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Ai Weiwei: "Beijing is a nightmare"

Newsweek has just run an essay by Ai Weiwei in which the artist and noted critic of the Chinese government paints a grim picture (to say the least) of life in modern China. The piece is notable not only for its stunning language, but also the fact that it comes from a man who was detained in an undisclosed location by Chinese security for about three months this year. As Ai writes: "My ordeal made me understand that ... there are many hidden spots where they put people without identity."

The conditions of his release are understood to include refraining from doing things like submitting essays for Newsweek that say:

"Beijing tells foreigners that they can understand the city, that we have the same sort of buildings: the Bird’s Nest, the CCTV tower. Officials who wear a suit and tie like you say we are the same and we can do business. But they deny us basic rights. You will see migrants’ schools closed. You will see hospitals where they give patients stitches—and when they find the patients don’t have any money, they pull the stitches out. It’s a city of violence.

...

The strongest character of those spaces is that they’re completely cut off from your memory or anything you’re familiar with. You’re in total isolation. And you don’t know how long you’re going to be there, but you truly believe they can do anything to you. There’s no way to even question it. You’re not protected by anything. Why am I here? Your mind is very uncertain of time. You become like mad. It’s very hard for anyone. Even for people who have strong beliefs.

This city is not about other people or buildings or streets but about your mental structure. If we remember what Kafka writes about his Castle, we get a sense of it. Cities really are mental conditions. Beijing is a nightmare. A constant nightmare."

The piece is worth reading in its entirety. It can be found by clicking here.

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Yes, we get a sense of it. Cities really are mental conditions.

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