Are Ai Weiwei’s ideologies the best solution for China and Art?

May 28, 2013

Thoughts after watching The Arrest of Ai Weiwei play.


Chinese poster saying: 打碎旧世界创立新世界 “Destroy the old world; build a new world.” Classic example of the Red art from the early Cultural Revolution. A Red Guard crushes the crucifix, Buddha and classical Chinese books with his hammer; c. 1967. From Wikipedia.

I have written a review of the play in a previous post. This post is about my concern for Ai Weiwei’s opinion on the future of China and art.

Throughout the play Ai Weiwei explained that classical art had died, and that it didn’t relate to people’s lives today. However if the play was all about free speech then surely we must respect that any artist who really enjoys doing classical art. Everyone is free to express their individuality with whatever art form one decides to pursue. If someone painted flowers that enchant me then I still think he or she is still an artist to admire and respect. I don’t think anyone is in the position to restrict the thinking of what art is or what kind of art we should practice.

At the end of the show, Ai Weiwei smashed a 4000 year old Chinese vase which symbolised harmony: to have something new is to break something old. It symbolises China’s society today, and calls for a abrupt change in Chinese government. It is a worrying view, as I strongly believe reform not revolution will serve China better.

As a person who loves China and want the best future for China,  I don’t believe that the way forward is to destroy anything just because it is old. The Cultural Revolution had the logo “Destroy the old world. Forge the new world.’ It didn’t work out well for China. Is this an overly simplistic view of China’s problems?

China just went ended over 100 years of war less than 63 years ago. Then it was the Cultural Revolution, famine and the Great Leap Forward. Most people have just started to live a better life after all the sufferings. A new war will just plunge people back into chaos and misery. I honestly don’t think Chinese people have the energy to start another revolution right now, since most Chinese want to focus their energy on improving their economical living conditions.

It takes decades to rebuild a broken country after war. Even looking at the comparatively successful example of the French Revolution, during the Reign of Terror (1793-1794) more than 40,000 people died in less than 2 years.  With the population and scale of China, how many more would die through such revolution is unimaginable. In comparison, Britain chose a series of reforms to strip mornachy of its power with much less human and economical sacrifice through the Regency era then the Reform Act 1832.

I understand how much emotional and physical torment Ai Weiwei must have gone through, but we must cool our heads and restrain from using ‘violence against violence’.  We must instead look beyond personal sufferings to think what is really the best for Chinese people.

The Official Theatre website


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