Silicon Valley Watcher - Former FT journalist Tom Foremski reporting from the intersection of technology and media

More Thoughts On Ways To Free Ai Weiwei... Boycott Wal-Mart?

Posted by Tom Foremski - April 24, 2011

I spend way too much time in the tech and media echo chamber so it's always a pleasure to get away from it and explore different subjects.

I'm on a Christopher Hitchens trip at the moment. I'm really enjoying his autobiography. His prose is so well crafted, and effortless, there's a tremendous amount of pleasure in reading it.

He does a great job in presenting his principles and his reasoning on controversial subjects. And he doesn't flinch from taking moral and ethical stands on important subjects, such as the war in Iraq, and on calling a spade a spade, when he writes that Henry Kissinger is a war criminal and should be tried as one.

He has taken positions that are unpopular but ones that are based clearly on the evidence before him. And he is fearless in taking on the powerful and the corrupt.

A person with the same qualities is Ai Weiwei, the Chinese artist and activist. I knew of him, but didn't know much about him until this year, when I saw stories that the Chinese government had stepped up its harassment of him and his co-workers.

Mr Ai is a man of principles that, like Mr Hitchens, make him unable to stomach the lies and the corruption he finds around China. He is a fearless social and political critic, and one with formidable powers of artistic expression that span many different media, winning international acclaim and also, winning national attention to key issues in China.

His international fame has helped keep him safe for several years. But that's now changed. He's been attacked and beaten up, and the government even bulldozed his studio. On April 3 he was arrested and no one has heard from him since. There was a report that he had begun to confess to the police charges against him.

That's very worrying because such confessions could be coerced, and no one knows where he is and what's happening to him. His lawyer was also arrested and only recently released.

Here's Mr Ai's last Tweet: (Thanks Paul Mooney.)

"Liu three hours before the original message I: I talked to the State Security Branch of the sun."

Roy Rubenstein sent me this great quote from a Financial Times article (November 2010): Man in the News: Ai Weiwei.

"My father fought for justice his entire life," says Mr Ai. "When I returned [to China] he convinced me to stay. He told me this is my nation and that I shouldn't be so polite, that I should do what I think is right."

Some artists are well placed to be social and political critics because their creativity depends on their ability to see that a spade is a spade, and then to communicate it honestly and with passion. That's what Mr Ai does and I urge you to find out more about this remarkable man, and help win his release.

In an earlier post I was frustrated at the lack of real things to do beyond "Like" clicking his Facebook page and signing an online petition.

I think I went a bit far in proposing to cut off Chinese Internet users for one day - May 1- from your website, as a symbolic protest for the silencing of Ai.

But maybe instead of cutting them off from web sites, web masters could serve up a special page for Chinese Internet users on that day, that informs them of what has happened to Mr Ai and the growing international support for his release? They can then click through to the home page of the site.

The other idea I had is to boycott Wal-Mart as a proxy for China. Wal-Mart is China's single largest customer. Wal-Mart has good connections in China and that means it has good government connections.

I'm sure that Wal-Mart would be keen to see this matter resolved sooner than later, and would make a strong case with the Chinese authorities for sooner. Money speaks fluent Mandarin and it has a loud voice -- precisely what's needed for what is clearly a just cause:

Free Weiwei. Don't shop at Wal-Mart.

Here's an image of Mr Ai's middle digit, a recurring theme in his work lately.

And here he is with a message to the government.

Here is one of the images that the police may show in evidence as proving a charge of sending indecent images over the Internet.

You have to see this 20 minute Frontline profile -- excellent reporting and very timely -- it was broadcast just a few weeks before his arrest:

Who's Afraid of Ai Weiwei? - Video | FRONTLINE | PBS


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