Ai Weiwei seen on Linienstrasse in Berlin, from kempis poetry magazine.
Yo dude. I saw that thing you weib’d the other day. What was that about ‘let’s shave the characters for “Justice” into our back hair and walk around naked down Nanjing Road’? Yeah, that wasn’t a good idea, broseph. They’re going to find you now – better move to Berlin! I hear they have great medical care and they’re not that into non-Germans, but I think they’ll make an exception if you have art/literary festival street cred. They’re way chill dude, and everyone cool is moving there!
The latest burgeoning micro-trend development in this year’s China crackdown saga for artist-activists of note is packing up and shipping out to Germany, land of schadenfreude, schnitzel and Schopenhauer.
Last week, the writer Liao Yiwu ended up in Berlin after making stops in Vietnam and Poland, and is already singing plaudits to his new Vaterland, saying that he’s ‘ecstatic’ and ‘walking through a dream’.
Liao left his home and family in Sichuan in part due to the impending American release of “God Is Red”, his new book about Chinese Christianity during the Communist era. With the book’s September publication, Liao would be violating an official vow he signed promising to cease publishing any work outside of China.
And now, Ai Weiwei has announced that he’s accepted a visiting lecturer position for 2012 at the Berlin University of the Arts. There is no confirmation yet that Ai would actually be allowed to leave by the government, which Ai deems to be unlikely, as a position teaching abroad would show ‘strong support for my moral position’.
Ai has had a rough year so far, to say the least, having been imprisoned in April for nearly 81 days, with the government accusing Ai of evading 5 million RMB in taxes, which carries with it a fine of 7 million RMB. At a hearing yesterday in Beijing, Ai appeared with his wife, Lu Qing, and argued that they could not mount their case properly without having access to seized tax documents. Ai’s passport has also been confiscated, and he’s been ordered not to leave Beijing while his trial is pending or give any interviews to the media.
Both Liao and Ai have a history with Germany, with Liao having been removed from a Chengdu plane that was bound for Cologne in March of last year, when he was to attend and speak at lit.COLOGNE, Europe’s largest literary festival (Liao was also barred from traveling to the Sydney Writers’ Festival in May).
The term ‘German literary festival’ might even be considered a sensitive search term in China, after a debacle occurred in 2009 at the Frankfurt Book Fair in which China was the guest of honor. An official delegation walked out on a panel discussion after the journalist Dai Qing, who was a vocal critic of the Three Gorges Dam, and critic Bei Ling were also included in the talk.
In Ai’s case, Germany has proven to be one of the most receptive markets for his product. The small town of Kassel hosted 1001 random Chinese citizens chosen by Ai to live in Germany for a week in 2007 in an installation titled Fairytale, and another work titled So Sorry at the Haus der Kunst in Munich last year featured thousands of backpacks arranged to form a mosaic text, a reference to children’s deaths from the Sichuan earthquake. Munich was also where Ai received emergency brain surgery for a cerebral hemorrhage in 2009, a condition related to an attack by Chengdu police over Ai’s intention to testify at the trial of fellow activist Tan Zuoren.
And so it looks like Germany will embrace you in its hearty bosom and provide liebesraum if you happen to be a creative rebel that embodies the Western notion of an individual maintaining autonomy within an undemocratic autocracy (Allah-worshipping falafel consumers, on the other hand…). Such is the undeniable glowing street cred artists get in the West when they’ve been deemed personas non grata by their Socialist governments, with the likes of Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Vaclav Havel and Milan Kundera all banned and exiled from their respective authoritarian regimes at various points, and getting mad critical brownie points from it as a result.
And even musicians will get their passports stamped too. Cui Jian, Tang Dynasty and other acts branded politically questionable in the early 90’s, after their involvement with the you-know-what that happened in you-know-where during you-know-when, were invited to rock out in Berlin for a concert that featured the best of the then-nascent Chinese rock scene. Despite the language barrier, the German audience seemed like they were digging it. Because nothing confers bad-ass Idealistic Proponent of the Independent Spirit status better than your unenlightened party-pooper government hating you.