Renowned Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei says Canada must learn to work with China, but continue to press the country on matters of social justice and human rights.
In Toronto ahead of the screening of his new documentary “The Rest” at the Hot Docs film festival, Ai shared his thoughts on Canada’s strained relationship with China following the December arrest, at the request of the U.S., of a Chinese tech executive in Vancouver.
The prominent artist, who has lived in self-imposed exile in Europe for several years, said Canada will have to continue its relationship with China, despite disagreements over human rights and freedom of speech.
“I think we all have to work with China,” he told CTV’s Your Morning. “We have to trust a society has to perform that way and that China will change into that kind of society.”
However, Ai said Canada can’t become complacent with China. He said Canadians must stick to their principles and demand that China improve its treatment of its citizens.
“If I look at Canadians, you have such a privilege about understanding human rights, human dignity, fairness in society, and the practice of law and all those things,” he said. “That is the strongest point about Canada or Canadians.”
Ai has been an outspoken critic of China following the devastating earthquake in Sichuan province in 2008 when tens of thousands of people disappeared and the government censored information about the disaster.
“I realized thousands of students disappeared, so I started to ask questions, ask for transparency, ask for so-called social justice. That got me involved deeply in politics,” he recalled.
The artist created an exhibit dedicated to finding out what happened to the earthquake’s victims and became actively involved in exposing government corruption and cover ups. In 2011, he was arrested and detained for 81 days before he was released.
Since then, Ai continues to speak out against the Chinese government as well as other social justice issues, including repression, freedom of speech, and the migrant crisis in Europe.
His new documentary “The Rest” follows his 2017 internationally acclaimed film “Human Flow,” which examined the plight of migrants attempting to reach Europe. “The Rest” explores what life is like for refugees living in camps while they wait for sanctuary in Europe.
Ai said the problem is not a new one and throughout human history, people have been forced to flee their homes in search of safety. He said he hopes audiences who see his new documentary will leave the theatre with a new perspective and a desire to help.
“We have to see humanity as a one. We cannot say we’re separate from disasters or unfortunate conditions. We are part of it. If we don’t help or defend those people, you know, we’re simply guilty about it,” he said.