‘They are willing to sacrifice everything’: I Weiwei pays tribute to Hong Kong protesters I Weiwei

W.As the hen I Weiwei grew up in China, it was customary for people on the mainland to look down on Hong Kongers. “We felt they had no serious culture. We felt that they were just colonial subjects interested in making money and martial arts films. They were not political, ”the exiled 63-year-old artist recalls on WhatsApp from behind a car parked in Lisbon.

That childhood vision has turned its head in Aye’s deeply rooted documentary Cockroach, about the Hong Kong people who took to the streets last year to protest the overthrow of Chinese rule. They are the ones who become civilized, utopian and offer political resistance to the mainland’s uncivilized clampdown.

Much of the film’s power comes from short-lived footage of its street fights – including the November 2019 siege. Hong Kong Polytechnic University And the blockade of the Cross Harbor Tunnel. I’s film focuses mostly on young opponents using all the weapons at their disposal – pavement slabs, Molotov cocktails, cop-disturbing laser pointers – but also resistance from Chinese officials. Those were the people we are using in the film to simply use the “Be Water” fighting technique of Bruce Lee, Hong Kong’s most famous son, to protest on the streets. We have seen them repeatedly retreating from the barricades so that they can re-emerge in the streets as soon as the police move forward with water cannons and tear gas.

Pitched fights: Student protesters at the Chinese University of Cockroach in Hong Kong riot against the police.
Pitched fights: Student protesters at the Chinese University of Cockroach in Hong Kong riot against the police. Photograph: I Weiwei

They are impressive for AI because, when living in one of the most affordable cities in the world, they fought not for physical improvement but for principles. “They are heroes because they fought for democracy and civil society, with no real hope that they would achieve their goals. They are clear, well-educated and all of the above are sincere. They were fighting not for jobs or money but for things that seemed abstract. It’s about human dignity. I really feel like I’m one of them. “

I have long been sympathetic to Hong Kong’s struggle for democracy and independence. When the umbrella revolution began in 2015, he tweeted, “I’m a Hong Konger.” He says: “I was just expressing solidarity but the Chinese authorities thought I was one of the leaders of the revolution and was late in returning my passport.” That suspicion was understandable, as the artist became a symbol of resistance. He recalls, “At night my image was insured in military buildings. “But even before that I got into trouble by giving a speech at a Chinese university in Hong Kong, which officials told me was disastrous. It was devastating but I was never a leader. What is beautiful about Hong Kong is that their revolution is ruthless. They are resilient because they are based on self-organization, not ruled from above. ”

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Last year’s demonstrations were provoked by now-abandoned legislation that would harm Hong Kong’s autonomy by allowing extradition to the mainland China. Four-and-a-half years after the failed Umbrella Revolution, the Hong Kong Congress protested against Beijing’s betrayal of its “One Country, Two Systems” agreement with Britain, which would allow the former colony to retain some unique independence for 50 years. But there were more than demonstrations. “These people are unique in the world because they stand out China. Most people don’t work. They are very worried about their job. Many countries do not dare to stand China. But these people are willing to sacrifice for their beliefs. ”

Ia struggled to speak to officials for her film. “Eventually we found two men in the police who were fighting in the streets to speak on the film. They are honest. They are not proud of what they do. But what else can they do as a job? One of the disguised officers captures the surreal, demonstrative aspect of street fighting when he says: “Who wants to be Lex Luthor?” Everyone wants to be Superman. But this is the script. We have a role to play. The film is called Cockroach because it, along with Molotov cocktails and bricks, was one of the conditions of abuse spread on the barricades by the hated police.

'Five demands, not one less' ... a scene from a cockroach.
‘Five demands, not one less’ … a scene from a cockroach. Photograph: I Weiwei

For AE, this police and now abandoned extradition law is part of the ugly word that makes a lot of use of the name “mainlandistation” in his film. “The Chinese authorities have a lot of money. And even if they don’t, it will cost them all to maintain stability and control with the help of the police and the publicity.

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“They have no other way to do this, because they do not negotiate. They have no tolerance. They don’t give an inch. They arrest people who do not agree. This is the most effective. I know from my own experience, but they have been in control like this for 70 years. In my father’s time, a million intellectuals disappeared and no one knew. Terrible things are on the news today and no one is paying attention. I don’t know what’s wrong. “

Ai’s late father, Ii King, the poet, was deported to Xinjiang during Mao’s Cultural Revolution, where he cleaned communal toilets for five years, and according to his son, lost sight in one eye due to poor nutrition. His poems were not published after his “rehabilitation” in 1979.

AI has no doubt that Hong Kong’s future is to be absorbed into the Chinese mainland, regardless of the wishes of its people. “Maybe it will be like Xinjiang or maybe it will be like Shanghai. What opponents hope will not happen. ”

Few people would doubt this analysis. Since the events featured in Cockroach happened, many activists have been interviewed in the film I – including Joshua Wong, Agnes Cho and Evan Lum – have been jailed for their role in the protests. In June, China imposed a National Security Act. Since then, pro-democracy legislators have been disqualified from elected office fees and scholars have been forced out of universities.

Safe Shelter… I am making a new life in Cambridge with her 10-year-old son.
Safe Shelter… I am making a new life in Cambridge with her 10-year-old son. Photograph: Philip Singer / EPA

eye Went from Berlin to Cambridge last September So that his 10-year-old son Lao can get a better education and survive in the racism he says he experienced in Germany. “I’m glad I left Berlin for a more friendly atmosphere.” He praised Britain for condemning Beijing’s crackdown on Hong Kong’s opponents and providing safe haven for refugees. “I think it’s a very important gesture. Maybe half a million people would qualify. In the long run it is really valuable because they are really nice professionals, very well educated, who will appreciate what Britain will do for them. “

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So far, fingers crossed, working for Cambridge AI. “I prefer to talk to people who take the time to explain, and the British are patient. I need some rest. I have had a lot of hardships in my life. “

That is an understatement. Strongly raised in exile in the province, he became a staunch critic of the dictatorial regime as an artist and activist. As a result he was imprisoned, refused to travel inside China and had his passport revoked. He left home in 2015, hoping to be allowed to return.

Making cockroaches, as a result, was a difficult business. He directed by remote control, with a team of filmmakers, including a journalist, specializing in reporting from the battlefield, preparing to shoot in Hong Kong for six months. Later, he worked on the material back in Britain. Will you ever be able to return to China? “I hope so but I have no illusions about my chances.” He would prefer to visit his mother, who is 88 years old, although he talks to her every day.

For all the barriers imposed by deportation and epidemics, I have been working hard during the lockdown. Cockroach is one of the three films he has completed this year. Vivoz, released in January, tells the story of 43 students who were attacked in Mexico in 2014 and never seen again. Coronation, his Portrait of Wuhan during the epidemic, Was released in September for fine reviews. Each of these films is the identity of the end of the mother. He says he only became an artist in 2009 when he reversed the Herder Kunst facade in Munich and added the following words in Chinese: “I just want to let the world remember that she was happy for seven years. Years. These were the words the mother said to Ai when she investigated the disappearance of 5,335 school children in the region after the 2008 earthquake in Sichuan.

Why do you do such political work? “I only make films and art about things that fascinate me intellectually and emotionally, I like to understand more. To do that you have to set some obstacles to overcome. Or get in trouble. It helps you learn. ”


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