Ai Weiwei designed the beautiful Beijing National Stadium, also known as the “Bird’s Nest”, that was used in the spectacular 2008 Olympics. The Chinese authorities locked him up for 81 days and after his release the artist expresses regret that he ever designed that stadium.
During his confinement Ai was accused of producing pornography and in protest there appeared pictures on the internet of people in the nude calling for his release. In an interview with the Dutch newspaper Volkskrant the reporter shows him that this newspaper also printed those pictures and Ai responds: “That you can print nudes just like that, shows that there is tolerance in Holland.”
I beg to differ. There is tolerance for nude pictures in Holland but there still is censorship of economic science by the directorate of the Dutch Central Planning Bureau.
Ai’s treatment by the Chinese authorities cannot be quite compared with my treatment by the Dutch authorities. There are some parallels in the abuse of power however. Ai observes: “They apparently had been instructed to use anything against me.” In the same way the Dutch government lawyers concocted all kinds of silly accusations to get me fired.
Ai: “I do understand it. These men have been given a task. I was supposed to confess to be guilty, on all charges. That is how they operate. They don’t have values, they just obey the commands. That makes them so dangerous.” This also holds for Dutch state lawyers. I was offered to leave the CPB ‘on good conditions’ but that also implied that I would accept the invented accusations and take the responsibility of departure and thereby forfeit any position of criticism. The difference between China and Holland is that China still uses the iron fist and that Holland uses a velvet glove around it.
The difference between Ai and me is that he is a famous artist while I am an unknown economist and remained unknown because of the censorship. Not unimportant, Ai also had his nudes. Ai has a better prospect to overcome his difficulties than I have for mine.
When I was in highschool in 1970 I read some good history books about China and was much impressed by Sun Yat Sen. China still is a dictatorship and struggling on the road from the old Empire and foreign invasions towards modern democracy. It is not entirely clear why the authorities don’t allow their artists to be impatient. Artistic impatience and the growth in human values help the transition. The establishment of the rule of law means a break with all of Chinese history. It was achieved in the West only after the French Revolution in 1789. It is still imperfect when the Dutch Court for Civil Servants allows a CPB directorate to censor science and dismiss a scientist by using untruths. One can imagine that change for China is not so easy. The examples of Taiwan and Hong Kong are inspiring but those smaller area’s cannot simply be extrapolated to the whole of China.
Besides, the West is making a mess of it itself. If we had full employment, low inflation, income equality, care for the environment and a steady rise in wealth and welfare, then it would be easier for other nations to opt for our economic and societal model. My analysis on the failure of the Trias Politica is intended to provide that better model, see the book DRGTPE. Alas, it cannot be discussed at CPB, the main advisor of the Dutch government. If you want to help China and Ai Weiwei, boycott Holland.