Dissident artist Ai Weiwei likens Gaza censorship in West with China 'under Mao'

Dissident artist Ai Weiwei likens Gaza censorship in West with China 'under Mao'
The global artist criticised pro-Palestinian censorship in the West, which many say has increased in academic spaces and the media.
3 min read
04 February, 2024
The artist made the comments in response to the cancellation of an art exhibition over social media posts on Israel and Gaza [Getty/file photo]

The popular Chinese artist and political dissident Ai Weiwei has likened pro-Palestinian censorship in the West to political suppression during the Mao Zedong era, in a new interview with broadcaster Sky News on Sunday. 

Ai, known for being outspoken in support of the Palestinian cause, said that political censorship in the West is "exactly the same" as that in China under Chairman Mao – when he was exiled alongside his family during the 1950s and 1960s.

The artist's comments came in response to a question in the Sky News interview on the cancellation of his exhibition in London in November after he had posted against Israel's deadly war in Gaza.

"Society becomes so timid, to really avoid any kind of questioning or argument," he said during a segment on the channel's 'Sunday Morning with Trevor Phillips' show.

"I grew up within this heavy political censorship," he said in reference to his family’s exile, which took place when he was one year old.

"I realise now, today in the West, you are doing exactly the same."

Ai's exhibition at London’s Lisson Gallery in mid-November was cancelled, following criticism of Israel in social a media post, which was deemed by some as "antisemitic".

The 66-year-old went on to delete the post which was written in the Chinese language, saying it may have "lacked nuance".

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The artist also criticised censorships across universities and the media which had witnessed an uptick in the West since the outbreak of Israel’s war in Gaza on 7 October.

Several leading broadcasters sacked pro-Palestinian journalists and reported on the war in favour of the Israeli narrative.

Meanwhile, pro-Palestinian protests and expression have been subject to crackdowns across university campuses in the US and Europe.

"So I think that this is such a pity, that it happened in the West, so broadly in universities, in media, in every location," Ai said.

"In universities or political sector - everywhere - you cannot talk about the truth."

Tel Aviv’s indiscriminate ground and air offensive in the enclave has killed over 27,300 Palestinians in just under four months and had targeted schools, refugee camps, hospitals and places of worship.

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Israel’s atrocities in the densely-populated and impoverished enclave has been described as amounting to war crimes by several rights groups and countries, with the UN's top judicial body the International Court of Justice ruling that Israel's conduct plausibly amounts to genocide. 

Ai has been a critic of the Chinese government over the years and was arrested and imprisoned foe 81 days in 2011.

In 2016, the famed artists visited the Gaza Strip to interview refugees for a documentary on the refugee crisis.