Der Spiegel Reveals More Details of Ai Weiwei’s Detention

Der Spiegel Reveals More Details of Ai Weiwei’s

Posted on
August 30, 2011 by ML

OF THE details of Ai Weiwei’s 81 days in jail have been written about in the two
months since his release.

Ai has talked about feeling like a small soybean that has rolled on the ground to
a crack in the corner. He’s described his tiny jail cell and being constantly watched by

But in an Aug. 7 piece in Der Spiegel we learn for the first time of some of
the details of the intimidation tactics the officers used on him during
interrogation sessions, with important information about Ai’s state of mind
during and after the ordeal.

The article was written by the Chinese writer Bei Ling who befriended Ai
Weiwei in 1988 and compiled the piece from second-hand accounts by Ai’s friends
and family. Below are excerpts translated into English.

Ai describes his agony while in detention:

“My story sounds simple, but every second at this place [I felt]
insurmountable pain."
“For someone who has lost his freedom, the day stretches to
“I was afraid nobody knew where I was and nobody would ever know what
happens to me."

His 30-40 interrogators played mind games with Ai, trying to break
him mentally:

Some [seeimgly] did not even know who he was, or what “crimes" they accused
him of.

“Ai Weiwei, what is your profession?"

“I’m an artist."

“How is that possible that you are an artist? I’ve never heard of you before.
You don’t look like an artist."

Others knew very well [who Ai was and what he was].

“You make your art with so little, then sell it for millions. You’re tricking

“The point is that I do not determine the price [of my work]," Ai said. “The
price of my art is determined by the market."

Some officers also tried to intimidate Ai with threats and scare

“Ai Weiwei," they cried, “you are arrogant and rude! Beware: pride comes
before a fall! Let me tell you one thing: We will finish you!"

[Another:] “Your last hour is upon you, Ai Weiwei. Tell us, who is the last
person you want to see [before you die?]" to which Ai Weiwei replied, “My

Yet Ai said he pitied them:

Ai Weiwei believes that many of his captors were soldiers [members of the
military]. Men, maybe 18 years old, who weren’t aware of much during their
two-year service period and were not allowed to even leave their barracks. Young
men who read neither newspapers nor books and sent part of their pay home to
their family every month. Ai Weiwei told his family and friends that it was
impossible to talk with these men about anything meaningful. He felt sorry for
them because [he thought] they were exposed to their own kind of

There’s a funny bit in the article about Ai Weiwei’s fine being
nearly halved and the authorities’ explanation of that:

For the entire 52 interrogations, not a single time did the officers talk
about accusations of “tax evasion." Only after Ai’s release was his 12 million
Yuan fine announced.

“Wasn’t it rumored that I was to pay 20 million [in fines?]" Ai Weiwei

“20 million Yuan appeared too much to ask. We were afraid your mother would
have to sell her house," an officer from State Security

Ai Weiwei on if his detention will affect his art and his

“If my words mean that I lose my freedom, I will seek another form of
Ai always had an old saying that explained why he always continued with his
[art]work: “Sometimes you just have to do something stupid."

Ai Weiwei on how things have changed:

A friend of Ai Weiwei has asked what will change now for him.
“Regarding important things, nothing will change," [Ai said.] “But I
don’t care for a repeat [experience].
With translation by Christian Watjen.
(Photo: Ai Weiwei. Johannes Simon/Getty Images.)

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