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 Law Will Not be Twisted for Mavericks”
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.