Houses on the steep hillside within the village of Kuopo in Longxi township, Sichuan province (AFP)
“We’ll by no means get a straight reply. For the reason that communist authorities was arrange, the reality behind all main historic occasions has by no means been formally revealed,” the conceptual artist informed AFP at his studio in Berlin.
Ai was among the many volunteers and rescuers who rushed to Sichuan within the speedy aftermath of the 7.9 magnitude earthquake that devastated the area on Could 12, 2008, flattening whole villages.
An outpouring of grief quickly changed into fury because it emerged that hundreds of youngsters had been killed in 7,000 colleges that collapsed totally, sparking allegations that corruption had led to shoddy constructing work.
However as bereaved dad and mom pressed for solutions from authorities, they had been met with a stony silence, whereas Ai mentioned he was detained and crushed by police who blocked him from testifying on the trial of an activist investigating the college collapses.
Solely in Could 2009 did the federal government say that 5,335 youngsters had been killed in class collapses — a quantity that was the truth is far under figures given by state media beforehand. No official checklist of the victims was launched.
An official investigation into building requirements for colleges was promised however the outcomes haven’t been revealed.
Ten years on, Ai remains to be enraged by the federal government’s stonewalling.
“After all I am nonetheless livid. Nothing has modified on this matter. It issues folks’s rights and dignity, the federal government’s tasks, lies and corruption,” he mentioned.
‘Shock is simply too gentle’
Within the aftermath of the earthquake Ai started investigating the so-called “tofu colleges” — a time period likening their structural instability to the favored delicate bean curd dish.
The probe sought to find out how a lot of the harm was wrought by pure catastrophe and the way a lot was exacerbated by to human error, in addition to to uncover “how this authorities that calls itself the folks’s celebration offers with the folks’s struggling”.
However his activism got here at a excessive private worth.
As soon as the artist commissioned to assist design Beijing’s Hen’s Nest Olympic stadium, Ai discovered himself on the receiving finish of the state’s wrath.
He was crushed by police who blocked him from testifying on the trial of one other activist, Tan Zuoren, who had individually investigated the college collapses. Ai was detained in 2011 for 81 days and had his passport confiscated for 4 years.
“All that has to do with our insistence on discovering out the reality, insistence on investigating the checklist of useless college students. Insistence on getting the federal government to inform us how these buildings had been constructed.”
In 2010, Ai underwent surgical procedure in Germany to alleviate strain on his mind from a blood clot which he mentioned was the results of the police beating in Chengdu.
The operation occurred simply forward of an exhibition in Munich, the place Ai produced an set up utilizing 9,000 backpacks writing out in Chinese language: “She lived fortunately for seven years on this world” — a sentence from the letter of a mom of a schoolgirl killed within the quake.
“The federal government has the obligation to supply info as a result of it’s a servant who works for you. You’ll be able to’t say your servant would not let you know what he is used your cash to purchase, or what number of chairs are in your home or the place your mattress is.
“If he would not let you know something, then he is not your servant. He is even more durable than the boss. For those who ask these questions, he can beat you and even lock you up. How are you going to not be shocked? Greater than shocked. Shock is simply too gentle. Livid.”
‘Authorities will not change’
Regardless of the uproar over the college collapses then, Ai mentioned the federal government hasn’t modified its method.
If a brand new catastrophe had been to strike, “the federal government would not do something in a different way,” he mentioned.
“It could’t change. The second it tells the entire reality, it could not exist… Masking up the reality is a primary situation for the existence of an authoritarian regime.”
However Ai rejects any notion that his efforts had been in useless.
“I did not make any sacrifices, I did what I ought to and, the truth is it’s what I feel everybody ought to do. It’s a person’s accountability to ask questions which have a bearing on their lives.
“The query of whether or not it is value it or not due to this fact doesn’t exist.”
Ai ultimately moved to Berlin after Beijing returned his passport in July 2015.
For now, Ai doesn’t see himself returning to China even within the case of one other related catastrophe.
“My work now’s on world refugees. There are many points and they’re all linked… Anywhere the place human rights are harmed is a catastrophe for everybody’s human rights.
“I am not (in China) now, I am in Europe, the place I am confronted with the refugee downside. So I am dealing with it and making my voice heard on this downside.”
(Aside from the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV employees and is revealed from a syndicated feed.)