Friday, 24 June 2011

Nothing to be proud of

So it's very nice that the Chinese government have decided to release Ai Weiwei. It's even nicer to think that pressure from the west might have had something to do with his realease, though this seems to be wistful thinking. When a regime brags that a newly released prisoner has shown a "good attitude in confessing his crimes," it probably isn't caving in. Ai Weiwei's silence on release speaks volumes, as they say. He's not triumphed over the viciousness of the regime; he's been broken by it and, like Winston Smith in 1984, is drinking at The Chestnut Tree.

Nor is it enough to note, as the Independent does, that Ai Weiwei was just one of over a thousand political prisoners in the PRC, and they remain imprisoned (1). That's better than celebrating a single release; but it's still missing the point. In fact, it seems to me to be a deliberate diversion.

By focusing on this or that celebrity prisoner, we can conveniently excuse our blindness to how we exploit Chinese labour, take advantage of the PRC's totalitarian tendency when it is convenient to us - we like those baubles and trinkets, but we don't like have to pay too much for them. We deliberately ignore the oppression of Tibetans and Uighurs, the arrest of workers who try to form independent trade unions, the thousands killed and injured in Chinese mines where cornoers are cut because of the desperate need to keep costs down, the brutal working conditions imposed by employers who are churning out toys for us to play with. We salve our cosciences by making a token fuss about people like Ai Weiwei, but purposefully ignore our own massive, hypocritical convenient connivance in oppression and state brutality.
1 - "Ai Weiwei is free; another 1,426 are not," unattributed editorial. Published in The Independent, 24th of June, 2011. (http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/leading-articles/leading-article-ai-weiwei-is-free-another-1426-are-not-2301849.html)

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