Ai Weiwei: How Censorship Works

The New York Times Sunday Review
By: Ai Weiwei

BEIJING — In the space of a month in 2014, at separate art exhibitions in Beijing and

Photo Credit Jon Han

Shanghai that included my work, my name was blotted out — in one case by government officials and by exhibitors themselves in the other case. Some people might take such treatment in stride, as nothing to get huffy about. But as an artist, I view the labels on my work as a measure of the value I have produced — like water-level markers at a riverbank. Other people might just shrug, but I can’t. I have no illusions, though, that my unwillingness to shrug affects anyone else’s willingness to do so.

Life in China is saturated with pretense. People feign ignorance and speak in ambiguities. Everyone in China knows that a censorship system exists, but there is very little discussion of why it exists.

At first glance, the censorship seems invisible, but its omnipresent washing of people’s feelings and perceptions creates limits on the information people receive, select and rely upon. The content offered by the Chinese state media, after its processing by political censors, is not free information. It is information that has been chosen, filtered and assigned its place, inevitably restricting the free and independent will of readers and viewers.

The harm of a censorship system is not just that it impoverishes intellectual life; it also fundamentally distorts the rational order in which the natural and spiritual worlds are understood. The censorship system relies on robbing a person of the self-perception that one needs in order to maintain an independent existence. It cuts off one’s access to independence and happiness.up behavior can become wild, abnormal and violent.
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