by Jonathan Blaustein

Photograph by Hugo Tillman

America loves a good bad guy. We’re never really at our best until our backs are against the wall. Just look at Rocky Balboa. He was fat, tired and lazy until Clubber Lang came along. Or was it Ivan Drago? Regardless, Manifest Destiny aside, we see ourselves as a nation of good-guy gunslingers, out to make the world safe for democracy.

So what are we to do now? Osama Bin Laden, our Number one foil, is dead. Execution style, no less. We’ve just begun the second decade of the 21st Century, and we’re lacking a proper Bond villain to whip us into fighting shape. Don’t worry, I’ve got an idea. Aside from consuming, what’s more American than Freedom? Nothing, right? From Patrick Henry on down, we’ve always been willing to scrap over our freedom to drink, smoke, and say whatever the hell we damn well please. Honestly, I’m writing this article for an audience who sometimes treats the comment section like an after hours speakeasy on the Jersey Shore. Freedom of speech is something we can all believe in, and unfortunately we probably take it for granted.

Enter Ai Weiwei. He’s the most famous Contemporary Chinese artist in the world. (Which probably makes him slightly less famous than whatever teenaged bimbos are pimping on MTV at the moment.) Anyway, for those of you who haven’t yet heard of Ai Weiwei, he’s a multi-media artist and architect, and the son of one of China’s most prominent poets. His work drips with rebellion and epitomizes the freedom of expression at all costs. He once made a photo series in which he’s photographed giving the middle finger to the White House, the Eiffel Tower, and the Imperial Palace in Beijing. He also champions the rights of the less fortunate China, having undertaken significant risk to investigate the death of so many rural schoolchildren in the aftermath of the Sichan Earthquake of 2008. He just showed 100 million hand painted ceramic sunflower seeds at the Tate Modern in London, and of course recently unveiled a set of sculptures near the Plaza Hotel in New York.

Oh, yeah. And he was also kidnapped by the Chinese government last month. I’d say disappeared, but it was reported last week that his wife was able to visit him and confirm he’s not dead yet. Ai Weiwei was taken off a plane by government agents in April, his studio was destroyed, and he was locked away indefinitely for the vague, trumped up charge of “economic crimes.”

Which brings us back to my nomination for America’s new Enemy Number 1: The cadre of ruthless assholes who runs the Chinese Communist Party. (There’s a bit or Orwellian double-speak for you. Calling the worlds largest sovereign wealth fund Communist.) Really, I know this will sound naivé and simplistic. Barack Obama has no leverage with these guys right now, you’ll say. They own our debt, so they can do as they please. Even Google backed down from a fight, so they must be some pretty bad dudes. I’ll stipulate that. They might even hack my email after we publish this article.

But hear me out. Ai Weiwei was locked away not because he was horribly critical of the CCP. He wasn’t, really. I mean, who can get angry with someone who honors dead schoolchildren? He also helped design the Bird’s Nest stadium for the 2008 Olympics, so they couldn’t have hated him that much. Ai Weiwei wasn’t a threat because of the content of his art, it was because of his process. He spoke his mind, made what he wanted to, built an audience on his blog and Twitter. Sound familiar? Basically, he acted like a digitally literate, free human being in the 21st Century. Just like us. How many of you make the pictures you want to make, say the words you want to say, write the comments you want to write?

Ever since I first saw Zhang Yimou’s “Hero” seven years ago, I knew this day was coming. (Yes, he’s the same guy who choreographed the 2008 Olympics opening ceremonies that gave so many people the heebie-geebies.) I’d say spoiler alert, but the film was made in 2002, so you had your chance. Jet Li, the film’s lead, spends the entire movie trying to track down and assassinate the Chinese Emperor, back in the day. At the end, just as he’s about to do the deed, the Emperor talks him out of it, convincing Jet Li to instead give up his own life in service of the Empire. Our land. Kneel before Zod. It’s the Anti-Hollywood ending, and given Yimou’s favored-son-status with the government, I read the writing on the wall. The individual will always take a back seat to the Empire, the authority figure.

That’s why Ai Weiwei got locked up. He was the living embodiment of the power of ideas: ideas that are particularly dangerous to the Powers That Be right now, what with the Arab Spring and all. These are the same CCP leaders that own our debt, and just flew some Steath Fighter jets over Bob Gates’ head. So let’s have no more illusions that we’ll all just get along, or that they’ll allow us to corrupt their system with our dysfunctional democracy. Not. Going. To. Happen.

So Free Ai Weiwei. Tell your friends. Tell your kids. Speak your mind a little louder in your new photo project. And maybe next time you’re in the local Walmart, you’ll consider buying some cheap crap from the Phillipines, or Bangladesh. Or better yet, maybe you’ll spend the extra $3 to get something made in the USA. We still make tractors, right?

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  1. You’re right, your argument is naive and simplistic.

    Have you been to China within the last ten years? My guess is no. You based your judgement on a Jet Li movie, but haven’t spent extensive time in China to get to know its people, culture, and it’s very complex political history. It seems to be the typical western approach to we know what’s best for other people’s government. Let’s keep in mind that we still have Gitmo, two foreign wars, and so much corporate interest that it’s a wonder anything gets done at all.

    If changes should happen to China it won’t be because of citizens or politicians from a western nation demands it, it must come from within…and quite frankly, freedom of speech is just not that high on the list of what the Chinese citizen wants. It never has. The Chinese are more concerned with prosperity and standard of living than the western notion of free speech. It’s a different mindset and value system that the west can’t seem to grasp. For the first time in many generations, the Chinese people are enjoying a new found hope, prosperity, and national pride. You can argue that it’s brainwashing or propaganda, but the Chinese people they believe that their time has come and will overtake the US economy by the end of the decade. That’s goal…to be the world leader. Everything else is secondary. Who are we to say they are wrong? Has our democracy been a beacon of hope these last two decades?

    • Hi Mark,
      You’ll find my extensive rebuttal below. I’ve been wondering about your motivations these last few days. If you’ve taken the time to voice your opinion, why do you believe the Chinese people ought to be denied the same opportunity?

      • I’m flattered you’ve given my comment so much thought. As an Army infantry veteran, I know quite well the cost of freedom and those who die to protect it. I don’t need lectures on just how we are afforded these inalienable rights.

        I never said that the Chinese should be denied the same opportunities and freedom of speech. I would appreciate if you stop insinuating that I do.

        My stance has always been let the Chinese decide their own fate. Western governments and citizens voicing our unwanted own opinions when it wasn’t asked for doesn’t help anyone, especially not the Chinese. I realize that to us, despite our own flaws, we should still point out the flaws of other countries…but how does this play out on the other side of world in China? Would the Chinese people care to even listen to make a change with the US breathing down their necks? If you know how nationalistic they are, you’ll realize that your whole article is to reinforce our own moral superiority and pats on our own backs; The Chinese hate other countries telling them how to handle their own business. At best your article is preaching to the choir and reinforces people’s resentment towards the Chinese government…does their actions really surprise anyone here?

        How much really do you care about Ai Weiwei besides what you looked up on Wikipedia? Will you still be fighting for his release months from now? How about years? I have a problem with you using Weiwei as a puppet to prove your point. Don’t pretend to care about an artist you knew nothing about last year only to jump on a feel good pro-democracy bandwagon to rally against the evil Chinese government.

        If you really want people to care about the man, spread his art and his legacy. If you really want to spread democracy and freedom, butt out of their politics. All good lasting democracies were brought about because of internal revolution, not because people from another country demanded it.

        Really, who’s going to listen to us when we’ve been playing world police, installing puppet governments, funding foreign torture camps, starting illegal wars, and backing backwards governments. The world is tired of listening to us tell them what we think is best. It’s time to give it a rest. When the Chinese are ready for Democracy, they will seek it out and perhaps ask for our assistance. Until then, let’s be good neighbors and lead by example.

        • Hi Mark,
          Your line of reasoning has many flaws. And if you’ve read all the comments posted here, you’ll see how others have responded to your simplistic, post-modern rationale.

          You continue to presume too much about my background. The photo that accompanies this article was shot by a friend of mine, who first told me of Ai Weiwei and his work 5 years ago. In fact, I scanned the image myself. So your theory of bandwagon jumping is patently untrue. And then you go on to suggest that Ai Weiwei will be locked up years from now. Do you happen to have any inside insight that leads to you to that assumption?

          Your following quote…”Western governments and citizens voicing our unwanted own opinions when it wasn’t asked for doesn’t help anyone, especially not the Chinese,” seems particularly surprising and naive, given the global happenings of 2011. I believe it’s been well-proven that information dissemination and protest via the Internet can in fact stimulate change. And once again, if you actually read my article as opposed to reciting propagandist bullet points, you’ll see that I’m asking people to spread the word and perhaps impose some economic pressure to push for Ai Weiwei’s release. Free Ai Weiwei.

          Please quote me, if you may, and show me where I’ve suggested that anyone overthrow the CCP. And did you miss my references to Manifest Destiny and our dysfunctional democracy? I was a history and economics double-major at Duke University, so please stop suggesting that I think that America is flawless. The free citizens of the world accept that all social systems and governments are by their natures imperfect. People themselves are imperfect.

          You reference the Cultural Revolution as if it were perpetrated not by the Chinese Government, but it’s citizenry. Care to defend Mao while you’re at it? How many people did he kill? Was it more or less than Stalin and Hitler? Is the current government not an extension of Mao’s regime, or am I wrong? Has there been a revolution or election since that’s disrupted the transfer of power?

          In a free society, people are allowed to express their opinions. That’s what you and I are doing here. You continue to deflect the argument that what’s good for you is bad for the citizens of China. I’ll continue to refute that point, because the larger this comment trail gets, the more we’re demonstrating the value of free speech, dialogue, and the right to disagree.

          You also are incorrect to view this through a bi-polar, US versus China lens. The readers of this blog come from all over the world, or at least the parts of the world that do not censor the Internet. So while you called my opinions “unwanted,” I’d suggest that as a paid opinion writer on one of the most popular photography blogs in the world, my thoughts are at the very least valid enough to publish.

          • How do you suggest we free Ai Weiwei or bring feedom of speech to China?

            • Mark,
              How about you answer some of the questions I posed to you instead of asking new ones of me? You defend the CCP quite a bit, but never seem to get around to dealing with the problematic questions that arise from this dialogue. You mention the Cultural Revolution, but don’t seem to want to acknowledge the role of Mao. You exercise your rights to free speech, but never get around to explaining why the Chinese people are unworthy of it. You argue that I have no interest in Ai Weiwei, despite evidence to the contrary, but never explain why you’re untroubled by his sham imprisonment and possible torture.

              And while we’re at it, perhaps you can give us a bit of your background as well. I’m very curious to understand how you’ve come to hold your particular views. I’ve been writing for this blog for a year, and my back-story has been well sussed out by now.

              With respect to your current question, I’ve answered it many times in both my article and this comment section. And at no point have I suggested that anyone can truly Free Ai Weiwei, except for his captors. How do you recommend we influence them? It seems to me that your only suggestion has to been to leave them alone and hope they change their minds.

              • Is this now a witch hunt in which I have to somehow declare my allegiances? What is this, the cold war? I served my country, gave her six good years, and was solider of the year and honorably discharged. Go look up my DD-214 if you really care. Now I have to listen to blogger swift boat me and insinuate I’m somehow a CCP paid poster? Give me a fucking break.

                I never said the Chinese are unworthy of freedom of speech, nor have did I ever agreed with the way the PRC handled the situation…but yes I do believe that China’s best path to democracy is for us to leave them alone. We’ve done enough “good” in Iraq, Afghanistan, Vietnam, not to mention the countless countries we’ve appointed murderous dictators. With our track record and our government’s own special agendas, you can be certain freedom is not high on the list of why we ever intervene.

                Jonathan, what I don’t like is your knee-jerk, self-righteous, democracy thumping post where you identify the problem that we all know but offer no solution. You are preaching to a choir full of liberal creatives (myself included). But ultimately what good does it serve?

                At this point, I’ll agree to disagree and hope your future posts can be more constructive and offer possible solutions rather than fear mongering.

                Have a nice day, this will be the last time I check this article.

                • Hi Mark,
                  While I understand that it’s unlikely that you’ll be reading this comment, I must clearly state that at no time did I make the implication you’re suggesting. My point was that you knew far more about me and my motivations than I did with you, so I was offering you the opportunity to give some information about your background. I was curious to learn more about your worldview, as it was not entirely clear through the comment trail.

                  Best wishes,

    • Are you a shill for the Chinese government or just a garden variety racist?

      • Neither. Thanks for trolling.

  2. I absolutely agree with Mark. It is extremely naive; and insensitive to Chinese culture, to make these simplistic wester-centric claims about the Chinese governments actions against their citizens. How can you possibly pass judgement so easily on China, when our own government consistently acts in non-democratic ways? Non peaceful ways. What did killing Osama Bin Ladin solve? Nothing. This gun-slinging, hyper-masculine, western-centric rhetoric is getting old. I would have expected better from this blog.

    • Hi Tony,
      Are we to sign you up as the second member of the “Detain Ai Weiwei” movement? I’m critiquing the fact that the second largest economic power in the world, soon to be the first, has a view towards free speech that is antithetical to that of the United States. It seems as if you and Mark are willing to stipulate that point. So where does that leave us? As China extends it’s influence in the world, how many voices will be silenced, like Ai Weiwei’s?

      I think that it’s fantastic that China’s economic growth has raised so many millions of people out of abject poverty. It’s a triumph, for sure. But I find fault with your knee-jerk reaction that all Westerners are ignorant of other cultures, or that the US government’s injustices mean that it’s citizens ought to keep quiet. That’s not how we do things over here.

      • Ah yes, the argument of “If you’re not with us, you’re against us.” Brilliant.

        My point and I think Tony’s point is that we the US should stop policing other countries and dictating our policies onto another sovereign state. Why point so many fingers at China when there are so many issues at home we have yet to fix? Until we can solve our own problems, maybe it’s best we don’t tell people how to solve theirs.

        Rest assured, change and reform will happen in China. But it won’t be due to citizens or politicians of the US demanding it. It will be brought on by the voice of the Chinese people, much like the Arab Spring. When that happens it will be on their terms, not what we think will be best for China.

        • Arab Spring? As if that’s a positive example, as if Arab Spring is going to bring peace, prosperity and greater freedom to the Middle East? Bad example.

          Comparing any of the transgression of the U.S. to that of Communist China would be laughable if I didn’t believe you were serious.

          Regardless, both Mark and Tony’s comments are meaningless because they don’t stick their names on them… a habit picked up in China?

          • I am afraid a habit picked up on the internet, and for very good reasons…there are too many people of low character reading this blog, the price of success I guess…. Wasn’t it 3 years ago that I disparaged anonymous comments on this very blog and here I am, covering my true identity…A habit I picked up in an isolation cell….

            yours truly,

            Olivier Laude (not Mark, copy)

          • Kenneth,

            I fail to see how not including my last name is some how meaningless to my statements. Just because you stick your last name on here does not give you any more validity then myself or Mark. Poor form.

      • Jonathan,

        First of all, I am not signing up for any movement. My opinions are my own, as are yours. Mine and Mark’s critique of your article is simply that, a critique. Just like you have critiqued the PRC’s detention of Ai WeiWei. Thankfully, this is a ‘freedom’ we all can enjoy in this country, freedom of speech and critique.

        What you do not seem to take away from what Mark and I are saying, is that American Exceptionalism should be critiqued. It is dangerous to make claims that our previous and current development as a nation is somehow superior to theirs. Let us not forget the COUNTLESS inequalities that the United States has perpetuated in its history (slavery, genocide of Native Americans, so on.. so froth), and that is still perpetuated today. Don’t get me wrong, we have come a long way, but much like China we too have a lot farther to go.

        All I am trying to say, is that you should be critically aware of your judgement against China in the context of our own history, and in context of of our own country’s current actions. We’re just as problematic as a Nation, even though we like to we’re not.

        That is all I have left to say. I am not interested in fueling a ‘flame war’ as they call it. I will still read this blog, and I will still read your articles. Even if I find your rhetoric slightly problematic.

        -Tony De Lucci

        • Hi Tony,
          Glad to hear you’re still planning to read the blog, but of course that’s up to you. My problem with your and Mark’s critique of my writing is that I’m not sure you even read it. And that you presume far too much. Why do you assume that I’m unaware of the absurdity of American Exceptionalism, or that I don’t know enough about our country’s dark past. I am, and I do. But I don’t think the imperfection of our system means that all other structures are immune from criticism, and at times conflict.

          I didn’t criticize the Citizens or China, or suggest that we incite a revolution. And if you were unable to ascertain the humor and sarcasm in the article, that’s on you. I wrote that freedom of expression was not a priority, and that the autocracy was firmly entrenched. Both you and Mark seem to have confirmed this.

          Let me clearly state, once again, that the citizens of the United States value their freedom of speech immensely. So the question becomes, at what point in China’s rise do they, or do they not, begin to impinge upon the freedom of expression of other nations? Given the history of Empire, and China’s obsession with censorship, it’s neither a naive nor unrealistic question to be asking at the moment.

          I live in New Mexico. I suspect that I know more about our history of genocide with the Native American civilization than do you. But that did not prevent the US from challenging Totalitarianism in Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union. It’s possible that the societies of the US and China are headed on a collision course precisely because of the fact that certain key value structures are diametrically opposed.

          So feel free to your opinions. I happen to agree with several of them. This country is far from perfect, and Abu Ghraib happened very, very recently. Though you didn’t seem to get it, I was actually defending your right to criticize me.

  3. Hi Mark,
    Thanks for your thoughts. I noticed that you failed to mention Ai Weiwei at all in your reply. Am I to surmise that you’re in favor of his detention? Are you the the founding member of the “Detain Ai Weiwei” movement?

    I happen to agree with you that it seems the Chinese people are rather comfortable with autocracy as long as it’s profitable. And given that their economy will soon be the largest in the world, as you mention, I’m asking the rather larger question of whether we ought to expect China to try to extend the repression of dissent, a powerful ethos of it’s government, as so many Empires have before. Our land.

    The United States was founded upon certain principles, chief among them the right to free expression and assembly. If you noticed in my introduction, I’m aware of much of the dark side of our history, hence the illusion to Manifest Destiny. We’re not perfect, by any means. But the ideas that we cherish are being challenged, and I have a problem with that. Would you and I even be allowed to have this discussion if A Photo Editor was hosted in Beijing? Doubtful.

    • I didn’t mention Ai Weiwei because at its core, your article wasn’t about Weiwei; it’s about challenging a government that you perceives as a threat. You used Weiwei as a an example to get across your political agenda, not unlike the PRC government. Had you truly cared about his well being, you would have listed avenues in which viewers can show support or petition rather than just “tell your kids.” Your interest in Weiwei goes only as far as it can help demonstrate your point.

      Your McCarthy like finger pointing of commies does nothing to help bridge the culture gap that exist between our own and the Chinese mentality. To understand the motive of the PRC, you have to understand it’s people and their personal goals. It may bother you but their priority is not freedom-centric. What you think is a threat to our security and freedom goes only as far as China’s influence in the West and not the Chinese themselves. Your fear mongering is no better than those you despise.

      Rather than polarizing people’s opinion on China and its future, how about enlightening the readers on the differences and how that can be bridged. The ideas of freedom is precious to us but the idea of prosperity is equally important to the Chinese. To them, an idealogical attack on their way of life and how their government should be ran by the West is equally aggravating.

      My opinions on Weiwei and his wrongful detention is a personal reflection, but I won’t use it as a tool to spread fear.

      • All of Weiwei’s freedoms have been taken away by this government, including his freedom to prosper. Your feeble apology for the communist government of China is silly.

        • Peace and freedom remains to be seen, but it will be by the will of their own people and not a puppet government. It’s not up to us to police the world and tell other governments how they should behave, especially given our track record.

          • Oops, meant to reply to the other thread.

            We take away the freedoms of we deem as terrorists without due process. They just don’t happen to live in the US. I guess they don’t count.

            Both government are flawed but rather than finger pointing and making China out to be an evil government, maybe there’s enough blame to go around. Let’s not be hypocrites especially when you’re sitting on a high horse.

        • OPEN YOUR MINDS !
          Lets put Ai WeiWei aside for now, as a human being I respect the man and what he’s standing up for.

          I personally feel this topic is used for great manipulation by the American government. Why did they send Hilary Clinton as spokesperson to point out the problems of ‘freedom’ and to ‘free a foreign Artist/activist’. This job is supposed to be left for the voice of any other humanitarian representative on the news i.e ‘Amnesty international’ .

          The government is obviously using this issue and the media as a tool to influence people and disrupt a country for their own political gains.

          1. How our media is used as a tool
          2. How this topic is related to stock
          3. The people your government is formed of and how they play the political game.
          4. Biased media coverage
          5. Freedom to prosper and your own future problems ahead

          Media used as a tool
          No other country in the world uses the media as a tool so excessively – to disrupt a countries way of life by pointing out their problems in a constant basis; it may it be for reasons by the:

          A. Conservatives: Their own ethical reasons
          B. Liberals: For their own counties gain

          But once I say the words Iraq and WMD (Weapons of Mass Destruction) you will probably already understand the way they use the media as a tool for their benefit.

          They used the media to > influence your opinions > convince congress > to reach their goal ‘oil’.

          In terms of economy, America wasn’t doing well at the beginning of the Iraq war. Donald Rumsfeld lied to distort the facts, Dick Chaney pressured Bush. There was no WMD, so they produced false information and false documents, whilst working with the media to spread the message to the every citizen in the world. After the war they changed their stories about injecting fear though the media. They did this for money and oil. And they ALL got away with it. FACT.

          They used this same method to Kill Osama bin laden > to boost Obamas ratings for the next election.

          There is a hidden agenda to use the media against China by deploying ‘freedom tactics’ to you the average American. By disrupting everyday life for China. Why? This influences the rise and fall of the stock market. There are problems stopping and stalling Chinas currency from becoming stronger so they fly over in talks to ask China to devalue it. Everything is about money and the economy in America. The government is slowly running out of tactics. America is printing more money which leads to the devaluation of the dollar. It cannot be avoided and cannot be saved. And all this ‘freedom talk’ relates to the stock, it’s not a secret and you will understand this more when I say your government is formed from the people who run the stock market. (Reference: Gerald Celente, CEO of New York trends). I can guarantee that you will gradually see more and more news about China in the coming future.

          If you played in the stock market before you will know that News influences stock.
          You may think to yourself: How did this topic ending up to be a political issue? The Media worked together with the government who are both part of the CFR Council of Foreign Relations to broadcast this all over the world and it wasn’t some short world news story, it was broadcasted continuously over and over and over. Most of the people in the world didn’t know who Ai WeiWei was at the time. Unless you was an artist or some high society investor or businessman. People would have dismissed this news if it wasn’t for the governments influence in media attention.

          Biased Media
          There are many issues published by small news companies all over the internet about the US government that is put away from the public view, big named medias are very protective, biased, especially with sensitive information about the US government ‘Freedom of Press is questioned here’ . Note if you look at the case with Bradly Manning (where truth and treason is separated by a very fine line), and the assassination attempts and credibility attacks on Julian Assange for the ‘freedom of information’ the the US is questioned.

          Freedom to prosper (with whatever you have left).
          I think you got to take a minute to think what incorporates this word ‘freedom to prosper’, let me tell you why.. (this might not be a shock for you). The world witnessed the biggest US stock market scandal and crime of the century, yet no-one was tried or sent to prison. The government in response act squeezed every cent from what you earned in tax. The way the average American spends their life achieving a dream of owning a house is coming to an end. (This itself is a question, why am I spending my life paying for bricks and mortar for?). The banks sub prime mortgage was a scheme to offer money to those who couldn’t afford to pay to own a house by handing them cash they couldn’t afford. As soon as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac was in trouble you were all left trying to pay off the debt of your mortgages. A few became bankrupt and started to live with food-stamps. A few weeks later 9 trillion dollars of American tax money suddenly ‘went missing’ and the Inspector General had no clue where it went after 12 months of investigating. After much probing it was later found out that the money was put in Fannie and Freddie Mae and distributed to other Banks that cannot and will not be named, it’s your money and you won’t see a dime of that back FACT. Same goes for the tax money that was put towards the Iraq war America was heavily against.

          My view: any President is a puppet. A president is just a salesman for congress and the commander and chief of the armed forces. Bush was a bad president, Obama was for hope, you now say vote Ron Paul.. I laugh.

          I suggest the people to join and sort out your own government. There is no other alternative. Your money will continue to be used for unjust reasons, the media will continue to manipulate your views, there’s no way out.

          America is leading into a depression like no-other and your society becomes poor, more people play in the stock market, and invest in stock market scams to find out they just ‘brought high and have to sell low to cut their losses’ and as the price of the gold plummets back down to earth they find out that what they invested in is only useful for rebuilding a nation after a war.

          America is living all too comfortably for the past 50 years. America will only wake up when they find out they have no-money, no job, and no roof over their heads

          Will it be too late? The time to educate is today, the time for action is tomorrow. I just wish we had more Ai WeiWeis in America.

    • They are, and will be, comfortable with Autocracy until they realize the result is melamine tainted milk and poorly constructed schools that harm and even kill their children. The same blatent, dangerous corruption occured in the US in the 1880s through 1910 or so, but was cleaned up (as much as possible) due to reformers and the press shameing the government.

  4. yikes, take it easy, it’s an opinion piece, with a bit of sarcasm thrown in, not “Foreign Affairs”…. Mr.Blaustein makes good point and does not make all the others, so what…?! As for Ai Wei Wei, I am sure that growing up in China, given his age, and having seem much of the last 50 unfurl, he is probably not terribly naive to believe that some day he wouldn’t get get his turn…. They all do…!
    As for my self I have periodically gone back and forth to the PRC for the last 25 years…. and what I have seen spans those years. I have seen women’s rights(which they had) stripped to the bone and a lot of them reduced to prostitution, a generation of communists’ idealists(wether they wanted to be or not) reduced to abject poverty and starvation, pollution endemic…etc…etc…
    Mark might wish to take a few trips to the countryside and see another side of the Chinese economic miracle…. but that is besides the point, we funded the Chinese economy, along with Taiwan, Japan and korea, now we have them where we want them, right? Wealth brings education, brings democracy, really ?; under the communist party ? (which is neither communists, nor socialist, just nationalistic and powerful).
    China is going to be a force to be reckoned with( it really isn’t right now, even if you believe the hype), but when it is watch out…. If the global economy collapses, the masses will loose their proverbial shit(as China depends on the global economy more so than the US does, see their forays into Africa for resources). If China becomes some economic behemoth, given their nationalistic tendencies, the world will kowtow to it’s cultural and societal ideals and probably copy them(which might not be so great after all, if you are a humanist, who knows, may be it will be)….
    To make this short…let Blaustein say his piece without jumping down his throat, China is far too complex and has too much good and bad to even allow him to scratch its surface… China could be a force for good or one immense force for destruction, its own in particular=(see its last 200 year history).
    The Chinese government is dealing with frightening demographics, potential economic and financial armageddon if they make the wrong turn… The Chinese brass has always dealt with these fears this way…they see the individual as a potential bacterial infection sickening the rest of their subjects….and they may be right, who knows…?. All I know is that China and the US better remain good friends and forge strong alliances(afterall the US isn’t a much more impressive human rights entity than the Chinese, we talk a good talk but when it comes to foreigners we are more interested in our best interests)…as for Ai Weiwei, if he was so stupid to think that he was immune to China’s vagaries, ask him to read up on Liu Shaoqi… There would be no Ai Weiwei without modern China, nor can there really be one in modern China, at least not yet?!… China is too big and he is too small…but we like a good foreign human rights story to distract us from our own….

  5. It’s true that the US doesn’t exactly hold the moral high ground any more, if it ever really did, but the argument that “those people really don’t really want freedom anyway” is kind of condescending in its own way, not much different from the “those people aren’t really ready for democracy” arguments we hear about the Middle East. (I kinda believe it to be true about Russia, though!) I mean, if the Chinese didn’t want free speech, the CCP wouldn’t be throwing so many dissidents in jail. There wouldn’t be demonstrations in the countryside protesting the corruption of the local governments. The government wouldn’t have had to call out the army to slaughter their own citizens (have we forgotten that already?). And so on and so forth. We’re not perfect but that doesn’t change the fact that China is still run by a repressive dictatorship. Maybe not as bad as during the Mao years, but still. And we enable it by doing business with them.

    • It’s not so much that they don’t want freedom, but there are other items that are more important. Mostly putting food on the table and being more well off.

      I think it’s equally insulting when we think that the Chinese don’t know what’s best for themselves…and that we should tell them how best to live and govern.

      • Most people are told what is best for them, Chinese, American, Germans. It just depend son who is doing the telling, and how. People will believe anything you tell them, if its subtle enough, or taps into a prejudice. The best think for China, in my naive opinion, is for the press be given free reign to investigate corruption, shame the local officials and the businessmen into something close to honesty. Li, I thing its called.

  6. …..on the other hand, those finger pointing images are very ‘Vice”…and strangely enough, he gives the finger to two seats of governments, and the Eiffel tower…hum, what does it mean or is he like Bansky, demonstrating that the power of the hitting you over the head with your ideas is a good way to attract the attention of the masses (the Karl Marx version of the masses)…? As for the bird, well, let’s see, the Eiffel tower is not a seat of government but might be construed as one to represent European power, or French power, or french power in hotel rooms? hum, intriguing…!

    Ok, the White house houses the executive, I get that, but Zhongnanhai is both symbolic of the Central authority , Mao and the Emperors…. so he is giving the finger to history too…! yes, that’s it, he is telling the past present and may be even the future the finger….very “shitty wall” of you…! but what I really would like to see is the finger given to the jail cell he is in…NOW, that would be some art right there my friends…Sneak it in, shoot, sneak it out….Ai Weiwei, are you reading this?

  7. I’m not going to read all the comments, but I’m just going to say that I don’t read anything posted here by Jonathan Blaustein anymore. I don’t know your relation to Rob or your stake in any of this blog, but I don’t think you’re particularly sharp and I do think you’re pretty naive and puritan.

    I don’t think Ai Weiwei should be imprisoned. I don’t think anything that I think is going to change anything however. There’s a lot about my own country that I don’t agree with or appreciate.

    • is there a point to this,? besides being an ass hole, get your own blog and publish cutting edge stuff… good luck…! I really wasn’t wrong when I wrote ” there are too many people of low character reading this blog, the price of success I guess…. ” but that is the price you pay for having a widely read blog… get yourself one and maintain it for years, and years, to benefit ingrates like yourself…

      • Mr. Copy I don’t think Anthony was being an asshole, although he could have used more diplomatic language.

    • I pay him to write for me because I enjoy his point of view and intellect on fine art photography which I know nothing about.

    • +1 anthony…yawn

  8. Ai Weiwei’s silence is deafening. I hope that if I ever “disappear” someone will take the time to speak up about it.

    • Herbert, thanks for the poignant sentiment. I feared it was lost among yesterday’s finger-pointing & name calling, so it’s nice to read this morning. I wanted to bring attention, in whatever little way I could, to a grave injustice.

      • finger pointing? slip of the keyboard or quip

        • Slip of the keyboard, I suppose. I thought your responses were intelligent and thoughtful. Much appreciated. So not a quip about your deconstruction of the middle finger images, if that’s what you mean. That’s what great art conversations are all about. I was referring to the personal nature of some of the attacks, which though annoying is fair game here. I was prepared for an onslaught, and actually hoped to stir people up. Thanks for taking the time to speak your mind.

          • not a quip about my comment, just having fun …. i tend to go that way…. and that’s why I don’t have high blood pressure…

    • This. Is. Awesome.

      • “I’m writing this article for an audience who sometimes treats the comment section like an after hours speakeasy on the Jersey Shore. Freedom of speech is something we can all believe in, and unfortunately we probably take it for granted.”–see above

        I believe this is what I was talking about: the defense everyone’s right to disagree with me, as our anonymous Photoshop fan has so eloquently proven.

  9. Thanks for “There’s a bit or Orwellian double-speak for you. Calling the worlds largest sovereign wealth fund Communist.” That’s a fabulous economic analysis.

  10. Best appeal for Ai Weiwei I have read and also the most honest about China’s role in all this.

    China is after anyone who doesn’t bow down to them and their shenanigans. It’s hard to speak up about this without being quickly labeled as anti-Chinese but in fact Ai and those like him are the greatest lovers of China and it’s people and the government is only self-interested, a true pack of thugs.

    Your essay has given me fresh energy to speak out on the artist’s disappearance.

    Thank you, thank you.


    • Anne Marie,
      Thank you so much for your kind words. As you can see above, this has been a rather controversial article, which was to be expected.

  11. Jonathan, well said. Ann-Marie, spot on.

    I really enjoyed the article. Thankyou for having the courage to speak out about this. If everyone did, I’m sure Ai Weiwei would be free by now.

    Lets not forget about the millions of others who are being persecuted by the Chinese Communist Party – Christians, Tibetan Buddhists, democracy activists, Falun Gong practitioners…. the list goes on. Most of the all it is the Chinese people who have suffered, generations of them. They have been decieved and lied to, their freedom and their rights have been taken away. Anyone who dares question the Chinese Communist Party faces imprisonment, torture and possible death. The simple fact of the matter is that Ai Weiwei has recieved special treatment from the Chinese Commuinst Party because he is an internationally recognised figure. If he was a factory worker, a farmer or a farmer he’d be dead by now… or tortured senseless.

    Communism is not inextricably linked to Chinese Culture. To oppose or criticise the Chinese Communist Party is not to oppose or to criticise the Chinese people.

    If you’ve read this far without sending hate mail or closing your browser so that you may continue hacking Jonathan’s email account,you may be interested in two multimedia projects I authored about individuals targeted by the Chinese Communist Party.

    • Thanks, Jarrod.
      I think far too few Americans can visualize how societies suffer under secret police, detention & re-education camps, regime sponsored torture, and other such tragedies of life under totalitarian regimes. It’s no different in Iran, North Korea, Burma, and many other places around the world. I look forward to checking out your links.

  12. Hey Jonathan,

    Great article! You’re spot on! I don’t want to point fingers or blame anyone in particular or anything, but I just want to remind you to not take some comments too seriously, because the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) hires tons of bloggers and commentators to shape public opinion on blogs, news articles, etc… I’ve seen these arguments countless times… (

    • Thanks, Timur.
      It will be interesting to see how people now view some of the first, defensive comments in light of your suggestion.

  13. When any kind of freedom can be silenced with money, corruption thrives. If you truly believe that Chinese people value prosperity more than freedom, I have nothing more to say. What else will you give up for money?

  14. Freedom of expression and belief is what is lacking in communist-run China. Thanks for posting this article on Ai Weiwei to expose the communist party’s abusive nature against all segments of Chinese society and thought, including those in the arts. This exposure of the evil ways of communism is needed because too many people in this world believe the lies of the communist party and forget that all media in China is run by and strictly controlled by the State or by the communist party.

  15. This has nothing to do with America policing the world. This has everything to do with human being treating other humans badly, and good people pointing out the actions of bad people.

    For the record, I have been to China … and was in fact arrested for trying to take part in a demonstration upholding human rights for Chinese. I can assure you that if many Chinese don’t want freedom of speech, those that are being arrested for exercising it certainly do. Those who are arrested for petitioning the government for mistreatment, victims of government corruption, those persecuted for political or religious beliefs …

    During the first 90 years of the United States, it was completely accurate to say that most Americans were not seeking universal freedom. Only the slaves were, pretty much. Does that make slavery right? The majority of Germany was wholeheartedly in favor of the elimination of Jews (in fact, most of Europe had leaned that way for over a millennium.) Certainly that doesn’t excuse the actions that followed?

    The fact that a sizeable portion of Chinese mostly want financial stability, does not condone the government’s actions to suppress voices of dissent.

    As for saying that since America is not perfect, people everywhere should shut up and accept injustice everywhere, that is asinine. We should speak out against injustice everywhere. That is too basic to need further explanation.

    As a photographer and reporter who has also been an activist, and who has seen police violence in both the U.S. and China, I find it ridiculous to think that I should not do my best to expose the crimes of these and any other governments which commit crimes.

    And as a photographer and reporter who has occasionally made money as an artist, it is especially troubling when I see an artist and photographer arrested for doing things I might do, things which harm no individual and which call on good people everywhere to be better.

    Supporting the government kidnapping of any citizen for any reason is wrong-headed. Supporting the persecution of any individual anywhere by any government anywhere is wrong.

    This was not someone who masterminded the deaths of tens of thousands. This is someone who said, “It is terrible when bad policies lead to the avoidable deaths of tens of thousands of children.”

    If stating that is a crime I am proud to be a criminal.

    Here is a simple test for all the people supporting Ai Weiwei’s incarceration. Would you feel it just and proper if it happened to you?

    If you had been arrested on trumped-up charges for taking some photographs, doing some sound and accurate reporting, and publishing a call to respect the memory of dead children, would you gladly go into the cell block, never to ne be seen again? Would you welcome the torture?

    In China, I could be jailed for posting this.

    • Fake responses, sounds so CCPish. I thought your article was right on. Freedom of speech and belief are fundmental human rights. It makes us live with dignity and as human beings. The CCP treats its citizens worse than animals for the most part. The two countries or governments cannot be compared. The CCP exploits its people in the cruelist ways. The economic growth is not for the billions who reside under communism, it is with a hand full in big cities and government. A good study of the Nine Commentaries of the Communist Party should be on everyone’s list.
      We get to far away from understanding others when we lump everything as we shouldn’t complain or ask for human rights if we are not perfect— that is an old fighting stance to disarm the discussion. May Ai Weiwei be released soon and come to the US or another country that honors him as a human with the right to express himself.

      • Thanks, but simply because I disagree with the author does not make me fake nor a shill as a troll baited earlier.

        The issue of democracy and freedom of speech won’t be settled here on a APE’s discussion board. And it’s not as simple as we disagree with Chinese policy and they should change it because it’s right. However, short of denouncing the PRC on here, what good will it serve? How does it bring China one step closer towards these common goals? While it feels good to unite against a miscarriage of human rights, ultimately, it does nothing to free weiwei nor give the Chinese any more freedoms. Ultimate, the issues is bigger and far more in depth than any of us here can help to imagine or influence.

        The biggest concern for China and it’s growing middle and upper class is order and stabilities. Due to it’s staggering growth in GPD and rise of the middle class, a lot of people who suffered through the cultural revolution are enjoying new found prosperity. The only way a western style democracy will reach China is if the lower/peasant class uprised…you can bet that the powers that be and the middle class won’t let that happen.

        The last time this happened was during the Cultural Revolution in 66′. Social norms and society were completely shifted. I won’t get into details but China was essential in a state of massive chaos for years; law and order broke down, books burned, intellectuals were persecuted and millions died. The older generation in power fear this and rather have peace and prosperity than risk another revolution and undue decades of policy. Are they right? I honestly don’t know, but it’s naive to think that it’s as easy as giving 1.3 billion voices our basic freedom.

        Order, prosperity, and law is the mantra of the day in China. To keep growing and put food on table and avoid another cultural revolution. If that happens, it would mean a global economic meltdown and who’s to say China will be any better? Corruption must be dealt with first before any real reform can come. If you really want to improve the lives of the Chinese, fight against sweat shops, companies with illegal mining operations, child labor that produce goods that we consume here. Economic reform is the only way China will listen since we’ve lost our moral high ground decades ago.

        Our concerns and priority for China is not the same as their own.

        • If you abandon justice and virtue for order and stability, you will get neither… I’m sure Confucius would agree with me :)

  16. I find the level of ignorance being displayed by all respondents on this blog absolutely appalling.
    You are all a perfect example of: ‘The dumbing down of America’.
    “Do any of you ever get your world news from a source other than FOX news or are you to busy watching Jersey Shore?”
    Clearly not 1 person has bothered to completely inform themselves or gone beyond reading the first few sentences of this or any Ai Weiwei related stories found anywhere on the internet.
    Having done so the lot of you would actually be able to have a greater insight into Ai Weiwei, his works, issues, or political activism, and be better able to develop a more informed opinion.
    For those too lazy to read you can find an extremely well made documentary on PBS both on their site and on on PBS TV. Yes it’s still free TV.
    And if that was not enough for our arm chair talking heads you could do a Google Video search and find more video footage of Ai Weiwei and his story.
    As a photographer I find it embarrassing to share that title with so many that are so absolutely clueless to the world around them.
    Get off the forums, and the blogs and read the news, listen to the business reports, hear what is going on in the world and what will most definitely be happening in the coming years.
    China needs us now just as much as we need them.
    In the next 10 years China will need us even more because they will be a country of elderly, and the few remaining self-absorbed young males that have not yet left their country.
    So where is their new work force? How will care for their elderly? In a country that only uses 7% of its land for agriculture who will feed that country?
    China needs to wake the fuck up and realize that Ai Weiwei is the very least of their problems.
    And you sloths spending your time posting to blogs and forums need to get your lazy asses up and out shooting instead of complaining about how bad things are.

    • how beautifully sanctimonious… I bow to your extended knowledge of the facts…. I will follow your way with great care…

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