10/04/2012 02:53 PM

Interview with Ai Weiwei

'They Are Weak'

Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, 55, discusses his struggle with the government, the silence over his case in the domestic media and designated party leader Xi Jinping, who is soon expected to become China's next leader.

SPIEGEL: A court in Beijing has just rejected an appeal you filed. You refuse to pay alleged tax liabilities. Is it possible that you'll be sent to prison soon?

Ai: They could be standing at the gate to pick me up at any moment. But it's also possible that they will suddenly allow me to leave the country, simply to be rid of me and to make sure that I stop making trouble for them.

SPIEGEL: You're expected in Washington for the opening of a major show of your work, and in Berlin to begin the professorship that the Academy of the Arts has offered you. But there is no mention whatsoever in the Chinese state media about you, your case and the fact that you've been barred from leaving the country.

Ai: Strange, isn't it? Not a word about me in the gossip columns, and not a word on the political pages, and yet in a single night there were more than 500 articles about me in the rest of the world.

SPIEGEL: But with your lawsuit, aren't you practically challenging the authorities to lock you up?

Ai: I don't want to be trapped by that logic. Of course they'll win against me in the short term, but not in the end, because they are weak. In fact, they're so shy that they don't even dare to discuss my case in public. I've seen shy girls, and shy little boys, too -- but have you ever seen such a shy government?

SPIEGEL: All the same, the outgoing government will soon put the charismatic former party leader Bo Xilai on trial. What do you think about his case?

Ai: It's a truly dramatic situation, because it exposes a rift in the party. His case is important, because everyone understands that it isn't an isolated one. The fact Bo Xilai is being put on trial represents an attempt of damage control; it has nothing to do with justice. In any case, the era of neo-Maoism is certainly over.

SPIEGEL: A new group of men will assume China's leadership in a few weeks, the fifth generation since Mao, the generation of the princelings. It's also your generation. Xi Jinping, the designated party leader, is only four years older than you.

Ai: And I became aware of that recently. I came across a photo showing my father, the poet Ai Qing, next to the father of Xi Jinping, the politician Xi Zhongxun. For quite some time, both followed similar life paths, both were persecuted during the Cultural Revolution. Perhaps we, their sons, could share a few experiences with each other. I believe that the new leaders know that they have to make great changes in this country. It's impossible for things to remain the way they are.


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