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Ai Wei Wei's Beijing Studio Destroyed by Chinese Authorities (npr.org)
130 points by gscott 6 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 36 comments

I think there's a healthy symbiosis between light "state harassment" of Ai and Ai's notoriety as a dissident.

Ai has been told by the security service that his existence is very important to the state. I think this is because his existence / story demonstrates two things: the state does express its disagreement and can detain / punish, the state allows provides an environment open to criticism and does allow people to express themselves.

Ai is high profile and so the allowance of continued activity of a high profile dissident by a state which is in many cases criticized as getting rid of critics is an important counter narrative that the state wants, I believe.

But I think it's more than that also. Ai is very Chinese and represents something very Chinese: a native cultural ideal, a person who is globally recognized as excelling in his field. His work is not just critical of his homeland, it comments on control in many places.

So I think Ai's case, on the whole, functions more as positive rather than negative propaganda for China.

One further and more controversial point I'll make is that Ai is in the same business as Chinese PR, shaping / playing with perceptions. I think Ai has realized for a long time that art coupled with subtly sensational criticism of his homeland gets him more traction in the global art scene, than just art. This is another aspect to the symbiosis. Ai's criticism of China, permitted by China, also gives China a larger profile in the cultural world through Ai. I admire the cleverness of these instances where the Chinese use Western cultural biases against us cleverly for their own benefit. Meaning that often in the West people are looking to fill in a narrative about the Chinese state being bad, and Ai, by supplying that demand in a satisfying way for us, enhances his career, and actually, I believe, subtly promotes / enhances China's image, using the very narrative demand the West has against the West's intention with it. In other words, the West, by elevating Ai, also elevates China, probably against their intent to do so, and precisely because, I believe, China knows how the play the demand for narrative bias to its advantage.

But even if people in Western civil society organizations understand this, what choice do they have? They want to promote a certain set of values, so they have to use Ai as a persona. So Ai's existence is probably a win-win for all, rather than just the seeming clear win for the anti-China camp that his dissident status on the surface suggests.

There's probably instances of the West using this kind of "appetite for bias" to its own advantage as well but I have not reflected as much about it.

so true. there are people prosecuted there in much worse ways, but in the international press we only hear about Ai or the HK folks with the subversive bookstore that every already forgot by now.

the folks doing real activism continue to disappear in silence. often drowned in the religious charlatans noise that I will not even name here.

Misleading, IMO:

> The AFP reports that the rental contract on Ai's studio expired last fall, and that Ai had "been expecting to leave the studio soon."

Sure, maybe they wouldn't have abruptly torn it down if he was still in their favour, but they're also not obligated to let him have that workspace for free.

I’ve had rental contracts expire in NYC and you just pay month to month after that. I’d be pretty upset if my landlord showed up one day and just bulldozed the apartment with me still in it.

Maybe he was planning it as a political act, a performance piece of sorts. Regardless, I still don’t think having an expired lease should be met with a destroyed workspace.

>>> The AFP reports that the rental contract on Ai's studio expired last fall,

> I’ve had rental contracts expire in NYC and you just pay month to month after that.

The reason that works in NYC is because by law rental contracts that expire (without specific language to the contrary) become month to month leases. That may or may not be the case in China.

I think your landlord would be pretty upset if you refused to sign a new lease and also refused to move out. Which is why we have a legal process for eviction.

And while there are more protections for residences (so you don't become homeless overnight), there are less for commercial spaces (like an artist's studio) because you're expected to be commercially responsible about these things. If you can't move your stuff out of a commercial space several months after your lease has ended, then the problem is with you, no?

I expect Beijing has laws determining how the property of an evicted tenant can be handled just like NYC does, and I imagine those laws were broken in this case.

Have you considered the rights of the landlord? From the video, it looks like a single large "studio"(aka multi-thousand meter-squared building for one person), and not a multi-tenant dwelling like one might expect in SF, NYC, or BJ/京.

Imagine the landlord wants to sell the property to a large property developer, one who may want to place 100+ units on your previously single unit rental. Is it fair that Ai can just stay there...perpetually - holding up 99 extra units on the market because he can't be bothered to move out?

Just a side note: the property doesn’t belong to the landlord, just a 70 years grant to use the land, which can be revoked (with compensation)

For what it's worth, the concept of land ownership is a pretty fluid concept in all countries. USA for example, has the concept of Eminent domain (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eminent_domain#United_States):

> In federal law, Congress may take private property directly (without recourse to the courts) by passing an Act transferring title of the subject property directly to the government. In such cases, the property owner seeking compensation must sue the United States for compensation in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims. The legislature may also delegate the power to private entities like public utilities or railroads, and even to individuals.[8] The U.S. Supreme Court has consistently deferred to the right of states to make their own determinations of "public use".

dis-sys 6 months ago [flagged]

> Is it fair that Ai can just stay there...perpetually - holding up 99 extra units on the market because he can't be bothered to move out?

Of course he can - he is an activist, he doesn't need a rental agreement or title of land, he owns the place where he wants, he is an activist! as clearly stated by the article, the lease expired last fall, almost 1 year after the expiration of the lease, he just have too much stuff stored in that place, how that is not a strong enough reason to keep staying there? why the landlord can't just give him another 3-5 years rent free period so he can slowly move his stuff as he want?

He is an activity against the Chinese government, he is entitled to do/own anything he wants. You are brainwashed if you don't agree with that.

We've warned you before about using HN for national and political flamewar. Since you haven't heeded the warning, I was going to ban you for this. But you've also posted good, substantive comments on other topics, so instead I'll ask you once more to please not break the rules like this.

Instead, please review https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html and follow them from now on, including these:

1. Be civil.

2. Comments should get more civil and substantive, not less, as a topic gets more divisive.

Indeed. From NPR:

> One of Ai's assistants, Gang Ra, told the AFP new agency that the rental contract for the building had ended last year but that it "simply wasn't possible" to move out at the time because of the amount of works still present.

> He said that they had been told that the move would need to take place within a matter of days, but added that they had not been warned when the demolition would begin.

As much as I love his work, agreed this sounds like a non-story. He's a tenant who refused to leave for at least 7 months and the landlord had other plans for the property.

If Ai had been the owner and his building were demolished without warning, that would be completely different... but that doesn't seem to be the case at all.

He's a great artist and is fighting the good fight but the US propaganda machine will twist every little story to make it look like he's being crucified by the Chinese government.

US propaganda machine - in a story on China, the king of propaganda. The irony is thick. There's no central spin on US media. Certainly trump would love to have that power, because the media is endlessly critical of him. China on the other hand has a very well developed central propaganda machine.

It's not a secret or a conspiracy that the US puts out propaganda. What does China's propaganda have to do with my comment? You are changing the subject.

It sounds like you're arguing that because China has extensive propaganda operations, it follows that the U.S. doesn't, or that they're ineffective, or irrelevant?

It would be helpful if you could clarify your point and your argument.

Eloff appears to think that propaganda needs to be centrally directed by the government for it to count.

Make no mistake, the US continually pumps out propaganda. The Establishment position is generally reflected in most cultural output, and if your output doesn't conform, a lot of angry people will come after you, just like they're gunning for Alex Jones.

I don't disagree much with American Establishment propaganda, but to deny the bias in almost all cultural output is foolish.

And yes, Trump is a victim of Establishment propaganda. He deserves it most of the time, but the times he doesn't are what gives his followers the oxygen to shout fake news alongside him.

I don't normally comment on downvotes, but the downvotes are actually evidence of orthodox view policing, proving my point! :)

This on is a good story too. Chinese agents rush into your house, take your coffin and destroy it. No propaganda just reality fror the Chinese.



Ai always gets attention from inside the country and he has been there for a long time. Waves of such people left or disappeared in public's view. He's still there. Someone can stay and do a lot of opposing things and get and be able to keep constant public attentions is like a miracle. Why he? Why not others like him? He's like collecting those badges every time the government did something to him. And he's doing good and better. If you know China and know what people act like him could have faced, he is such an odd spot. I know westerners like him, giving him a lot of high quality badges. He has a quite rooted network to keep him safe and do a lot of fancy things delivered to public and shows this off. All sides seem to need him.

Sorry for the rant. As a Chinese, I just hate those people with very special privilege to show off in the name of some symbol impressing outsiders and has nothing to do with all those truly matter.

From the fine article, he doesn't live in China any more... after they beat him and locked him away for a year and took away his passport. That's ignoring the forced confession, and several million in fines. Yeah, I'm sure he got out because he's rich and famous... and what he did was embarrass an official?

I like China and its people, but this argument doesn't make much sense. It's the last part (not the middle) that makes it impossible to fix corruption.

'ignoring the forced confession'

That's extremely hard for someone to get away with. He can simply ignore it? I do not follow Ai's news after I did a little research many years ago. He's famous on HN. So I wanted to find out what this guy did and what his works were like at that time.

IIRC, he is a son of a ruling party's famous poetist which indicates he has some strong connections.

Last time I read some news of him was live stream his own life in Beijing's studio or something like that. Of course, with his experience, acceptance/approval level in western world and his art skills (he has some real art work. For me, his work is facing outsider customers, expressing the customer's view of China in a bit above average customers' way.), he is among the best options for some field.

I don't understand what you mean by mentioning 'last part (not the middle)'.

Years ago, I'd seen some his art in China and liked it, and I vaguely know he's an activist, but I don't follow it so I didn't know he had left the country until I read the article. I don't think anyone would know what had happened if he wasn't internationally famous.

What I meant (by 'the last part') is that if we excuse the government for politically motivated force to punish non-violent dissent for any reason, then we are agreeing with the worst form of corruption. Bribes (and excusing them) are bad enough, but excusing threats, violence, and property destruction by the state is worse. How to create a better (more fair) place to live for the poor and weak with this kind of threat, when even the wealthy, connected, and famous can't speak up?

When I see this sort of acceptance from my colleagues from Africa, India, South America it saddens me just as much as it does in China.

You can not image how sad I was/am as someone comes out of that system and I love my nation from the bottom of my heart. I want to see my nation has a bit more awareness of fairness you mentioned. The part of Ai I criticize is mostly how he got away from those kind off trouble safely while collecting so many credits internationally. Sounds strange to outsiders, I know. I just have deeper understanding of what the consequence for many of his activities should've if that was someone else. Outsiders don't have knowledge of this. So as expected, I got many downvotes on this one. Some reporters lost their lives and were betrayed by their wives since they were the first to report some food/medicine quality issues affecting a lot of people (in some cases, the majority victims were very young kids) over the past 2 decades. They did what actually mattered in a massive scale but were not known to average outsiders. People like them are not very marketable in the outsider funding market (This is just a simple and blunt way of describing some fancy and socially high-profiled things. This can get many downvotes as well.). We know too many people like them. And Ai became an icon for outsiders in such a way. Hopefully, my rant can give you more information to know what I feel. There is nothing people can do. There is no party can/need collect the opposing force and combine them into something bigger. Cooperating is the way to go or you are forced to get funding from outsiders to fulfill their own agendas. And they do not know what Chinese think of. So once they live on outsiders' funding system. What they delivered associate little to what average Chinese can echo. Soon they are not relevant any more. It's a different system.

> He's still there.

He's not. After everything he went through, he moved to Germany.

Criticizing Ai Weiwei as a person of privilege who's able to get away with things conveniently ignores the harrassment and subjugation by the Chinese authorities that he's endured. It sounds rather like you're condemning him for somehow not suffering enough, in proportion to the severity of his dissidence?

Well, see my other comments here. I might sound that way to people don't realize the real consequences of many of his activities if someone else did something similar.

So would you be happier if they just made him disappear?

There would be another guy like him then. This is a market for this kind of person. And I wish my opinions matter. LOL. Thanks for asking.

He has spent time in jail. He seems like a hero to me.

And he got back to be in the view of the public proudly. He did ok in the jail. Jail time became another shining badge. Do you know those reports in China regarding serious food quality issues over the past two decades? If you do, do you know how the first reporters for those news ended up? China for me is not just a symbol. So I want to give out another angle many are not aware of.

Reporting so openly and courageously, you must be living outside China?

You mean the reporters I memtioned? No, they are/were all in China.

So I guess this is what gentrification looks like in China. Wow.

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