For people in the western world, Ai Weiwei is regarded as a hero, a righteous rebel, a fighter for freedom and human rights. He has been called called the Andy Warhol or Picasso of China. And since his detainment, the artist/activist has caused an international storm with European nations and the United States demanding his immediate release. To a large number of Chinese citizens, however, Ai Weiwei is far from the hero for justice as we see him. Richard Burger, popular blogger of the Peking Duck highlighted this disparity in a conversation with a right-wing lady friend who says Western support of Ai Weiwei is ignorant and slanted.In a conversation about the detained star, his lady friend says Western nations have “exaggerate[ed] a specific case in China and [have] attack[ed] China with fierce comments before finding out the truth.”
What is “the truth” among the Chinese people?
To her and many other Chinese citizens who know about him, Ai Weiwei is, in fact, considered a suspect criminal who is just causing trouble. In my conversation with a peer from China, I was told that Ai Weiwei is not liked by the large number of China revolutionaries, which make up a significant portion of the Chinese population. What’s more surprising, to me, is that the outspoken activist is not known among the less-educated educated in China and even lesser known even among the college-educated folk.
Ai Weiwei, in the eyes of many locals, is disrupting harmony and more importantly making China look bad to the rest of the world.
While some of this may because of media censorship, my classmate made a very good point when she said that Chinese culture wasn’t built to value individual right to freedom as Western nations were. And it makes sense in a country that has been built upon control and censorship in a culture that values collectivism over individualism. Maintaining harmony by avoiding confrontation is still engrained in most of the population. Thus, individual freedom, as Ai Weiwei expresses it, with a studio he has named “fa ke” as his opinion of the government and a figurative third finger to the Chinese government and creating artwork by altering thousand year old Chinese relics, make him seem more like a rabble-rouser than a voice for the people.
Thus, even though Ai Weiwei is respected by some pro-democracy elites and higher educated citizens in the country, in China he is far from the glorified hero we see him as in the States.