At NYR Daily, the blog of the NY Review of Books, Ian Johnson chats with Ai Weiwei, who recently moved to Berlin after the end of a five-year travel ban imposed by Chinese authorities, and Chinese writer Liao Yiwu, who has lived in Berlin since fleeing China in 2011. The two discuss political repression, Chinese history, and their creative process. Here's an excerpt:
I’m curious about your views on the role of history in China. Some people think that Chinese have forgotten everything, that they suffer from amnesia. But others think that Chinese are rediscovering their history. There are documentary films, and unofficial histories being written. How do you see it?
Ai: When a revolution doesn’t have a deep foundation in aesthetics or theory, change is quite easy. The Communist Party’s revolution had no capacity to have anything to do with history because forming a relationship with Chinese history would have been disadvantageous for it. They overturned Chinese culture as it had developed over several thousand years because they changed the system of ownership.
Liao Yiwu: I agree with this. The Communist Party used land reform to cut links to all traditions. It wiped out China’s so-called landlord class, and gentry class. From ancient times to the present, why did China have some liberty? It was because the “mountains are high and the emperor far away,” and the gentry class could use this distance to obtain liberty. But the Communist Party thoroughly cut this off through land reform. There was no independent land-owning class anymore.
Image: Liao Yiwu and Ai Weiwei, Berlin, September 2, 2015. Via NYR Daily.