China, Rising

The Daily Pic: Ai Weiwei goes so Chinese, you wonder if there's irony involved.

10.09.12 10:35 PM ET

This 3D map of China, made of wood salvaged from Qing Dynasty temples, is in the new Ai Weiwei survey at the Smithonian’s Hirshhorn Museum. I wrote about the show yesterday, but didn’t have a chance to address one crucial issue: Ai’s relationship to Chinese nationalism. Visiting China, you are struck, sometimes troubled, by sentiments you hear that come close to jingoism. I guess it’s not any  worse than some Americans’ flag-waving, but it feels more dangerous coming from a developing authoritarian state possibly poised for some kind of – soft power? – world domination. (Although look at its growing hard-power crisis over those islands off Japan). At any rate, given that almost everything Ai makes has some kind of explicitly Chinese content, I wonder if we should read it all as probing the idea of Sino-superiority – piling on so much Chinese-ness that it can’t quite read straight.

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