Ai Weiwei on China’s protests

Renowned Chinese artist and dissident Ai Weiwei, who currently lives in Portugal with his Chinese wife and their child, sees China‘s reaction to the pandemic over the past three years as the “most stringent constraints on human behavior in Chinese history and in human history,” which are restricting human rights and personal autonomy, he told DW in an email interview.

Ai added that the protests in many Chinese cities against the strict lockdowns were “gatherings of resistance” where protest slogans were chanted. “People mostly want to be released from confinement,” the artist said, “and go back to their normal life.”

Though there has been a careful easing of “zero-COVID” pandemic measures in the city of Guangzhou, the artist does not believe the protests will have a lasting effect. “Any type of protests in China can hardly be successful because the Party [the country’s sole ruling party, the Chinese Communist Party] considers themselves as representative of the interests of people,” Ai wrote, “so for them there is no such thing as people’s protests against them.”

Sheet of paper as the most important expression of protest

Ai wrote that the protesters do not yet have any leaders, nor are they supported by any organizations. They also have no agenda, according to Ai: “As we say in a Chinese idiom, it is like a plate of loose sand.” 

The white sheets of paper held by protesters serve as their most important ideological expression, according to Ai, who sees the blank signs as “a very strong symbol” representing the protesters’ desire to express themselves freely….