Chinese Dissident Ai Weiwei: US Is Already an ‘Authoritarian State’

By Victor Westerkamp | November 18, 2021
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Ai Weiwei during a special CIRCA.ART 1-year anniversary screening at Piccadilly Circus on Oct. 30, 2021, in London, England. (Image: HOLLIE ADAMS/Getty Images)

On Nov. 12, Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei in discussion with  PBS’s Firing Line host, Margaret Hoover warned against too much political correctness in America, stating America is already an “authoritarian state” and probably not sufficiently composed to take on Communist China.

Weiwei, the son of a poet persecuted during Mao’s Cultural Revolution, who also authored the bestselling memoir titled 1000 Years of Joys and Sorrows, argued that the U.S. is already under authoritarian rule.

“In your book, you were describing the directives of Mao Zedong during the Cultural Revolution that would be distributed publicly every night,” Hoover said adding, “And then you write — this is your quote — ‘They served a function similar to Donald Trump’s midnight tweets in office. They were the direct communication of a leader’s thoughts to his devoted followers, enhancing the sanctity of his authority,’” she quoted Ai’s book as saying.

“So do you see Donald Trump as an authoritarian?” Hoover inquired.

Ai answered obliquely, saying that Trump did not have the institutional backing to enforce an authoritarian program even if he were so inclined.

“If you are authoritarian, you have to have a system supporting you,” Ai responded. “You cannot just be an authoritarian by yourself. But certainly, in the United States, with today’s condition, you can easily have an authoritarian. In many ways, you’re already in the authoritarian state. You just don’t know it,” he said.

‘Authoritarian state’ of political correctness

When asked what he meant by an authoritarian state, Ai said he sees similarities between today’s American society and that of China during the Mao Zedong era.

“Many things happening today in [the] US can be compared to [the] Cultural Revolution in China,” Ai explained. “Like people trying to be unified in a certain political correctness. That is very dangerous.” 

The cultural revolution in China lasted from 19966 until Mao’s death in 1976 resulting in a halting of economic activity and the destruction of historical and cultural material.

When Hoover asked Ai to clarify, he said:

“It’s very philosophical. With today’s technology, we know so much more than we really understand. The information [has] become jammed. But we don’t really — and really have the knowledge, because you don’t work. You don’t — You don’t have to act on anything. You just think you’re purified by certain ideas that you agree with it. That is posing dangers to society, to an extreme divided society,” Ai said.

“Why do you think that’s happened here?” Hoover asked.

“I think, for a long time, the West is material. We have much more than we needed. And we are not caring about global situation,” Ai replied. “But, eventually, all the policies and the politics we play has to be examined under the global situation, such as China become a very powerful state. And how the West should deal with it.”

Moral Attitude

Ai’s main concern was that the West could not withstand China and the only way out would be overhauling its moral attitude.

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“In China, we have a wisdom,” Ai said. “To deal with anything, you have to be strong yourself. I don’t think West is strong themself [sic] enough to deal with China.”

“In what sense, is the West not strong enough?” Hoover asked.

Ai responded, “In many, many ways, if you can’t sense how — what a failure the West by lacking of vision or lacking of compassion in dealing with refugee situation, climate change, and also the war in Afghanistan, Iraq. Yeah. So I don’t think the U.S. has the ability to really examine the situation of its own moral and start behaving.”