Ai Weiwei is contemporary China’s most famous artist. More than that, Ai Weiwei is an activist. On April 3, 2011, Ai Weiwei was arrested at Beijing Capital International Airport under suspicions of economic crimes. However, his international recognition and the political nature of his art were likely the root causes of his arrest and why authorities confiscated over a dozen computers from his studio that same day. For two months, Ai Weiwei was illegally detained under terrible, strict conditions, partially in a military compound.
For journalist and novelist Barnaby Martin, who had spent many years in China, Ai Weiwei’s life story and arrest were of particular interest. After Ai Weiwei was released from prison, Martin returned to Beijing to interview Ai. The result was Hanging Man, the most detailed look at Ai’s case, how the Chinese Communist Party deals with dissidents and China’s overall political condition.
There is hardly a more appropriate pair of eyes through which to understand the scope of oppression and censorship in China than those of the person who has spent his entire life pushing harder than most without compromise.
Hanging Man is not just the story of how Ai Weiwei became one of contemporary China’s most controversial figures. It is also a look at the psyche of the world’s most powerful totalitarian nation as it continues to fight against the courage and integrity of those who pursue their ideals with unwavering bravery. Through Ai’s case, we see from the inside the sometimes all too unfortunate cost of freedom and democracy. More widely, Hanging Man is a survey on the history of art in modern China and the nation’s increasing call for democracy and accountability in its public officials – where it started and, as Ai Weiwei’s case illustrates, where it is and still needs to go.