In Bern to promote an exhibition of contemporary Chinese art, artist Ai Weiwei shared his thoughts on democracy in his homeland, censorship and freedom of thought. Here are five quotes.
On the lack of democracy in China: “China is a society where every decision is made by officials. It is not a democratic society. There is no discussion at any level. That's my impression. How profit is made, what is sacrificed to achieve that, where money is invested for the future, in education, or in society - all those questions the Chinese can never really answer. Because until now people cannot even vote, don't have that basic social responsibility. That kind of society will have no future. What kind of society are you leading to? Citizens have to ask what kind of society they are willing to create.”
On organic pro-democracy movements like the 2014 Umbrella Movement: “In the whole world we can see this movement towards democratic political conditions. In China it is still a struggle. You can see it takes quite a long time for [there to be] a meaningful achievement. It's very hard to say when we will reach a moment we can be democratic or [when] a very basic foundation of democracy has been established.”
On Switzerland’s upcoming vote on introducing an unconditional basic income: “This is a completely new subject for me. It sounds like an apotheosis, for me it’s hard to believe this would be enforced. In today’s society, the struggle for survival [and to make a living] – with the exception of the sick and elderly - is the foundation of our social welfare. If everyone gets CHF2,500, I think there might be a problem.”
On being censored in China: “They built a great firewall which is very effective. It can censor anything. I, myself, was the first thing they tested. My name cannot even be tapped into the Chinese internet. It comes out as ‘illegal or sensitive words being used’. The whole article will disappear. There is a Chinese app you can [use to] translate. If you tap Ai Weiwei in it, ‘fat guy’ will come out. So, you see, the system is very sophisticated. On the internet many people call me ‘the guy with the beard’ or ‘the fat guy’. It's a reality in China. That made me very excited for a period of time, that made a lot of people consider me as a very symbolic gesture or attitude toward this authoritarian society. Now that I am not there I don't worry so much about what happens.”
On prison as a metaphor for freedom of thought in society: “We are all prisoners in some way. Some are more conscious, some are controlled by other people's rules, some are by our own structure or knowledge or understanding of the world. In that sense we are all prisoners. That's how we earn liberation and freedom. Without restrictions, I don't know the meaning of freedom.”