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Thursday 10 March 2011

Ai Wei Wei: 'growing force behind Jasmine Revolution very strong'

The impetus for a "jasmine revolution" in China is "very strong", according to the country's leading artist Ai Wei Wei.

Ai Wei Wei: 'growing force behind Jasmine Revolution very strong'
 
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Artist Ai Wei Wei  
Ai Wei Wei: 'growing force behind Jasmine Revolution very strong'
 
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Ai Weiwei, whose latestwork Sunflower Seeds is in the Turbine Hall at Tate Modern Photo: BBC

The controversial activist-artist, whose Sunflower Seeds is currently on display at Tate Modern, said he was now under constant surveillance, accusing the Chinese authorities of stifling all opinions "like Chinese parents from olden times".

"In the past two weeks, over 100 people have been arrested. Some are long-time writers, scholars, lawyers; some are just one-time students saying 'let's meet on a certain corner, a certain street.' It's very strong," Mr Ai said in an interview with Time Out Hong Kong to be published next week.

Calls for a Jasmine-style protests at appointed sites across China posted from dissident websites abroad have angered the Chinese authorities, sparking clashes with international media, a tightening of internet controls and a huge police presence on the ground.

With such draconian controls in place, it has been impossible to assess the true appetite of Chinese people for social and political reform of China's one-party state, but Mr Ai said that the government had moved to intimidate universities, a traditional centre of dissent.

"Many universities will not allow students to come out, mainly because teachers have received a certain note ordering them to do their duty, otherwise they will be in trouble, or their school will be in trouble. So the country is very tight right now," he added.

"The true result is that China is controlling universities more than ever before over these past 18 days. The government cannot afford to lose this battle. But another factor is that the people who have strong beliefs for change have become ever more necessary."

China's leaders have appeared rattled by calls for "jasmine" protests from overseas dissidents, veering between acknowledging the potential for social unrest caused by China's uneven development and dismissing the notion of a jasmine protest as a fantasy of the western media.

On Saturday at the opening of the annual sitting of China's rubber-stamp parliament, Wen Jiabao, the prime minister, acknowledged the "great resentment" felt by some people over corruption, land grabs and rising prices.

However on Monday the country's foreign minister Yang Jiechi, dismissed any talk of "jasmine" protests and denied Chinese police had beaten foreign journalists despite well-documented assaults and complaints from the US and EU ambassadors.

Ai Wei Wei has become an increasingly vocal critic of the Chinese government since the 2008 when he refused to attend the Olympic Games opening ceremony despite being the creative consultant on the iconic Birds Nest stadium.

As the son of Ai Qing, China's best known modern poet whose work is studied by children across China in state-authorised text books, Mr Ai has enjoyed a measure of protection, although in the last year the state has shown increasing impatience with his public criticism and social activism.

Last year he was put under house arrest for the first time after his new Shanghai studio was slated for demolition and this year his first major retrospective exhibition in China was cancelled for being too politically sensitive.

However he shows no sign of backing down, admitting in a wide-ranging interview with Time Out that while the idea of going jail frightens him – his father spent a total of 26 years in jail and political exile – he feels a responsibility to use his position to speak out.

"It's such a pitiful thing that you don't even want to say it," he said of his house arrest and the ongoing surveillance, "their lacking of confidence, their lacking of skill of communication, their refusal to discuss intellectually any matter.

"They [China's ruling Communist Party] have to have an enemy. They have to create you as their enemy in order for them to continue their existence."

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