Austin Ramzy over at TIME has an interview with dissident artist and lawsuit aficionado Ai Weiwei, about recent developments in the ‘tax evasion‘ case against him and how it feels to be trapped in one’s own country.
If you were given your passport and allowed to travel, do you worry about being able to return?
There are so many cases of people being blocked from returning. I always prepare for the worst, but I also try to act according to what is possible. I always think: Why should [the government] do that? It is not good for them, it is not good for anybody. I think maybe they would change. Every decision I make, I always try to say the [government] has the possibility to change. Otherwise, why would you still fight? So that would bring me into many, many difficult circumstance. Because I’m always willing to test and to say: What could happen? Or say: just because it happened last time, does that mean it will happen again? So I can’t say what will or will not happen.
There are many cases where there are things that you fought for and that your side ended up having a victory of sorts. There were the Green Dam censorship software that the government wanted to install on Chinese computers and the research into the names of students who died in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake. Green Dam was blocked, and eventually, the government was forced to release a total of the student deaths. Looking at that, do you see any potential for, if not exactly change in the system, at least movement or response by the government to the interests of the public?
I think so. Gradually, under pressure from not just me but from different points. I think the pressure is getting stronger, you can see it every day. I always jump to the other side, to think about it from the view of the government. You can see the Internet discussion. So far, it is the strongest force to deliver the pressure to the government and make people’s voice be heard. It happens everywhere. Sometimes it doesn’t have an immediate effect. Like the Beijing flood this summer, to name those names [of the dead], it was quite difficult, but they had to do it. If they didn’t do it, people will start to research on their own. That will cause the government much more problems.
The government [knows] … many issues need to be faced and answered. And they know the sooner they answer, the less cost and less damage. But who is going to do it? I think the pressure still need to come from the civil movement. After 63 years, [the government] cut out all the possible interests groups or different kind of discussions. They don’t exist. The whole nation becomes very simple. The master gives the order ruthlessly. The civilians just have to obey it. There’s no space for discussion, no structure, etcetera. No way to even to evaluate the damage. There is no true communication.
Like my case, it is so politicized. They can just tell you’ve been arrested or you are released or you’re free now or you cannot have the passport. I said: Can I have any communication of what is going on? Can you ask me some questions or I ask you any questions? Most cases in China are handled this way, not just my case. If you look at the Bo Xilai case or his wife’s case or the case of Wang Lijun, there are so many holes in the whole procedure, but none of them will be answered. How can they maintain a society with no sense of trust or justice? This is the question, How come in such [a] large civilization and one-fifth of the human population, [there is] no sense of justice, … no clear measurement of right or wrong? It [is] a very primitive … level, nobody can give you a clear definite answer. Nobody can clearly say that they have to protect the constitution of China. According to constitution, these are violations by government, but can anybody openly discuss those?
Read the full interview at TIME.com.