Breaking the Firewall

I have written a long piece for 3:AM about Ai Weiwei, the Chinese artist recently detained by the regime. The article is centred around a recent collection of his blog pieces (the blog has now been shut down). I also think this article, by Boris Johnson, is worth reading:

Artists such as Anish Kapoor (and writers such as Salman Rushdie in this newspaper) have protested at his treatment — but from the politicos the response is verging on the muted. All we have had from the Government, as far as I can see, is a terse statement of disapproval issued by William Hague in early April. Even in the liberal media, there is a curious apathy about the case.

Where are the candlelit vigils, the rallies for Ai Weiwei? Where are the newspaper campaigns and petitions, the why-oh-why-oh-weiweis?

In China, the very fact of his disappearance has itself disappeared. Plug his name into a Chinese search engine, and nothing comes up. They have super-injuncted him out of the story, and the West has responded with the diplomatic equivalent of a protracted fit of coughing. Such leeriness is almost understandable, really.

China today is a very different strategic proposition from the Soviet Union of the 1980s. It was frankly easier to protest at the treatment of dissidents such as Sakharov and Solzhenitsyn, because no one believed that the future belonged to Russia. On the contrary, we could all see that it was a basket case, an economy that couldn’t supply enough bath plugs for its hotels. No one worried about cheesing off Russian investors — because there weren’t any. It was Upper Volta with rockets.

China, on the other hand, is about to overtake America as the country with the biggest GDP on earth; China is the new 600lb gorilla of global capitalism; and with Chinese investments and commercial activities still heavily influenced — if not directed — by the politicians of the Communist party, it is no wonder that people are nervous of causing offence. No one wants to rub Beijing up the wrong way, and no one wants to be accused of being ‘anti-China’.

On his blog, Ai once asked: ‘If You Aren’t Anti-China, Are You Still Human?’

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One Response to “Breaking the Firewall”

  1. paul murdoch Says:

    Nice piece

    There’s still a huge amount of ‘factual’ dissonance re China…particularly the issues surrounding Tiananmen. I find a widespread acceptance that it was about a reactionary communist regime suppressing a desire for democracy and the free market rather than a bunch of psychopathic kleptocrats who were all too aware of the power of the free market…welcomed it with open arms…but wanted to maintain control in order to sell-out their population and return them to serfdom. They had their hands on the most lucrative resource of all…a massive controllable, exploitable populace who knew resistance was fatal. I bet uncle Milt creamed himself at the thought. The Chinese politburo committed the most cynical, self-serving act of betrayal I can think of. A billion people offered up on a plate for exploitation. Beat that.

    Yet the popular myth of the time still has it arse about. Those plucky ‘pro Western dissidents’ were rejecting wholesale the ‘benefits’ of the Western free market. They knew what was coming….problem is, since China’s GDP makes it the big tamale, it’ll be heading back our way too…sooner than we think.

    I tell people this all the time and they look at me like I’m a fuckin loon. Then I remind them that there’s always a small elite who prosper and get a dip at the gravy. Strange thing is: once they figure there won’t actually be a Chinese guy, cracking the whip…more likely some Old Etonian with a foppish grin who’s ‘investing’ the Chinese guy’s money…they seem reassured…even when I tell them the Chinese fella only gave the loan cos Tarquin agreed to ditch the NHS, our pensions, free speech…except for Ant and Dec, Michael McIntyre, David Walliams, Ferne Britten et al; you know-the real maverick subversives. Fuck me..this country needs a culture.

    A prophet is always without honour etc…or money.

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