if the average American nice guy who keeps a low profile would have a better time? Although, I must admit living in a Communist country doesn't sound comfortable to me. Anything could happen to you and people may have been weaned of their compassion.
As a foreigner, you actually tend to get treated pretty well and given a wide berth as long as you don't get involved in political issues or express opinions about certain topics. For example, its a good policy not to criticize the government or economic system there to people there or even discuss relative merits and shortcomings. Don't bring up the Taiwan or Tibet issues either unless you are in full agreement with the part line. And don't talk about the west or USA as if its superior. I think we all know, that's wishful thinking these days anyway.
But generally, I think foreigners get treated a lot more leniently by Chinese authorities than their counterparts in Thailand for example. If you have serious troubles, there's a greater likelihood in China that they will just deport you whereas in Thailand, they would throw you in a nasty jail cell and perhaps sentence you to a lengthy prison term.
I remember hanging-out with a Greek guy in Beijing a couple years before the Olympics. He was living there as some sort of small-time expat. This dude would smoke weed in restaurants, coffee shops, and out on the street in broad daylight. Nobody seemed to care or even be aware of what he was doing. Its like they assumed he was smoking cigarettes. I kinda doubt you can go that far these days though. But that's an example of how China can actually be pretty free in some ways.
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