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Ai_Weiwei

By Christine Wong Yap, New America Media, Posted: Apr 17, 2011

Ever since international artist Ai Weiwei’s arrest by Chinese security forces, I’ve felt compelled to speak out against China’s human rights abuses. I am a Chinese-American artist whose deepening sense of pride in my parents’ homeland prompted me to identify as an overseas Chinese. Now that pride is superceded by a deeper moral imperative—to demand Ai’s release. If such a high-profile figure can be "disappeared" despite pressure from officials and major art institutions, then it follows that the Chinese government can perpetrate countless other human rights violations without consequence.

 By Christine Wong Yap, New America Media, Posted: Apr 17, 2011

Ai_Weiwei

Ai Weiwei

Ever since international artist Ai Weiwei's arrest by Chinese security forces, I've felt compelled to speak out against China's human rights abuses. I am a Chinese-American artist whose deepening sense of pride in my parents' homeland prompted me to identify as an overseas Chinese. Now that pride is superceded by a deeper moral imperative—to demand Ai's release. If such a high-profile figure can be "disappeared" despite pressure from officials and major art institutions, then it follows that the Chinese government can perpetrate countless other human rights violations without consequence.

I discovered I was an overseas Chinese 10 years ago, at the age of 23.

Born in California, I had always considered myself Chinese American—Chinese in appearance, American in language and culture. But when I visited Guangdong, China, in 2001, I gained a new identity as an overseas Chinese as I studied an oversized world map in a museum. Dots indicated the presence of people of Chinese ethnicity in almost all countries and continents. The authorities' pride in the Chinese Diaspora was obvious.

Being an overseas Chinese implies that an innate essence predominates over the influence of one's environment. For example, my maternal lineage can be traced over 20 generations. Where I live seems of little import when viewed in this larger familial continuum.

Visiting China colored my perception of Chinese issues. But my views are shaped by my personal experiences there—not my status as an overseas Chinese that the government was so keen to impress on me.

For example, my perspective on China's economic growth is complicated by the fact that my relatives live in rural villages surrounded by rice paddies where generations of ancestors were farmers, an occupation that is no longer tenable. I met a distant cousin who rode a rusty bicycle to work in a factory. That job, however low-wage or long-shifted, was a critical financial lifeline. I could no longer take my privilege as an American for granted.

Nor can I tolerate dismissive, simplistic statements about China. I tend to be sympathetic to the fact that such massive, rapid economic growth is accompanied by growing pains. As a result, Western finger-wagging often seems paternalistic and hypocritical to me.

Yet when it comes to the Chinese government's human rights abuses, I have to side with international critics. The recent detention and state-sponsored disappearance of Ai is remarkable for its brazenness.

Ai is best known for designing the Bird's Nest Olympic stadium in collaboration with Herzog & de Meuron. As his fame grows, so does the influence of his critiques of the Chinese government. In 2009, he published 5,385 names of child victims of the 2008 Sichuan earthquake on his blog—which was shut down shortly thereafter. That same year, Ai was beaten by police and later treated for a cerebral hemorrhage. Last fall, the government demolished Ai's new studio in Shanghai. Concurrently, he is recognized as a great artist—he is the first non-Westerner to be awarded the Unilever Series commission for the Tate Modern's massive Turbine Hall in London, in an exhibition that continues through May 2. The Tate Modern is one of the most popular art museums in the world, receiving about 7 million people visitors per year.

Ai was detained on April 3 at the Beijing Airport. Since then, the Chinese government has maintained almost total silence on his whereabouts and physical safety. In addition, some of Ai's associates have been taken away by police or have gone missing. According to FreeAiWeiWei.organd the Guardian, the whereabouts of Ai's friend Wen Tao, studio partner Liu Zhenggang, driver Zhang Jingsong (Xiaopang), and lawyer Liu Xiaoyuan are also unknown.

Ironically, Ai would have been considered an overseas Chinese during his stay in New York spanning the 1980s to early 1990s. He returned to China when his father, a poet forced into re-education camps, fell ill.

The Chinese government may view overseas Chinese as industriously spreading their culture, language, and ideas to the world, but this view neglects the possibility that members of the Diaspora may discard Chinese habits for superior ones. In the case of free speech and human rights, laws protecting individual rights should not be sacrificed for outdated Chinese ways. I may not have a Chinese vote or representation, but I enjoy my freedom of speech and plan to make use of it. 

I look forward to participating in "1,001 Chairs for Ai Weiwei," a poetic demonstration scheduled for this Sunday, April 17 at 1 p.m. local time at Chinese embassies and consulates worldwide, to show my dissent. I call on overseas Chinese—if they have discovered that identity or rejected it—to tell Beijing that such injustices must stop.

http://newamericamedia.org/2011/04/release-ai-weiwei-an-overseas-chinese-perspective.php

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