It was a first for both China’s most famous dissident artist Ai Weiwei and the prestigious British magazine the New Statesman. Ai has guest-edited the latest edition of the magazine and in the issue, as per the magazine itself, “The rebel artist reveals the China its censors don’t want you to see.”
“My country has to recognise itself, which is a challenge to anybody at any stage in life. Right now, in China, we are living in conditions that no other generation has ever experienced – of great economic growth and expansion, but also great oppression of freedom of speech and human rights,” Ai wrote in the leader for the magazine.
One of the articles Ai himself did for the magazine was an interview on the one-child policy with blind activist Chen Gunagcheng, whose escape from house arrest to the US embassy and eventual move to New York occupied world headlines in May.
.“The old approach began in the 1980s and continued until the end of the policy in 2002. It had slogans: “Sterilise when you should or lose your roof.” “Abort when you should or lose the house.” This meant that [the state] could seize a family’s home and food and resell them cheaply. If you refused to undergo ster­ilisation your house would be destroyed by bulldozers and tractors.
They would use a wire rope, called “seed rope” at that time, and this would be tethered to a beam on a tractor. One pull, and the houses would collapse. This is what they mean by the old approach,” the magazine quotes Cheng telling Ai from New York.
The issue also carries an essay on censorship by Cheng Yizhong, co-founded and former editor of the Chinese newspapers, Southern Metropolis Daily and Beijing News, who was detained for five months for alleged economic crimes in 2004.
“Censorship happens secretly; it is silent and effective. By forbidding any paper evidence, and by phoning or sending text messages directly among different levels, only one-way communication takes place between the publicity department and the media leadership, and between higher- and lower-level media leaders. The only rule for subordinates is to be loyal to the higher leadership and not cause trouble for them,” Cheng wrote in his essay.
Another first for the magazine was that it’s distributing an online version of the current issue in Mandarin. The Mandarin-version of it has been uploaded on to file sharing sites to get round the Great Firewall of China; the name Ai and hundreds of words associated with him are blocked on the internet in China.