Global Times attacks Ai Weiwei and the West

The following is a translation of the lead editorial appearing yesterday in the Chinese-language edition of Global Times, a newspaper published by China’s official People’s Daily. The editorial accuses the West of politicizing the “leading away” of artist and activist Ai Weiwei (艾未未) in Beijing before all of the facts in the case become clear.

The editorial refers to calls for Ai Weiwei’s release as “a blind charge against China’s basic political framework, and a trampling of China’s judicial sovereignty.”

The Global Times own English translation of the editorial can be found here.

The Law Will Not be Twisted for Mavericks
Global Times
April 6, 2011

Ai Weiwei, who has been called an “avant-garde artist,” was reportedly “led away” by Chinese police recently, and a number of Western governments and “human rights organizations” quickly stepped out to interfere, demanding that China immediately release Ai Weiwei. They also elevated this matter as a “worsening of human rights” in China, and called Ai Weiwei a “champion of human rights in China.”

To take a single Chinese justice case and elevate it to a higher plane, even as the facts of the situation are not yet clear, and to use heated editorials to attack China, this is a blind charge against China’s basic political framework, and a trampling of China’s judicial sovereignty.

For the West to act in this way is to deliberately take a simple case and put it in a position within national politics, or even international politics, to which it is impertinent. It disrupts the attention of Chinese society, with the goal of reforming the value system of the Chinese people.

Ai Weiwei is a “performance artist” who has been quite active in recent years, and he is often called an “avant-garde artist.” He is a maverick standing on his own. He goes against artistic tradition, and he loves “shocking others with words” (惊人之语) and “shocking others with actions” (惊人之举). He also enjoys moving at the “fringes of the law”, doing things “the legality or illegality of which” ordinary people can’t quite grasp. On April 1, he set off for Taiwan by way of Hong Kong, and there followed reports of procedural problems, the specific situation remaining unknown.

As Ai Weiwei loves doing things his way, he often does things “others don’t dare to do.” Moreover, he is surrounded by people of similar ilk. He is probably quite clear himself that he is often not very far from the red line of Chinese law. Or perhaps he relishes this feeling. Objectively speaking, on the question of how we should view such a person, Chinese society has little experience, and there are few legal precedents. But so long as Ai Weiwei constantly “rushes to the front,” his one day “meeting the line” is a distinct possibility. For China, a nation of 1.3 billion people, to have a few wild and intractable sorts like Ai Weiwei is just normal. Art can insist on countless exceptions, but the law insists that there are checks and limits on exceptional conduct (例外行为). It’s only natural that China should have people like Ai Weiwei, and a China without such persons is unrealistic. In the same way, laws putting restrictions on the “breakthroughs” of such people are also natural and a necessary part of China.

The West neglects the complex environment in which Chinese justice proceeds, and it also neglects the complex character of Ai Weiwei’s personal conduct. On the case of his “being led away,” [they] use a single political slogan and say “human rights are worsening” in China. “Human rights” truly has become a bucket of paint wielded by Western politicians and media. They see something and they paint something [with this accusation], masking out all of the details and specifics in the world.

This basic concept of “human rights” has been turned by the West into something that is incompatible with all of the great economic and social advancements of China. This is a great joke. And it is the principal reason why when the West uses “human rights” to apply pressure on China, it suffers the disdain of the Chinese people. The lives of the Chinese are advancing. Public power faces greater and greater scrutiny. It is now the order of the day for the masses to voice their views through the internet. Can all of this be wiped away? The lot of a single Ai Weiwei, and the lots of a few Chinese mavericks [like him], cannot be put on the same level as the development and progress of human rights in China.

The specific circumstances of Ai Weiwei “being led away” will no doubt soon be clear. But essentially, if Ai Weiwei decides to take a different attitude toward the law than that of ordinary people, the law will neither bend nor retreat in the face of Western pressure and criticism on behalf of any “special persons.”

History will make its own judgement of such a person as Ai Weiwei. But before this happens, they will sometimes pay a price for their own peculiar decisions, as happens in any society. As China moves forward as a whole, no one person has the right to make our entire people accommodate their personal views of what is right and wrong. This has nothing whatsoever to do with whether or not the rights of a few are respected.

3 Comments to “Global Times attacks Ai Weiwei and the West”

  1. hlj says:

    China is making great strides in progress for its citizens, and at the same time perpetuating human rights abuses. The two things are not mutually exclusive. The Chinese government needs to just lighten up. People like Ai Weiwei are so common in many countries neither government nor media cares anymore. The traitorous liberalism is a byproduct of being a wealthy country.

  2. David,

    What is the origin/significance of the phrase (触线 chu4 xian4) which you translate as “meeting the line” and which the GT’s own English editors put as “crossing the red line”? Is this a commonly used phrase in the emerging rights discourse in China; is the phrase often applied to dissidents or common criminals? It seems the main problem that the GT (and of course the Communist Party) is missing here is precisely that _no one knows_ where “the line is” and consequently state power is exercised in arbitrary fashion.

    If the laws were clear, then Ai Weiwei would at least have the choice of breaking them on purpose. But the laws are not clear, and the content of the editorial makes clear that unspecific charges are still being cooked up, making the unintentional self-mockery even more acute.

    As a secondary question, do we know who translates the Global Times into English? Are they political die-hards or underemployed English majors from the States? I remain a bit unclear as to how and what to read into such op-eds from the English Global Times.

  3. Ben says:

    It’s quite difficult to stomach this Global Times article. It is essentially, at its core, a long winded and desperately irrational support for the continued oppression of hundreds of millions of Chinese. Ai seems to represent, as is usually the case for those that question the kingdom’s abuse of its subjects, the embodiment of their greatest fears – a politically aware, creative and engaging public sphere. The problem therefore is nothing to do with this mythical ‘West’ creature and its apparent human rights weapon. Instead it highlights the ongoing panic among the pot-bellied elite as they fumble around trying to deal with popular critical citizens.

    Love the Future!

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