In April 2012 Ai Weiwei turned his attention to China’s censorship of the internet, in a comment piece penned for The Guardian where concluded that the Chinese government will ultimately fail to control the internet as the web is “uncontrollable”.
Ai Weiwei writes: “China may seem quite successful in its controls, but it has only raised the water level. It’s like building a dam: it thinks there is more water so it will build it higher. But every drop of water is still in there. It doesn’t understand how to let the pressure out. It builds up a way to maintain control and push the problem to the next generation. It still hasn’t come to the moment that it will collapse. That makes a lot of other states admire its technology and methods. But in the long run, its leaders must understand it’s not possible for them to control the internet unless they shut it off – and they can’t live with the consequences of that. The internet is uncontrollable. And if the internet is uncontrollable, freedom will win. It’s as simple as that.”
“Censorship is saying: “I’m the one who says the last sentence. Whatever you say, the conclusion is mine.” But the internet is like a tree that is growing. The people will always have the last word – even if someone has a very weak, quiet voice. Such power will collapse because of a whisper.”
“People have started to feel the breeze. The internet is a wild land with its own games, languages and gestures through which we are starting to share common feelings.
But the government cannot give up control. It blocks major internet platforms – such as Twitter and Facebook – because it is afraid of free discussion. And it deletes information. The government computer has one button: delete.
But censorship by itself doesn’t work. It is, as Mao said, about the pen and the gun [“As communists we gain control with the power of the gun and maintain control with the power of the pen.”] At midnight they can come into your room and take you away. They can put a black hood on you, take you to a secret place and interrogate you, trying to stop what you’re doing. They threaten people, your family, saying: “Your children won’t find jobs.”
Yet, at the same time the government talks about how to make national culture strong and creative.”
Two months in prison
Ai Weiwei’s activism has made him a long-standing thorn in the side of Chinese authorities. Meanwhile, his art work has sold world-wide and he was named the world’s most powerful art figure by the influential British magazine Art Review in 2011.
He disappeared into custody on 3 April 2011 as Chinese police rounded up dissidents amid online calls for Arab-style protests in China. Eventually he was released in June 2011, but was given a one-year probation during which he cannot leave Beijing, and has been subjected to constant police surveillance.
The 54-year-old artist was charged with tax evasion linked to Fake Cultural Development Ltd – a company founded by Ai but owned by his wife. But he has denied the charge and insists it is an attempt to silence his activism. Lawyers for the firm have also pointed out inconsistencies in the case.
“Until now, there have been no clear answers as to why they put me in this kind of situation,” he explained.
The Guardian – 16 April 2012:
China’s censorship can never defeat the internet
It is interesting to pick one’s way through the obstacles of censorship, but freedom can’t be stopped in the internet age
The Telegraph – 16 April 2012:
Ai Weiwei: Chinese government cannot censor the internet
The Chinese government’s attempt to control the internet will ultimately fail, says Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei.