A message from Ai Weiwei

The artist, dissident, and provocateur Ai Weiwei has been prohibited from leaving China since last April, when police held him in an isolation cell for 81 days. Passing the time was "impossible," he told me in an interview last year. "I really wished someone could beat me. Because at least that’s human contact. Then you can see ...

The artist, dissident, and provocateur Ai Weiwei has been prohibited from leaving China since last April, when police held him in an isolation cell for 81 days. Passing the time was "impossible," he told me in an interview last year. "I really wished someone could beat me. Because at least that's human contact. Then you can see some anger. But to dismiss emotion, to be cut off from any reason, or anger, or fear, psychologically that's very threatening."

Since then Ai, who is a Foreign Policy  Global Thinker this year, has stayed mostly in his compound in Northeast Beijing, while his fame and his art have traveled the world. For Ai, who has more than 180,000 followers on Twitter, it's all about communication, about being able to speak out.

"My work in the past few years...relates to how to find a way to communicate in a very special circumstance" said Ai in a video he made exclusively for last night's Global Thinkers gala at the Hirshhorn museum in Washington, which is also currently hosting the first ever North American retrospective of his work.

The artist, dissident, and provocateur Ai Weiwei has been prohibited from leaving China since last April, when police held him in an isolation cell for 81 days. Passing the time was "impossible," he told me in an interview last year. "I really wished someone could beat me. Because at least that’s human contact. Then you can see some anger. But to dismiss emotion, to be cut off from any reason, or anger, or fear, psychologically that’s very threatening."

Since then Ai, who is a Foreign Policy  Global Thinker this year, has stayed mostly in his compound in Northeast Beijing, while his fame and his art have traveled the world. For Ai, who has more than 180,000 followers on Twitter, it’s all about communication, about being able to speak out.

"My work in the past few years…relates to how to find a way to communicate in a very special circumstance" said Ai in a video he made exclusively for last night’s Global Thinkers gala at the Hirshhorn museum in Washington, which is also currently hosting the first ever North American retrospective of his work.

Watch the video below:  

Isaac Stone Fish is a journalist and senior fellow at the Asia Society’s Center on U.S-China Relations. He was formerly the Asia editor at Foreign Policy Magazine. Twitter: @isaacstonefish

More from Foreign Policy

Two unidentified military vessels off Taiwan
Two unidentified military vessels off Taiwan

Beijing’s Taiwan Aggression Has Backfired in Tokyo

Military exercises have stiffened Japanese resolve.

Russian President Vladimir Putin
Russian President Vladimir Putin

How to Take Down a Tyrant

Three steps for exerting maximum economic pressure on Putin.

A Taiwanese military outpost is seen beyond anti-landing spikes along the coast in Kinmen, Taiwan, on Aug. 10.
A Taiwanese military outpost is seen beyond anti-landing spikes along the coast in Kinmen, Taiwan, on Aug. 10.

Why Doesn’t China Invade Taiwan?

Despite Beijing’s rhetoric, a full-scale invasion remains a risky endeavor—and officials think the island can be coerced into reunification.

Crosses, flowers, and photographs mark the graves of victims of the battles for Irpin and Bucha at the cemetery of Irpin, Ukraine, on May 16.
Crosses, flowers, and photographs mark the graves of victims of the battles for Irpin and Bucha at the cemetery of Irpin, Ukraine, on May 16.

Russia’s Brutal Honesty Has Destroyed the West’s Appeasers

Yet plenty of Western intellectuals and politicians still ignore what Moscow is saying loud and clear.