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Ai  Weiwei
Ai Weiwei faces down the press at Documenta 12 in Kassel, Germany, in 2007

Art & Politics

by Charlie Finch

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It must be remembered that the detention of Ai Weiwei is but part of a multipronged strategy by the Chinese Communist Party to stifle and kill dissent of all kinds in China. At the moment, for example, Chinese troops are forcibly removing all monks between the ages of 18 and 40 from the Kirti monastery in eastern Tibet, all 7 of the courageous Chinese human rights attorneys in Beijing have been missing for over a month, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiao Bo is serving a long prison sentence and many others are being "disappeared."

Chinese Foreign Ministry press briefings have mocked Western concerns and laughably held up the United States as oppressive of human rights in contrast to ChiCom self-righteousness. The first thing to remember when considering how to ultimately bring down the ChiComs is that this suppression is totalitarian in its essence: complete, pitiless, uncompromising and unpersuadable by traditional liberal appeals. In arguing with well-meaning Western actors who advocate "engagement," one must respond that there is no fundamental difference between ChiCom police tactics and those of Nazi brown-shirts or Stalinist police in previous eras. Therefore, in the art world, for example, continued activity in China by major auction houses or Western galleries must cease immediately and it is incumbent on artists and collectors who care about what is happening in China to insist on this, refraining from doing business with these players until they withdraw from China.

Secondly, do not buy products from China and let both the wholesale and retail purveyors of said products know that you are boycotting their products because of the suppression of human rights by the ChiComs. It occurred to me, looking at the thousands of toy pandas available from China on Internet sites such as "," that pandas in China have more rights than people and that one effective way to protest the arrest of Ai Weiwei would be to buy a toy panda, take a black magic marker to it, turning the panda into an Ai Weiwei doll and FedExing it to the Chinese Embassy in Washington. If you wish to buy a Chinese product and deface it in the name of art, do so; otherwise, check the label on everything you buy, and, if it is from China, do without!

Finally, there must be a concerted effort on the part of Westerners to pressure Western leaders, businesses and bankers to default on Chinese debt until the ChiComs free political prisoners and respect the civil liberties nominally asserted in the Chinese Constitution. A China holding worthless Western paper is not just a paper tiger, it is simply paper: numbers on a screen with which the ChiComs will be unable to cash in, until and unless rights in China flourish. Write your representatives, the President, CEOs and bankers who profit from the Chinese gulag and demand that they stand down, by not purchasing Chinese goods or honoring Chinese financial transactions.

Those who argued that the 2008 Olympics, Western economic engagement and the trade in art and culture with China would be a force of gradual liberalization have been definitively proven wrong by the current ChiCom crackdown and the arrogant rhetoric accompanying it. Only the strongest, widest and most determined action from the West can restore freedom to China and save the courageous vanguard symbolized by Ai Weiwei. Let us get to work!

CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).