Huanqiu on Ai Weiwei: China is no Puppet, it’s Complicated

Lu Qing (路青), Ai Weiwei‘s (艾未未) wife, sent a letter to Beijing police on Thursday, demanding an explanation as to why her husband had been arrested, and where he was being held, reports Taiwan’s CNA news agency, quoting the BBC‘s Mandarin website. At 08.00 a.m. on Thursday, Ai had been missing for 96 hours, after he had been taken away by police at Beijing Capital airport (北京首都机场). Chinese authorities were required by law to provide families with such information once the duration of an arrest exceeded twenty-four hours.
Ministry of foreign affairs’ spokesman Hong Lei (洪磊) confirmed at a regular press conference on Thursday that Ai had been arrested. He is currently accused of “economic crimes” (涉嫌经济犯罪).

A Huanqiu Shibao editorial of Wednesday, referred to by CNA /BBC, opened with a short, rich-in-quotation-marks account of international (i. e. Western, 西方一些国家的政府和“人权机构”) governments’ and human-rights organizations’ reactions to Ai’s arrest or abduction. Those ignored China’s judicial sovereignty, wrote the editorial, and constituted attempts to modify China’s value system (试图修改中国公众的价值体系).

Another paragraph with lots of quotation marks quotes unnamed sources as suggesting that Ai opposed traditional art (反艺术传统), liked to use “startling language” (“惊人之语”) and “startling actions” (惊人之举”), and that he also liked to “sail close to the wind” (也喜欢在“法律的边缘”活动). The editorial also noted that there had been reports about incomplete departure procedures as a reason for stopping Ai from travelling to Hong Kong and Taiwan on April 1, but that there had been no specific information.

A true China had to define the boundaries of what people like Ai Weiwei could do, according to the editorial. Without people like Ai, and such legal boundaries, China “wouldn’t be real” (没有艾未未这样的人,或法律不给他们的“突破”设立边界,这样的中国都是不真实).

“The West” ignored the complicated environment in which China’s judicial system was carried out, and drew conclusions about a “deteriorating” human rights record from Ai having been “taken away” (“被带走”).  Using “human rights” were just a can of paint for Western politicians to obliterate any differentiations (“人权”真成了西方政客和媒体手里拎的一桶漆,见什么抹什么,他们在抹掉这个世界各种细致的分辨率). However,

China as a whole is advancing, nobody has the right to make an entire nation adapt to the likes or dislikes of others. This and respect for the rights of minorities are two different stories (中国作为一个整体在前进,任何人都没有权利让整个民族去适应他个人的好恶,这跟是否尊重少数人的权利是两回事),

concluded the Huanqiu editorial.

Two days later, on Friday (today GMT), Huanqiu Shibao rephrases its allegations of “Western attempts” to influence China. This time, its first  targets of criticism are Ai Weiwei’s family people (apparently his mother Gao Ying in particular)  and “Western media”, rather than politicians or human rights organizations. Ai Weiwei’s disappearance had been referred to as a disappearance (失踪), bristles the paper, and suggests that international media and Ai family were demanding  immunity for Ai, rather than equality before the law (他们就可以超越“法律面前人人平等”,拥有“豁免权”).

The editorial turns sort of philosophical:

China’s laws are the country’s bones. Western attempts to influence the investigation on Ai Weiwei’s case resembles an attempt to attach electrode pads to these bones to remote-control them, to make China a big and obedient puppet (中国法律是这个国家的骨骼,西方试图影响艾未未案的审理,就像要给这个骨骼加上电动装置,遥控器握在他们的手里,让中国成为大而听话的玩偶).

The editorial finally turns to the issue of fault or innocence, in both its Chinese and English edition (as the WSJ China Realtime Report points out today). In its more worldly-wise English translation, Huanqiu dispenses with the electrified puppet.


Truthfulness is Everything, April 8, 2011
Chinese Citizens should tolerate Censorship, March 26, 2011
Global Times, a Diagnosis, Time China Blog, May 25, 2009

China’s foreign ministry removes Ai Weiwei references from news conference transcript, BBC News, April 8, 2011


9 Responses to “Huanqiu on Ai Weiwei: China is no Puppet, it’s Complicated”

  1. I think huanqiu’s editorial shoots itself in the foot. It criticises the West’s readiness to meddle with Chinese affairs and link this case to human rights before ‘knowing the whole truth’, then goes on to call Ai Wei Wei ‘a maverick of Chinese society’, ‘an activist’ and someone who likes ‘surprising speech and surprising behaviour’. Is this relevant in a case of purely economic crimes?

    And last I heard, wasn’t coverage of Ai Wei Wei being wiped from all Chinese media?


  2. I agree that they shoot themselves in the foot, Owen. On the other hand, I appreciate the somewhat greater authenticity of Huanqiu’s English-language edition. One of the Time China correspondents in 2009, Simon Elegant, wrote a “diagnosis” about the different ways in which the Chinese and English editions covered the news – right now, the “Global Times” apparently has to get into line with the CCP’s policy, which seems to have become more orthodox again.

    The character assassination approach is very Chinese, too – once a pickpocket is arrested, common people will try to hit at him. Once you are safely on the floor, be prepared to be kicked at. The Chinese media are hitting at Ai Weiwei, and that seems to resonate quite well with the public, so far as the public cares (and of course, nobody can tell how many comments and posts which support Ai are censored). In the view of many, Ai belongs to the establishment, and that alone is reason enough to dislike him.
    After all, aren’t local cadres talking and acting in “startling ways”, too?


  3. Ai Weiwei may have been rare news within China more recently, but meantime, media more mainstream than Huanqiu are republishing these editorials – China National Radio‘s website, for example.


  4. Exactly – often get the impression that there’s not much middle ground when it comes to public opinion. You’re either a national treasure worth holding up to the rest of the world or a maverick flying close to the red line of the law, or whatever they call it… Obviously a massive generalisation though and I’m sure of those that know about his plight there are some people who back Ai Wei Wei.
    Great blog btw


  5. I think it is difficult to refer to China’s media landscape as a “public opinion” anyway. There’s too much that never sees the day of the light, or – on the internet – gets deleted soon after its appearance. A public opinion would need to rely on transparent media. Even the authorities post and remove information depending on where the political cycle is. Ordinary comments not to mention.

    Great blog btw
    Thank you. I agree!


  6. China has no democracy, human rights, freedom of speech, or religious freedom. Churches are being closed. Websites are being blocked. Lawyers and artists are being arrested. There are protests and Tibetans are being killed.

    However, the Communists will not fall until the the Chinese economy crashes like
    all economies do. When the economy slows, all those angry separate groups who have been trampled on like Sichuan earthquake parents, artists, lawyers, evicted farmers, Christians, the 60 million men who cannot find wives, and the unemployed will unite and protest for freedom.

    Until then, avoid buying Chinese products and making China stronger. China is simply not ready to become part of the developed world.


  7. I’m no fan of “creative destruction”, Shenzhenren, not even if it can be expected to work according to the economics schoolbook. You expect that all those angry separate groups who have been trampled on will unite. But who will provide the design for the future? Anger alone may be good enough to do away with an old system, but I doubt that all the angry people will agree on what to build in its place. So, before I’d hope for a successful uprising, I’d want to know what’s next?

    I do agree with you that countries like mine should have no interest in making China stronger, as it is today. The nature of its political system and its effects should be more thoroughly discussed and described in our media.



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