We live in a time when things have taken a noticeable turn for the longer and shorter at the same time. In the explosion of blogging and numerous other forms of online publication, people have greater access than ever before to make their voices heard and at great length. Yet, at the same time, outlets like Facebook and Twitter especially, direct their users to hone their message down, purify it to the most crystallized form before sending it out to the world. Sometimes this makes for completely inane and paltry statements about someone’s present moment of self-reflection, but there are a few out there who can use this strategy to pinpoint their message into weapons of the wordsmith. Those people are dangerous. Those people can change minds.
Oh, and it helps to be an internationally well-known artist and dissident to boot.
Weiwei-isms by Ai Weiwei is a sorted and well laid out collection of sayings and statements from one of the most publicly attacked and endangered voices in modern day China. In 2008 he was publicly lauded by his home country for the design of the famous Bird’s Nest stadium for the Beijing Olympics, yet in the same year became a harshly silenced critic in the aftermath of the deadly Sichuan earthquake. Weiwei created his own citizen’s council that investigated shoddy school building construction which helped lead to the deaths of over five thousand school children in the affected areas.
It was events like that and others that pushed Weiwei further into the world of human rights advocacy and the ongoing withering attacks against the ruling Chinese government. This book becomes not only a collection of his most pertinent political statements, but also of topics like freedom of expression, art and activism, the digital world and more. One of my personal favorites hits right off the bat on page one: “Say what you need to say plainly, and then take responsibility for it.” If only everyone in took that to heart.
Physically Weiwei-isms is a black, small hardbound book, fitting nicely into a jacket pocket and meant to be carried around, perused at chance moments and ruminated on. It knowingly bears a resemblance to the little red books that were given out by Chairman Mao in order to popularize his philosophies to his subjects. Yet, brainwashing is not the dastardly attempt of the author this time; it is more akin to brain-widening. Take a look for yourself. I feel safe in saying that some statement, one of his turns of phrase, will hit you like a punch in the gut, likely leaving an emotional bruise that will take great time and thought to recover from.