By Isabella Tianzi Cai
World-renowned artist Ai Weiwei is responsible for bold, iconic works such as the Beijing Olympic Stadium, but he has proven to be just as daring as a political activist. Ai has leveraged his celebrity status to speak openly about human rights abuses in China as few public figures have dared. As Evan Osnos writes in a 2010 profile on Ai in The New Yorker, “His cultural and political footprint is unique in a country where people generally face a choice between thriving within the confines of the system or shouting from the shadows outside it. For the moment, he is attempting to do both, and nobody is at all sure where that leads.” His efforts have not gone unpunished; earlier this month, his million-dollar studio in Shanghai was demolished by the government, who deemed the building illegal (this despite that the government had approved the building in 2008).
As part of his activism, Ai has become a prolific filmmaker documenting ugly cases of human rights violations in China. Below are 19 videos produced by Ai Weiwei Studio that have been posted to YouTube, many of which, as well as others, can be found on Ai Weiwei’s YouTube Channel. The shortest is four-and-a-half-minute long; the longest lasts three hours and 40 minutes. At the moment, most of them are without English subtitles. As YouTube is blocked in China, these videos can be accessed in China through the links listed on this site.
Hua Hao Yue Yuan [Blissful Harmony]
This 11-part video tells the stories of LIU Dejun and LIU Shasha, who were victims of unresolved police brutality.
San Hua [Three Flowers]
In this 8-part video, a group of women took it upon themselves to crack down illegal cat trade. It also reveals the current situation between people and animals in China.
*This video contains disturbing visual content. Please watch it at your own discretion.
This sound work is contributed by thousands of volunteers who read out names of those killed in the Sichuan Earthquake.
Yi Ge Gu Pi De Ren [A Lonely Man]
This video took Ai Weiwei Studio two years to complete. It is about the court case of YANG Jia, who committed violent crimes to right the wrong that had been done to him.
Mei Hao Sheng Huo [A Beautiful Life]
This 6-part video investigates the curious case of Chinese citizen FENG Zhenghu, who was denied entry to China eight times and was stranded in the Tokyo Narita International Airport for over 100 days.
In this video, the names of 4851 people who have perished in the Sichuan Earthquake are presented as the running credits of a film.
Hua Lian Ba Er [Dirty Faces]
This video documents the investigation of hundreds of unsafe school buildings, which caused the deaths of numerous students in the deadly Sichuan Earthquake. AI Weiwei and his team’s activities in Sichuan was frequently interrupted and harassed by the state policy.
Lao Ma Ti Hua [Stewed Pork]
This 8-part video documents the court case of Chinese lawyer TAN Zuoren. Tan’s fight for justice for students killed by unsafe school buildings in the Sichuan Earthquake made him a threat to state stability.
Tong Hua [Fairy Tale]
Ai Weiwei transported 1001 Chinese people to a small town in Germany called Kassel for his art exhibition. This documentary is a window to the people’s lived experience during the entire process.
Feng Zheng Hu Hui Jia [FENG Zhenghu Returns Home]
After having been stranded in the Tokyo Narita International Airport for over 100 days because China refused to let him pass the customs eight times, Chinese citizen FENG Zhenghu finally returned home.
Wei Hai Guo Jia An Quan [A Threat to Homeland Security]
On Dec. 2, 2010, AI Weiwei was denied his right to leave China for unclear reasons.
Sun Ya [SUN Ya]
Sun Ya’s 6-year-old daughter was infected with AIDS during a hospital visit in 2002. He tried to sue the hospital but lost the case. This video features an interview with Sun.
Liu Nian Bu Li [Unlucky in Liu's Year]
With his air-ticket in hand, Chinese lawyer LIU Xiaoyuan was denied his right to fly to Japan for an academic conference.
Xi Mei [Ximei]
This video features an interview with Ximei, who got infected with AIDS during a hospital visit but could not get justice for herself.
Shang Mian Da Le Zhao Hu [Heeded by Those from Above]
In this video, AI Weiwei interviews ZHAO Liang, who pulled his film from the Melbourne International Film Festival because he was coerced by the Chinese government.
Jing Cha Da Ren Le [The Police Hit People]
In this video, journalist YIN Yusheng is interviewed. YIN was stalked by the police and brutally beaten by them because he was deemed an advocate for democracy.
Shi Shi Jiu Shi Zhe Yang [This is What Happened]
In October 2010, the tragic “My Father is LI Gang” Incident (NYT) left a grief-stricken family. This video features interviews with the father and the brother of the college girl who was killed in this car accident by the son of a prominent government official LI Gang.
Hua Er Wei Shen Me Zhe Yang Hong [Why Are the Flowers So Red]
Shot and edited by AI Xiaoming, this 8-part documentary investigates Chinese lawyer TAN Zuoren’s court case. TAN was sentenced to five years in prison because he sued the state for constructing unsafe school buildings, which killed numerous students during the 2008 Sichuan Earthquake.
Lastly, here is a video produced by Alison Klayman for The New Yorker in 2010, chronicling Ai Weiwei’s activism and filmmaking. Klayman is currently working on a documentary about Ai Weiwei. Titled ‘Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry,’ the film is scheduled for release in fall 2011.