Ai Weiwei Post-Op Interview: Translation from Suddeutscher Zeitung

Suddeutscher Zeitung reporter Heinrich Bork got an exclusive interview yesterday with Chinese artist Ai Weiwei following Ai’s surgery in Munich following complications from his having been struck by a policeman in Chengdu over the summer.

Bork’s subtitle describes a conversation that delves into the arbitrary aspects of “abuse of power and oppression” in China.

Here is the article:

Heinrich Bork, “Chinese Artist Ai Weiwei: ‘He Who Lives in a Dictatorship Must Resist’,” Suddeutscher Zeitung, 16 September 2009.

[Translation by Adam Cathcart]

SZ: How are you doing?  Did you weather [überstanden] the operation well?

Ai Weiwei: I am doing fine. I believe, that now I am out of any mortal danger.  The doctor was able to remove the tube in less than half an hour.

SZ: You were hovering [schwebten] in mortal danger?

Ai: Yes.  Before the operation the doctor said to me: “If you hadn’t come, then you may not have lived through your next exhibition.”  He had to drill two holes in my skull, and remove about 100 milliliters of blood and  liquid.

SZ: What brought on this cerebral hemorrhage?

Ai: On 12 August I went to Chengdu to testify for Tan Zuoren, who also wanted to find out the truth about the many dead schoolchildren in Sichuan.  I had the feeling that I had to help him,  since they wanted to lock him up.  And from that night, I was hit on the head by a policeman.

SZ: Was it definitely a policeman who struck you?

Ai: Yes, it was a cop from police station “Xi-An-Lu” in Chengdu [tr:西安路]. He wore a uniform.

SZ: Why did he hit you?

Ai: Above all they had the goal not to allow to me to give any testimony at the trial.   At three in the morning, they knocked on my door in the hotel and yelled “Police.”  I asked for their identification.  They said “You can already see us through the peephole.”  I said, “How can I be sure that you are truly  police?”  That made them really wild.  They said “We will show it to you,” and then knocked down the door.  Then they hit me.  It was very brutal.

SZ: We had read that you had already been charged by the police.

Ai: I’m still waiting for the conclusions of the investigation that they told me about.  It’s possible I will also complain [e.g., lodge a countersuit].   It is not so much about their having struck me.  Every country has police who use excessive force.  The problem is that China has no real system of rights.   When one is hit, there is nowhere that one can go to complain.  Last year there was a trial in Shanghai for Yang Jia, who murdered a policeman.  In the courtroom, he asked just one single question: “Did [the police officer] hit me or not?”  But our whole country, even the Supreme Court, could not answer this question.  They simply had him executed.

SZ: Are you certain, that your hemorrhage is a consequence of having been struck [in Chengdu]?

Ai: The policeman hit me hard in the face, on the right cheekbone.  My head flew back, and my brain must have jerked. I took myself on the same day to the hospital to check, but it was a Chinese hospital, and they said they could not [even] be certain that I had been hit.  After that I had headaches.

SZ: How common is it for people in China to be hit by police?

Ai:Every day, maybe every second.  When they want to oppress you, they often hit you a second time. Some people resist arrest, and on that account they have their legs broken.  Others are confined in “guesthouses” which function like a dangerous prison.  This year the Chinese Communist Party celebrates the 60th anniversary of our state.   They revel in their own radiance [Sie sonnt sich in ihrem eigenen Glanz]. But all fairness, all justice is sacrificed to this system.

SZ: What has become of Tan Zuoren?

Ai: At his trial, no testimony was accepted. Many aspects of his case were not discussed.  They have yet to announce an opinion in his case.  He remains imprisoned.


[A second part of the interview follows; I may or may not translate it subsequently.  In any case, Bork and Ai discuss the artist’s involvment in Sichuan schools issue, the use of Twitter and blogs, the relationship of the artist to the state, and the recent scandal at the Frankfurt Book Fair where the Chinese state delegation walked out, ably reported on here by JustRecently.– A.C.]

SZ: Hat ein Künstler in einer Diktatur eine besondere gesellschaftliche Verantwortung?

Ai: Ich weiß nicht wie andere darüber denken. Mein gesellschaftlicher Standpunkt und mein Standpunkt als Künstler sind miteinander verknüpft. Ich hoffe, dass unsere Gesellschaft gerecht wird, dass alle gleiche Chancen haben. Und ich hoffe auch, dass jeder seine Meinung äußern kann. Ich möchte nicht ein Künstler sein, der sich nicht um solche Fragen kümmert. Wenn Sie in einer Diktatur leben, dann können Sie sich gar nicht anders verhalten, denke ich. Sie müssen sich wehren.

SZ: Sie benutzen für Ihre Aktionen intensiv das Internet und neue Online-Dienste wie “Twitter”.

Ai: Vor drei Jahren hatte ich einen Blog, aber der wurde ein halbes Jahr lang vom Netz genommen. Da begann ich, Twitter zu nutzen. Derzeit benutze ich einen kleinen Online-Nachrichtendienst namens “zuo sa” (auf Deutsch: Was machst Du?”)

Links of Interest:

German Press Review: Ai Weiwei’s Operation” is a solid compendium with analysis by Justrecently.

Frankfurter Rundschau’s “Twitter von Krankenbett

Simon Benjamin “Fuck Pékin,” Liberation, 22 June 2009.  [This last article is tremendous; the paper edition spanned two big pages with the following photo as a backdrop.  Opening to it in the Alliance Francaise library in Peking was a slightly chilling moment indeed.]

Study in Perspective (Tiananmen) (1995); via
Ai Weiwei, "Study in Perspective (Tiananmen)," 1995; via


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