NewsAi Weiwei: “Nobody likes me. But I like that...

Ai Weiwei: “Nobody likes me. But I like that "

He is one of the most important contemporary artists and one of China’s loudest critics: Ai Weiwei tells of luck, money and the feeling of being a lone warrior

Ai Weiwei, does the world have to be afraid of China?

It would be like an oak being afraid of a birch or a maple tree. They are just different trees that grow together. It only becomes a problem when a tree grows so large that its crown takes away the light from the other trees and its roots soak up all the water. There is therefore a constant struggle between the trees. As long as you trust your own identity, you don’t have to be afraid of this fight. However: China is not just a tree these days, it is now a whole forest. And China continues to plant trees in Africa, South America and Europe. Sometimes it happens that an invasive species displaces native species.

So is fear of China justified?

China undoubtedly has great potential and the ability to displace. If the other trees don’t fight back tenaciously, China will gain the upper hand. That is clear! The Chinese trees are very strong. China definitely has the clear will to become a super nation and to dominate the world economically and culturally.

Would a world dominated by China be a better or a worse world?

There are now many people in the West who are of the opinion that it doesn’t have to be bad for China to dominate the West. Even the New York Times has published opinion pieces that say, “Maybe we should stop fighting it all the time, but just accept China’s dominance.” But what would we accept? In order to catch up with the West economically, China has done everything the West was not allowed to do over the past 30 or 40 years. It didn’t care about workers’ rights, the health of its people, the environment, human rights and freedom of speech. The West and China have become such a dream team. The west loves it!

“In China they say: ‘Okay, let’s have dinner!’ And the next day everything is settled. Then Volkswagen can just build a factory like that. “

Ai Weiwei

The West loves human rights violations and environmental degradation? Why do you think so?

Because the West couldn’t ask for a better partner than China to do business with. In the West you have to argue and fight with two, three or five parties for years and in the end you may still not achieve anything. In China everything can be decided by a single leader. In China they say: “Okay, let’s have dinner!” And the next day everything is settled. Then Volkswagen can just build a factory like that. Then you can do anything!

In early November, Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai accused a former Chinese First Deputy Prime Minister and high-ranking member of the Communist Party of sexually abusing her on the Chinese social media platform Weibo. The post was deleted 20 minutes later, and Peng was then considered to have disappeared. Are you worried about her?

In China every top athlete is state property. Like a soldier who has to go into battle for his country. Peng Shuai was a sports doll that became a sex doll for the most senior people. That is often the case. If you are a star, the colonels want you to play with them.

Is she in danger?

You won’t do anything physically to her, but so much has already been done to her. They cut all of their social media connections and forced them to appear drugged in public to silence international criticism. The state propaganda machine is playing a disgusting game. And the International Olympic Committee is on China’s side. As did the World Health Organization before during the pandemic. These organizations know who is feeding them.

Ten years ago you were arrested in China for alleged tax evasion and served 81 days in detention. Would you be afraid of being arrested again if you went back to China?

If I went back to China, it could happen at any time. But I wouldn’t be afraid of imprisonment itself. Even while I was imprisoned, I was never afraid.

Then what are you afraid of?

I don’t think they would torture me. That just wouldn’t make sense. I am not a spy who could confess or divulge anything under torture. I have nothing to confess. (Laughs) My criticism was always open. Maybe I’m too known for that too. But I fear that they would make me suffer differently.

How could China make you suffer?

By cutting off my relationships with reality. By isolating me in a room and not letting me call my lawyer or my mother. That would mean that life is over before you die. I would be afraid that they would make sure that my voice can no longer be heard. That would plunge the lives of many people into darkness. Besides, I don’t want my son to lose his father so early. He’s still little. He is only twelve years old.

You lived, worked and taught in Berlin from 2015 to 2019. But in your recently published autobiography “1000 Years of Joy and Sorrow” you hardly mention Berlin. Why?

I wrote a book about my worst experiences. It’s mostly about China, my father and me. And not about Berlin.

Ai Weiwei im Juli 2021 mit seinem Werk „Pequi Tree“, das Wurzeln und menschliche Figuren miteinander verflicht.


Ai Weiwei in July 2021 with his work “Pequi Tree”, which interweaves roots and human figures.

Did you enjoy living in Berlin?

No! Everyone likes Berlin. Not me. I like the sunshine, but the winters in Berlin are cold and long. Also: Berlin is too dirty and too lazy. What’s the matter with this city? Nobody cuts a tree there or sweeps the street. Everything is so broken! But there are so many migrants in Berlin: just give them a little money and let them do the work. But that doesn’t happen! Berlin is a city without hope. You can’t be the third most powerful nation in the world, but you can have a capital like a third world country! Just take a look at the airport and the infrastructure! I also don’t like the fact that the taxi drivers in Berlin are all from Turkey.

What is your problem with taxi drivers from Turkey?

That they are the third generation to live in Berlin and still drive taxis. That’s not a good sign for me.

It is not the first time that you have judged Berlin and Germany harshly. When you moved from Berlin to Cambridge two years ago, you said, among other things, that Germany was authoritarian, xenophobic, bigoted and intolerant. Many Germans found your criticism to be very generalized and unjustified.

Nobody likes me. But i like that. Because I grew up in a society where nobody liked me.

It is not true that nobody in Germany likes you. When you were imprisoned, the German government, together with German artists, human rights activists and scientists, vehemently campaigned for your release. This is one of the reasons why many were shocked by your Germany bashing. Are you an ungrateful person?

No, I am grateful for what Germany has done for me. But when the Germans say to me, “We saved your life. We paid for you. Please be grateful ”, then I don’t like to hear that. But I wasn’t told that just once. When I lived in Berlin, I didn’t like the fact that in Germany I was seen as someone who had to repay something because Germany supposedly saved him.

Do you see yourself as a hero?

No. In the West some see me as a hero who fought against the communists. But I’m just a man who stands up for justice and freedom.

Can everyone be an artist?

Theoretically yes. Everyone is born as an artist or a poet. But very few remain artists because almost all people try to do something practical out of a need for security. So they become a little wheel in a big machine and soon have nothing to do with art.

Can art overthrow authoritarian regimes?

I do not believe that. Authoritarian states like China are afraid of art because it is directly related to freedom of expression. But these authoritarian states cannot be defeated by art. Their systems are stronger and more powerful than art. That’s exactly what my book is about.

But in the book you describe how you and your father did not let the system get you down.

China has made millions of people disappear. I am an exception. But I’m not really relevant either, since I’m not in China.

To person

Ai Weiwei was born in 1957 as the son of the poet Ai Qing, who was initially valued by Mao Zedong. Shortly after Ai Weiwei’s birth, his father was declared a “deviator” and sent into exile in the far northwest of China, where he had to clean public latrines. Ai Weiwei lived there with his father in a cave for several years.

In 1978 he began studying at the Beijing Film School. From 1981 to 1993 he lived in the USA, mainly in New York, and worked in performance, conceptual art, Dadaism and pop art. In 1993 he returned to Beijing.
Starting in 2005, he repeatedly criticized the Chinese government on his blog.

In 2011, Ai Weiwei was arrested in Beijing. The Chinese authorities accused him, among other things, of tax evasion. After 81 days, he was released after bail and sentenced to pay 1.7 million euros in taxes, and his passport was withheld. When he was allowed to travel again in 2015, he moved to Berlin and accepted a visiting professorship at the Berlin University of the Arts.

His autobiography “1000 Years of Joy and Sorrow” has now been published by Penguin Verlag. It has 416 pages and costs 38 euros.

They have fans all over the world. do you enjoy being admired?



Because I see that I bring light into the lives of many people. I get a lot of support from hard working people outside of the art world. They can be truck drivers, salespeople, cooks or museum attendants. They come to me and say: “Weiwei, I support your art. ‘Cause you’re expressing something I could never say Please keep it up. “

Does that flatter your vanity?

It’s not about vanity. It’s about my responsibility. I feel like I have to fulfill the hope of many people. Above all, the hope of people whose rights are restricted.

Are you vain?

I think almost all people are vain. This is not good. We should be humble because we have the same rights as ants or bees. I can say of myself that I am not vain. I saw my father, China’s greatest poet, have to clean public latrines for years after falling out of favor with the communists. I am very much influenced by my father. How could I be vain?

Do you consider yourself the greatest artist alive?

Naturally. Who could be better than me

Do you mean that ironically?

Naturally! I never wanted to be one of the so-called great, important, or good artists. I just always wanted to be a sincere artist. An artist who is independent of any power and thinks independently.

What drives you to create art?

I’m interested in aesthetics, morals and philosophy. But to be honest: I’m no longer motivated to create art.


Because I’ve done enough. I am the most exhibited artist in the world. Nobody had more visitors than me. On the other hand, there are so many things that I’ve never done before. I could die any day and then I would be very sorry if I had just made art all my life.

What do you want to do instead?

Maybe I’ll plant trees or build something. Or I spend more time with my son. Or I’ll write another book. Or I’ll make more films.

Will you be creating fewer works of art in the future?

Yes I think so.

That could mean that the prices for your works continue to skyrocket …

People should just wait for me to die. Then prices will skyrocket. It won’t be too long.

Millions are already being paid for your works. Do you think that is appropriate?

The prices for my art are too low. (Laughs)

Not so long ago you said the prices were too high!

Because the value of art is priceless, the prices are both too low and too high. If you look at the value of the art, the price is too low. Looking at the cost of materials, the price is too high.

What does money mean to you?

Money means nothing to me, absolutely nothing! I don’t remember my mom or dad ever saying the word money. But unfortunately we all need money to survive. But you don’t need a lot of money to survive. Still, most people are determined to find that little bit of money. This often leads to them acting very strangely.

You became a father in 2009 at the age of 52. Are you a good father?

I dont know. My son says I am a good father. But he also says: “You are always on the move.” I then explain to him that I can not only be his father, but also have to live my own life. He understands that.

So your son is saying that you are a good father. Do you think so too?

(Thoughts for a long time) Not good enough. I am good at responding to his needs. My father never responded to my needs. Never! My father gave me a lot of art and poetry, but could never give me a penny. Fortunately, I can support my son financially, but I don’t know if I can really help him.

In your autobiography, you write that the emotional bond between you and your father was not very close. Do you have a stronger emotional relationship with your son?

Yeah, it’s much, much stronger. A hundred times stronger. Even when I was by his side, my father ignored me. He always had to fight and couldn’t pay any attention to me. But that’s fine with me. I am grateful that he was a sincere man so that I still have someone to look up to now.

Her memories are called “1000 years of joy and sorrow”. Has there been more joy or more sorrow in your life?

More joy, almost no sorrow. I am really a happy, cheerful person.

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