United Kingdom: Play about Ai Weiwei’s fight for freedom of expression in China

17 April 2013

A theatre play about the Chinese artist Ai Weiwei premiered on a London theater on 16 April 2013. The 19 April performance of the play will be streamed online around the globe. It’s uncertain whether Internet users in China will be able to see it, though.

The reason for streaming the play is, according to Ai Weiwei, to “bring the play’s themes of art and society, freedom of speech and openness, the individual and the state to a new, broad and receptive global audience.”

The play, ‘#Aiww: The Arrest of Ai Weiwei’, was Ai’s own idea, and it is the latest act in his artistic campaign for freedom of expression, explained the British playwright, Howard Brenton, who has scripted it. Brenton is one of Britain’s best-known playwrights.

“The play is part of his project. Early in the rehearsals we were having a discussion and we suddenly thought, ‘Oh, we’ve all been sucked into his project.’ Which is fine. He asked for the play, we’ve delivered it,” Howard Brenton told Associated Press. He is allegedly a little worried about reaction to the play — though not from the critics. Ai’s long history of needling the Chinese authorities has often had serious consequences.

“Without freedom of speech there is no modern world — just a barbaric one,” Ai said in a statement released to coincide with the play.

The sculptor, photographer and installation artist spent almost three months in detention in 2011 and remains barred from leaving China, for which reason he won’t be there for the opening night at the Hampstead Theatre

Read more:

The story behind the play can be downloaded here

“There is no way the party leaders will relax censorship or grant individual liberties, because they have built a fortune — an empire — from the present system. Without this structure, there is no such profit left for them. Their lives depend on the denial of freedom of speech and democracy.”
Ai Weiwei

Here is an excerpt from a chronicle by Ai Weiwei in the British newspaper The Guardian:

“In April 2011, I was arrested. After 81 days of detention, I was released on probation, and they fabricated an accusation against me and fined me on charges of tax evasion. Thanks to the internet, these events unfolded in front of everybody, and I have garnered a tremendous amount of support. In just the first few days, 30,000 people donated money to us to pay the fine, which is over 9m yuan.

Nobody could ever have imagined something like this would happen: you’re accused by the state, and everybody supports you. When they give us money, they just say, “We never had a chance to vote. This is our vote, so just take it.” We’re returning every cent, though it may take us a whole year. Many people refused to give us their address, either because they don’t need the money back or they are scared that the police will locate them.

This fight is not about me. It’s a fight for simple principles: freedom of expression and human rights – the essential rights, like sharing our opinions, that make us human and not slaves.

Every day, we put the state on trial – a moral trial, conducted with logic and reasoning. Nothing could be better than this. I am preparing a budding civil society to imagine change. First, you need people to recognize they need change. Then, you need them to recognize how to make change. Finally, change will come.”

The Guardian / Creative Time Reports – 15 April 2013:
Ai Weiwei: ‘Every day in China, we put the state on trial’
We can’t rely on state-owned media to fight for free speech. It is up to us citizens to use the internet to bring change to China. By Ai Weiwei

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