'Nightmare City'


Chinese artist Ai Weiwei in his studio in Beijing in 2009.


Sharron Lovell

Chinese artist and social critic Ai Weiwei hasn’t gone silent after all, following his June release from nearly three months in secret detention. On Monday, Ai published a scathing commentary on Chinese society and government in the US magazine Newsweek, calling his hometown of Beijing a repressive, nightmarish city that drives people mad.

In just over 800 words, Ai manages to unload on everything from health care to the state of migrant workers to China’s wealth gap and flawed judicial system. Ai himself experienced that system in what was called an extra-legal detention, when authorities rounded him up this spring and he disappeared into secret detention. He was released and authorities say he is still facing charges over tax evasion, claims his staff has denied.

“Every year millions come to Beijing to build its bridges, roads, and houses. Each year they build a Beijing equal to the size of the city in 1949. They are Beijing’s slaves. They squat in illegal structures, which Beijing destroys as it keeps expanding. Who owns houses? Those who belong to the government, the coal bosses, the heads of big enterprises. They come to Beijing to give gifts—and the restaurants and karaoke parlors and saunas are very rich as a result,” he writes.

Ai said he has no affection for the city, even the iconic "Bird's Nest" Nation Stadium he helped design.

“Beijing tells foreigners that they can understand the city, that we have the same sort of buildings: the Bird’s Nest, the CCTV tower. Officials who wear a suit and tie like you say we are the same and we can do business. But they deny us basic rights. You will see migrants’ schools closed. You will see hospitals where they give patients stitches—and when they find the patients don’t have any money, they pull the stitches out. It’s a city of violence.”