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The Story Behind Ai Wei wei

ai wei wei

ai wei wei

The Story Behind Ai Wei wei

Born in Beijing, China in 1957, Ai Wei Wei has long been considered one of the most poignant provocateurs of the Chinese authorities. As an outspoken human rights activist, it should come as no surprise that Ai has had run-ins with the Chinese authorities before.

What gives Ai Wei Wei his power?

One of the reasons that Ai has become such a prominent figure is because of China’s own rise to prominence. Scheduled to become the dominant economic force on the planet, it should come as no surprise that the Western world would embrace an artist that is able to highlight some of China’s missteps.


When it comes to highlighting those missteps, Ai is perfect for that role. He knows how to combine art and life into a politically charged and daring performance that helps shape the way that we see modern China.


Because he spent his formative years as an artist in New York in the 1980s, Ai has been exposed to the likes of Andy Warhol, whose performance and conceptual art dominated the New York scene. Ai uses any range or medium to deliver his powerful message, ranging from blogs, to tweets, to architecture, performance, photography, or sculptures.

A return to China – no fear

Once China allowed its citizens to travel abroad in the 1980s, Ai made sure to do so. It was not until 1995 that Ai returned to China, his father was sick and was bound to a wheelchair. However, few people know that it was a request made by his father that actually kept Ai in China far longer than he would have otherwise expected.


Wei wei explains that one of his father’s last requests was that he consider China his home. Keep in mind that he did not mean this to signify reverence, but rather meant that Ai should feel comfortable in China, that he should do whatever he liked. The implication was that he should spend his time in his native land without any apprehension or fear.

His arrest

Ai was arrested at Beijing Capital International Airport on 3 April 2011. He was scheduled to catch a flight to Hong Kong that day. Chinese officials searched his studio facilities. Aside from arresting Ai, the police also detained Ai’s wife, Lu Qing, and eight staff members. The original explanation was that “his departure procedures were incomplete.”


Despite the fact that he was kept locked up without trial for more than 80 days,, he continues to use his artwork and the Internet to protest against the Chinese government. According to Ai, he continues to suffer from police harassment, claiming that the government wants to silence him.

“The art world’s most powerful figure”

The editors of ArtReview magazine named Chinese dissident Ai Weiwei the most powerful artist in the world in 2011. As was to be expected, the Chinese authorities were not pleased with this selection. They cited a “political bias” that ran contrary to the principles of the magazine. However, the editor of ArtReview argued that the choice was certainly not politicized.

His name is blocked across Sina Weibo

Sina Weibo is the largest Chinese social media site. Any kind of dissidence or subversion is regarded as a crime against the state because of China’s massive censorship practices. Because of that, it is impossible to search Sina Weibo for the search term “Ai Wei wei.” Because of this, commenters will often use different combinations such as Ai W Wei or aiww to propagate their discussions and subvert the Chinese firewalls.

He does not care about the value of his work

According to those around him, he is not the greatest businessperson when it comes to selling his work. Those around him suggest that he uses every cent of what he earns and pours it back into his work. He has personally expressed a disinterest in the market value of his work. He suggested that it was “absurd” to give a price to an artwork.


He suggested instead that prices of art were solely related to the market, not indicative of anything. He has come out and said that art cannot be measured by certain numbers or by money. In fact, he believes that a good artist should not be concerned with how much his actual work is selling for.

Suing the Chinese government

Aside from constantly providing reminders to the Chinese government that he is not going anywhere, Ai is also actively engaging the government in a legal sense. He is suing the Chinese government because of a case relating to allegations that his company, Beijing Fake Cultural Development, evaded taxes. Ai stated that some of the actions taken by the Chinese government were illegal and violated regulations.


One thing is certain, Ai Wei Wei continues to show the Chinese government that silencing someone who refuses to be silenced is not going to be easy.


If you enjoyed this article on Ai Wei Wei, you may also like this article on Issues With Beijing Air Quality

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Updated: October 28, 2014 — 9:57 pm

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