SPIEGEL: You were partly responsible for designing the Olympic Stadium, the so-called "Bird's Nest." Why are you now criticizing the Olympic Games?
Ai Weiwei: The government wants to use these games to celebrate itself and its policy of opening up China. But there isn't anything to celebrate. The political system is incapable of handling economic and social change. Now the system that caused these problems in the first place is struggling to remain in power. And who pays the price? Every individual in this society.
SPIEGEL: When the games were awarded to Beijing, many people hoped that China would also open up politically. Were you one of them?
Ai: China wants to be part of the world and to share its values. This is an important step for a society that has isolated itself for so long. That's why we were optimistic. By now, it has become clear to me that this hope of liberalization cannot be fulfilled.
SPIEGEL: Why not?
Ai: The system won't allow it. The party officials are using this opportunity to repair streets, build houses and clean up neighborhoods. Corruption is flourishing in the process. But people no longer have any confidence in this system and are no longer enthusiastic about it. No autocracy can lead people to believe that they are living in harmony and happiness. The games are a propaganda show, a giant masked ball. The outcome will be endless nonsense and boredom.
SPIEGEL: Were there consequences to your critical statements on the Internet?
Ai: The Internet is the best thing that could have happened to China. The Internet police ordered the provider sina.com to delete certain articles I had written. When I threatened to cancel my blogs, the articles remained online. But now many of my friends are warning me, telling me that I'm stupid and that they'll come to get me one day.
SPIEGEL: Will they?
Ai: I have no idea, and I don't care. I don't look into the future. I want to say what I have to say, and say it now.
SPIEGEL: Other critics of the Olympics have been arrested. Why haven't you?
Ai: I ask myself the same question. Maybe because I'm alone. I don't belong to any political group and am pretty much outside the system. The leadership has other problems. Besides, I am an artist. Artists are already seen as slightly crazy. Some say that I've been spared because of my father.
SPIEGEL: Your father was a famous poet.
Ai: But he too was banned for many years and was not permitted to write. Society has developed, and the situation isn't nearly as bad as it was in the past. A few years ago, I would certainly have ended up in prison.
Interview conducted by Andreas Lorenz