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Artist And Dissident Ai Weiwei

Ai Weiwei, China’s most famous living artist and most creative political dissident joins us from Beijing for a rare appearance in American media.

Dissident artist Ai Weiwei listens as his lawyer announces over a speakerphone the verdict of Ai's lawsuit against the Beijing tax authorities in Beijing Friday, July 20, 2012. A Beijing court on Friday rejected an appeal by Ai against a more than $2 million fine for tax evasion, which he says is part of an intimidation campaign to stop him from criticizing the government. (AP)

Dissident artist Ai Weiwei listens as his lawyer announces over a speakerphone the verdict of Ai’s lawsuit against the Beijing tax authorities in Beijing Friday, July 20, 2012. A Beijing court on Friday rejected an appeal by Ai against a more than $2 million fine for tax evasion, which he says is part of an intimidation campaign to stop him from criticizing the government. (AP)

Biggest global artist out of China:  Ai Weiwei. Biggest artist provocateur dissident in China:  Ai Weiwei.  Our guest today:  Ai Weiwei.

He’s the irrepressible bearded bear of a gadfly out of Beijing with a twinkle in his eye and the conscience of an ancient nation on his mind.  On Time Magazine’s short list for Person of the Year, right behind winner Barack Obama.

A conceptual artist who’s no stranger to police beatings and imprisonment.  To the wrath of the China’s Communist Party.

This hour, On Point:  live from Beijing, China’s Ai Weiwei.  He’s with us.

-Tom Ashbrook


Ai Weiwei, Chinese artist and political dissident. (@aiww, @aiwwenglish)

Evan Osnos, China correspondent for the New Yorker. (@eosnos)

From Tom’s Reading List

New Yorker “At the age of fifty-three, Ai has a capacious belly, close-cropped hair, a meaty, expressive face, and a black-and-white beard that stretches to his chest. The full picture is imposing, until he reveals a sly and whimsical sense of humor. “His beard is his makeup,” his brother, Ai Dan, told me.”

New York Times ” Given that a fair proportion of the millions of people who have watched the irresistibly catchy, irrepressibly cheesy YouTube music video“Gangnam Style,” by the South Korean singer Psy, have felt compelled to produce their own version, it’s possibly no surprise that the artist Anish Kapoor has followed suit, even if one doesn’t exactly think of him as the sort of person to be dancing around on YouTube.”

Foreign Policy “The artist, dissident, and provocateur Ai Weiwei has been prohibited from leaving China since last April, when police held him in an isolation cell for 81 days. Passing the time was “impossible,” he told me in an interview last year. “I really wished someone could beat me. Because at least that’s human contact. Then you can see some anger. But to dismiss emotion, to be cut off from any reason, or anger, or fear, psychologically that’s very threatening.””


Check out this recent video of Ai Weiwei doing “Gangnam Style.”


Here’s a gallery of photos of Ai Weiwei’s art.

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  • Ed75

    I saw a 4-foot tall regular icosohedran 20-sided regular polygon that he made out of wood slats fitted together, just the edges, probably mohagony, how did he do it? beautiful.

  • http://www.facebook.com/johan.dezoete Johan de Zoete

    I teach English and Law at an international high school near Toronto. I love my job and the interactions and conversations I get to have with students from all over the world. Many students in my classroom are from China – Beijing, Shanghai, Ningbo, Guangzhou, Qiandao, Wenzhou, Hong Kong. Does Ai Weiwei have any advice for me in terms of better helping
    my students engage with North American culture and political freedom?

    • Jian Sun

      It’s the different moral understanding determining the law that matters and it guides the different cultural and psych behavior.

  • Ray in VT

    What is his take on the current situation regarding the Southern Weekly, and what does he see as the prospects for greater press and Internet freedoms in his native land under the new leadership?

  • DrewInGeorgia

    I enjoy Ai Weiwei’s work and have followed his story. What on earth possessed him to join one of the gaudiest fads ever and make a Gangnam video? That was extremely painful viewing OP.

    • http://twitter.com/bigoten13 Oliver Harris


  • stephenreal

    Hang in there Ai Weiwei ! Somebody in the Chinese Communist party has to have a sense of humor. Not too mention that freedom of expression is a right for every human on this planet.

  • Jian Sun

    I’m no fan of either Ai or the communist party. Ai would be nobody if lived in the west and he should thank the party for his fame.

    • stephenreal

      Yeah they (defenders of the status quo) beat the living snot out of him too make him famous.

      China has a large problem with parochial corruption that buys and sells just about anyone and or anything to make a few extra bucks. Sometimes, I hear/read two or even three different conflicting stories out of China on controversial subjects and stories.

      • Jian Sun

        Well, the western media beat the crap of communism. Fair enough?

        • stephenreal

          I’ve read Karl Marx. And what China is doing as a government is hardly communism. Remember, Karl Marx lived and worked in London, UK. He could not have the freedom to write his works other then in the West. 
          He wrote a letter supporting the US Republican Party and my man President Abe Lincoln on his second election win for the Presidency.

          • Jian Sun

            agreed. The CCP is not communist anymore, and it’s more like authoritarian republican. The truer communists are the American democrats.

          • DrewInGeorgia

            American Democrats are true Communists?


          • Jian Sun

            Go read Karl Marx?

          • Tyranipocrit

             maybe you mean progressives outside the democratic party who often vote democrat out of hope, but would rather vote green.  The green party has socialist elements.  Soicalism and communism are not the same thing.  Socialism has many forms, but most progressives envision a social, demoractic entreprenurial economy highly regulated against corruption and pollution.

          • http://twitter.com/bigoten13 Oliver Harris

            American democrats are neoliberal authoritarians bent on instilling capitalism worldwide. Not communism.

          • Jian Sun

            Is wealth spreading capitalism?

          • http://twitter.com/bigoten13 Oliver Harris

            Wealth spreading is neither a tenet of capitalism nor communism. It is a reaction in capitalism to deepening divide between haves and have-nots. 

          • Jian Sun

            “Sharing” is the same philosophical virtue shared by both original Christianity and communism.

          • Tyranipocrit

             you make false comparisons.  There is no need tomake such comprisons.  And your comparison is radically wrong.

    • http://profile.yahoo.com/JXSANCUDPIKQSPID5KT2U4XK5Y TF

      I don’t know how much more “thanking” a person should be able to stand after what he’s been through.

      What is the next step? All I can point to is the old play “Darling of the Day”, where an artist fakes his own death so his “widow” can reap the rewards of his “posthumous” career taking off.

    • Tyranipocrit

       what do you mean?  why?  the man has been beaten and imprisoned by the Party?   I would ask, why doesn’t the Prty nd the “people” thank him for making CHina look good?

  • http://twitter.com/iseastars i seastars 卫莱

    Honored to have Ai Wei Wei on the airwaves, 爱未来!

  • http://twitter.com/bigoten13 Oliver Harris

    Wei wei, never stop.

  • http://twitter.com/iseastars i seastars 卫莱

    Question, I volunteered in Sichuan after the 2008 earthquake, I was there  when you were arrested an clubbed before  activist Tan Zuoren’s  trial.  What is life like for dissidents who  eventually carry out their “state subversion” sentences.  Are they monitored for life?  Are they scared into political submission or does the fight live with renewed vigor, as  seen in your case, (though you certainly were in the international spotlight)    Solidarity  加油!

    • http://twitter.com/iseastars i seastars 卫莱

      Thanks for the response!

      • http://twitter.com/iseastars i seastars 卫莱

         Actually I got through on the show,  I was “Elias from Chepachet”  calling in to ask about links/connections  between 90s babies and the movement of the tiannanmen activists for free spech and democracy. Although the information about 1989 is banned, there are those who seek out the truth online in western outlets.

  • Coastghost

    One of two questions for Ai Wei Wei, please: 1) does he draw any specific inspiration from any Soviet artists/writers/poets/musicians/et al. of the 20th century who faced similar challenges and constraints?  2) IF the choice had to be made–the truth of the art vs. the freedom of the artist–which way to go? (or, simply comment on the contrast of artistic truth and artistic freedom)

    • Coastghost

      Thanks, Tom & Co., for relaying my first query. Thank you, Ai Weiwei, for your pursuit and practice of artistic freedom and artistic truth.

  • ChrisDurai

    Hopefully our eyes will protect you. We are watching.

  • ChrisDurai

    Hopefully our eyes will protect you. We are watching.

  • Mike Robitz


    While Mr. Wei’s work is completely invested in China, it resonates with a global western audience. Is there merely a universality in his work with in his work or is there something more specific that continually draws a foreign audience to his subject matter?

  • travelheaven

    Question: I understand you lived in New York for a period of time. Why did you choose to return to China? Did you know you would be subjected to your current repressed living conditions?

  • ndurovic

    A version of Mike Robitz’s question:

    Mr. Wei, you are generaly addressed as a 100% Chinese artist yet the interest in your work is world-wide. If you were given some time to work abroad, what ‘global’ topics would  you be interested in exploring, what kinds of projects would you think about doing?

  • stephenreal

    You are thee Pablo Picasso of our times. Your art pieces are so powerful they have the same impact of Picasso’s “Guernica” in my opinion. I hope President Obama and the US State Dept. meets your expectations in supporting freedom of speech.

  • DrewInGeorgia

    To me Ai Weiwei seems to speak to a humanitarian point of view. The Chinese citizens who say he represents a foreign point of view fail to realize humanitarianism is not constrained by culture or boundary. What a humbling discussion, thank you so much for your perseverance and willingness to share your struggles Ai Weiwei! Never give up the fight!

  • Stephen_Goldstein

    I am a graphic designer observer and writer of modern Chinese graphic design, the design for the Olympics and design education in China. The work is very modern, guided by western design movements but rarely politically challanging the way Ai’s work is challanging.

    Ai, do you see a progressive movement in Chinese design that equals at all the political commentary of your  artmaking?

    Stephen Goldstein
    Ipswich, MA

  • DrTing

    Ying & Yang in any one, in any house & in any country. We all should be proud to be a Chinese to help improve China.
    Why not use your soft artistic power to help China
    a Success rather than humiliating China? I believe “Making China look bad’ will not change China or to improve China.
    China will improve without constant “force” from the world.

    • Jian Sun

      Well you do whatever you’re best at ain’t it right?

    • http://profile.yahoo.com/OUFCX5JJEXYLXZQMODJLL6ED3Y Techno

      It’s not that he is ‘making China look bad’, you should know that China is bad in many ways. A country that is not willing to acknowledge its problems is not going to succeed. This also applies to people. 

      • Tyranipocrit

         absolutely right.  the un-dr. Ting is a shame to china

    • Tyranipocrit

       “humiating” china–how?  Grow up.  be a man.  so cowardly.  So shamefuil.  If you had any integrity or self-cofdence–you wouldnt need to fele humilated.  Criticism, discussion, politics, art, litrature–unrest–is positive and growth.  You refuse to live, to grow, to be men..no wonder so many nations conquer you over and over and over agin.  You are cowars with little empathy or courage.  I am being harsh because its pathetic and it time you develope dyour heart and stopped whimpering and crying and cowering under your pathetic cloak of humilation.  Its disgusting.

      you do not deserve the titile of doctor–you have no integrity and in china scholarshiop is a rubber stamp.  people obtain power by cheating.  good people get crushed.

  • Jian Sun

    What is the best way to democratize China besides lecturing? (I’m just paraphrasing Tom’s question) Ai’s answer – internet, weibo. Are people learning lessons from the recent Egyptian democratic movement?

    • Tyranipocrit

       stand up. protest.  get pepper sprayed.  get shot with rubber bullets.  unite en masse and sit and refuse to move.  fight.  remove the rich from their homes and beat them or hold them in house arrest.  rise up.  invade the the house of assembly and take over the government.  stand hand in hand and surround all industry and prevent movement of industry.  block the roads. stop workking.  stop making them money. refuse to work.  shut down society. 

      alternatively, host teach-ins in your home like christian missionaries–only teach and educate.  form protests so big it shakes the foundations of government.  gather in public spaces by the thousands jut to play music, lecture, and speak to the people, refuse to move and broadcast your intentions as you are doing it–educate.  teach.  beat down all those who betray you.  be men.  grow up.  what can you possibly lose.  are you men, or sheep?  you oputnumber them. 

      lecturing and speaking out is key and you should do more of it. but act always act with your heart –dont cowere and hide and bury your head in the sand.  If people behave badly or betray the cause of human equality and empathy–shame them harshly and restrain them physically–because they are snakes who will betray you–hold them back and rise over them. 

      be like ghandi–practice civil disobedience.

      you have choices.  captialism and mindless consumerism is not the answer.  money is meaningless. wealth accumulation is a lie.  wake up.  BMW and gucci doesnt matter. its meanigless.  clean air, clean water, healthy organic food, family and friends and empathy, and commutiy–these things are all that matter..  you have no country, no society, no nation without them and the red flag is a joke.  dont wave it–burn it.  i happily burn the american flag.  dont be afraid to burn a meaningless piece of cloth.

      learn from your foreign tibeten freinds–they ar emen and they no right from wrong/  Why dont the HA chinese?

  • rose999

    Hi Tom: I have been your loyal listener but recently I am
    quite disappointed, you seemed to lose your direction. I am one of the ordinary Chinese people and I don’t need your guest Ai Wei Wei fight for my freedom because I already have plenty. On the contrary I am afraid your guest’s action
    is intended to instigate social unrest which is very bad. Your guest should focus on his art work instead of getting involved in politics.

    As a famous host you are supposed to bridge understandings
    among people from different cultures and promote world peace. I know you have the capability and desire to do so.

    • Tyranipocrit

       Rose999, You are a liar.  You are a menace to chinese society and the world.  Your typical rhetoric–typical of brainwashed Chinese and evil chinese leaders and idiots–is transparent, wrong, and ridiculous.  You speak like a fool and menacing human being.

      What is an “ordinary” human being?  if you are ordinary than you are more like a cow than a human–you are cattle, sheep, an animal trained how o talk, walk and think. 

      What are your freedoms?  What is “plenty”?  Why shouldnt he get involved in politics?–it is his right as a human being and a member of chinese society–all of life is politics.  Everyone should be involved in politics. Walking down the street is politics brainiac.  You talk so much nonsense.

      what is “social unrest”?  You mean, participation, life, being a citizin–you say the same tired crap all the time–you as in the governemnt and its dumb mouthpieces–change comes form conflict and it is nothing to fear.  Debate, dialogue has an element of unrest it in–every dialogue you have in the street is unrest–what is unrest bad–by arguing, or discussing–we work out problems and learn–by learning we come to understand who we are, and who others are–and we develop empathy–compassion, scoiety–you have no society, no comapssion, no empathy–you people are evil (the government)–selfish, selfish, selfish–willing to kill and destroy for money and power–for lamborghinniis.  Pathetic.  Pathetic.  Disgusting.  Shameful.  You are sickening. 

      Do you think we don’t know that you work for the tyrannnical Capitlaist Party of China?  Why are you argainst the Chinese people?  Why are you against humanity?  Why are you trying to destroy the world?  You are a menacae.

      You have no freedom–NO freedom.  You are corrupt and cruel and ignorant.  You beat people for asking questions.  You imprison people for asking questions–for trying to participate in society–in their own country.  You dissapear people for demanding basic rights. 

      You have no right to lead or rul China.  You are tyrants–thieves, and rapists who capitalize on corruption.  You steal land.  You violate peoples humanity, livlihood, air and water–you are poison–pollution–the air is unbreathbale because you think you are better than others–that oyu have some special place in the world to hrt othe rpeople and profit off of death and destruciton–your are corrupt.  You are thieves. 

      how can a Chiese persoon call themselvs a citizen of China if they cant participate in society, if they have no rights–the only freedom you have is to shop, shop, shop–youare fools and pigs–addicted to wealth and mnoney and power–you are the antithesies to humanity and the chinese people.

      Why are you so greedy?  Why do you hate china?  If you give people freedom they can innovate and feel a part of their naition–a community–they can progress and rise as a people, as a nation, as part of humanity.  But you deny all people such rights and talk crap–your words are like a bowel movement.  You are the enmeny of all Chinese people.  open you eyes fool.  join the human race.  Stop hating. 

      There are NO citizens of China–only slaves, cattle, sheep.  And the biggest cowards of all–with NO honor–is the asses of the goveernment.

      • rose999

        It seems that you are filled with hate, despair, fear ect. You might need some help.

        • Tyranipocrit

           help me–oh my oh my oh my–i’m so crazy–i need help!

          is that how you reply–this is the only intelligent reply you can muster–”uh–you big crazy lunatic!  I’m gonna tell my dad!  My dad is rich thug and he will beat your dad!”

          The first trick of all tyrant thugs is to label all who criticize as lunatics.

          My passion comes from truth.  If your best retort is “lunatic!” you are no more educated than a 5 year old child on the playground–a spoiled child who feels entitled to everything.  Guess what?  nobody owes you anything. 

    • Tyranipocrit

       “bridge understandings
      among people from different cultures and promote world peace. I know you have the capability and desire to do so.”

      garbage!  You are such a hypocrit.  The chinese governemnt is the biggest fattest liar on earth–that refuses stubbornly and pridefully to have any kind of intelliligent discussion about anything–pigs–you bridge no understandings–you have no idea of what journalism is and you only brainwash and indocriante people threatening, and beating, and humilating anyone who challanges you.  You disgust me.  lying pigs. 

      I may criticize NPR often, but Chinese media, the chinese goveernment is the biggest joke and filthy lying pigs I have ever lived under.  I am so disgusted by the wealth gap in China.  The slefishness of so many people.  The cruelty in the streets.  The lack of emapthy.  Teh evil of its leaders and the rich in China–Chinese rich ruling class makes American elite look like beiatiful angels.

      • rose999

        A complete lunatic!

        • Tyranipocrit

           I know you are but what am I.  Im rubber and your glue–anyting i say bounces off of me and sticks to you.  get a real education–learn to use your brain and your heart.  Stop being so naive and defensive.  China has many many problems, the government is repsonible for many–being that it is mad eup of thieves and thugs exploiting thier power to make billions and oppress the honest the inovative.

          you know it, i know, everyone knows it.  by lying to your self and to us–you show how cruel you really are, and ignorant.  bythe way, 999 or 666, 0r 888 means nothing–it doesnt make you lucky or prosperous or good–you are superstitiuous and this childish belief reflects how uneducated oyu and your governemnt are.

    • eye1937

      I agree, Ai Wei Wei should use his influence to help China, instead, he use it to promote the west culture which is not a good fit for China now. Chinese people have more freedom now, Ai Wei Wei himself benifited from it. Why we have to use western standard to view the life of ordinary Chinese people? New China is only 50 some years old. When US is that old, we have not even ended slavery.

  • WellHeeledGuru

    Look forward to listening to it again, as I missed it. Looks like a trip to Washington DC is in order…

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/CHCDPTX6LTLGQOPHI7EAVS26LU Xun8

    He is not a building designer. He was one of the art advisers for the bird nest building. There are several dozens of art advisers for that project, yet only his name comes out of western media, is it because of his anti Chinese government stand?

    • Tyranipocrit

       yep.  so what?  the chinese governemnt needs a mrror held to it–it is disguisting pig

  • Shag_Wevera

    He’s got a hell of a beard.

    • Tyranipocrit

       so?  you dont like difference, or diversity?  you think people have to be like you?

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/DARCTXYHLHFNABBEJYR3MQRTCY jl

     China may well have a better chance to reverse environmental destruction and promote equitable  distribution of wealth to help poor people than western industrial countries.
     Corporate power  and western citizens have become too seduced by consumerism to reform our selfish ways.
     Hopefully, Chinese leadership will be more open to views such as those of ai weiwei and  resist the temptation for  corruption  as  this mighty nation becomes the world  leader and assumes the power required for social and environmental change.

    • Tyranipocrit

       thats rubbish.  chinese are more capitalist than americans.  You shop more.  you lust for luxury items more.  You burn money for the dead–thus you think the afterlife is the same as this life–capitlaist, consumerism, buying, classes–rich and poor–thus you can be poor an oppressed in the afterlife as well as this one–how bleak, how capitalist, how consumeriest, how frightening, ow dreadful.  Chinese worship money and power.  and lack empathy.  this is why china has had so many stupid problems over the centuries.  you dont think before you act and you certainly dont use the heart before you act. you swing between extremes.

  • http://twitter.com/timsored Tim Young

    The Chinese gov’t destroying your studio is surely a
    sign of their ultimate weakness. You, Ai Weiwei, are the 
    strong one.

  • http://www.facebook.com/madison.buchanan Madison Buchanan

    How do you maintain hope in a society where individuality and freedom is not outwardly valued? How do you reconcile respect and freedom? Creativity and orthodoxy?

  • http://metaevol.com metaevol

    Ai weiwei is an inspiration to a generation of artists and architects looking for our place, space and voice in a world that is drastically different from the ideas we grew up to expect in our adult lives. My generation is the last to be split between the analog and digital world. To become conscious before the advent of the Internet, brings a unique responsibility.

  • http://metaevol.com metaevol

    His fame and his voice is made all the larger and louder through the attempts to silence him. In the end, his detractors will bring about more change through oppressing weiwei than even he can ;)

    • Tyranipocrit

       im sorry but that is just not true.  Most chinese dont know who he is nor do they respect his art.  In fact they will gasp at mention of dissident artists and writers and say they are not very good anyway.  Even more chiense call literature–dark literature–they only want to read happy thoughts and delusions–romance and fighting heroes.

  • esthermiriam

    When will Chinese who seek freedom be prepared to share in the quest for freedom of the Tibetan people?

    • Tyranipocrit

       han chinese dont see the tibetens as oppressed–they see themesleves as saviors.  And they want the west to butt out of it.  The chinese mob is just a brainwashed as america’s heartland.

  • Wei Wang

    Besides his artist’s creativity, I respect Ai Weiwei for his courage and perseverance.

  • Tyranipocrit

    why do we celebrate foreign dissidents, but harass, dehumanize, oppress, ignore, belittle, demonize, persecute, and pepper spray our own?   how very hypocritical.  We make Chinese dissidents heroes, up there with Obama, but banish our own to a discredited life of obscurity.  we paint our dissidents as the undesirables.  And Obama didnt do anything.  He continued bush policies.  So isn’t there just a touch of irony here?

  • Tyranipocrit

    weiwei, american media doesn’t tell the truth either.

  • Tyranipocrit

    you no represent china–yopu represent america–in china we no like humanity or freedom we like be slaves.  we like to hurt people–we china we chinese and we dont like people want to be nice or free and we are exapnding

  • Tyranipocrit

    weiwei is one of the few men in China.  The chinese should be so proud of you.  i wish they knew how to honor your courage.  There are wolves in beijing.  and china is a sheepfold. 

    weiwei, whatever happens, you are best of humanity.  You are true human.  a hero.  a winner. a leader.  a great artist.  you are the best of mankind.  your detractors are the smallest and the worst.  they are wrong.  and they are cowardly.

  • clementissima

    What happened to those cats?

  • http://twitter.com/LindaPaceAlexan Linda Pace Alexander

    The cats know how to open doors… but they never close them.

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