If you are a cat lover this article should both interest and please you in equal measure. Please don’t skim it and please read to the end as the last bit is the best 👍✔️😉. Ai Weiwei is a very famous contemporary artist and an activist. He was and is openly critical of the Chinese Government’s stance on democracy and human rights. When living in China he was terribly stressed because every day he was surveilled. He had a large studio compound there, but he had to leave, and he was allowed to leave the country. He left Beijing in 2015.
Please play the audio player below to hear how to pronounce his name. It is not how you might have imagined.
His Beijing studio is occupied by his assistants. He has many cats living in his studio compound because he took them in. At one point, he says that there were 30 cats in his Beijing compound. They were all rescue cats. This is partly because he was involved with rescuing stolen domestic cats and feral cats that were being shipped south to Guangzhou where there are cat meat markets. It’s where they love to eat cat meat and where they brutally kill cats in the most horrific ways. China’s President Xi openly supports these brutal markets.
Ai Weiwei says that there is a famous dish in China called Dragon and Phoenix. It often contains snake meat and cat meat. He thinks the killing of cats to eat is a “crazy custom”. He openly states that there are “people who capture neighbourhood cats in other cities and send them south”.
He has been openly critical of the Chinese government for many years, and it surprises me that he survived! And it surprises me that he was allowed to leave the country. In 2009 he worked with a charity called China Small Animal Protection Association. It is surprising that it was allowed to exist, but he said that it was “a group of kids”. It had to be because this kind of non-profit can’t exist in China.
On one occasion they seized a truck containing 400 cats stuffed into small rusty cages being shipped south and they rescued them. He took in 40 cats and that’s partly why he has or had so many cats in his Beijing compound.
And he makes the observation that it doesn’t matter how many cats you have; each one is an individual with their own character.
Ai Weiwei shines a bright light on Chinese culture regarding domestic cat ownership. It has always interested me and at the same time horrified me as to how Chinese people living in China relate to animals and how they eat any sort of animal without any difficulty or queasiness.
Ai Weiwei grew up in Shihezi in the 1960s. He was born on August 28 only 57 and is currently aged 65. At that time, he said that you didn’t see pets as we see them in the West. He said this because pets are a form of property and communism is against private property.
And also, he says that compassion is a questionable emotion in China. Animals should be working animals and they are “only valued as tools for productivity”. That means they either work or you eat them or both.
And his mother thinks that animals are dirty. He explained this by saying that communism is concerned with cleanliness. They believe that you have to be “spiritually clean [and] physically clean”. This means even cat fur lying around the home is objectionable.
But when he built his studio in Beijing, he felt that he needed to inject some life into it and adopted his first cat at that time. And this reminds me of the way that a domestic cat adds soul to a home. It brings life and warmth into a person’s home and clearly Ai Weiwei believes this.
When he was being surveilled by the Chinese government while living in Beijing he did some video interviews, and he says that there was a cat who would always lie on his table in front of his computer. He used to joke that his cat was a secret agent because he heard everything he said in the interviews.
And I love Ai Weiwei’s attitude. I think it’s fabulous for someone who is so high profile to be so gentle, enlightened and emotionally connected to domestic cats. And I’m sure he has a very similar point of view regarding all animals.
Ai Weiwei’s thoughts on how humans can learn from domestic cats
He said in a New York Times Style Magazine interview that “I’ve learned so much from animals. It’s important to be around another species that has a completely different set of instincts and intuitions”.
He claims that humans are very rational and are defined by knowledge but that this attitude blocks emotions and an understanding of ourselves.
He wants people to open their minds to cats because it allows them to “experience something that can’t be found in human society”.
Cats, he believes, “teach you that you can have a happy life without knowing anything at all”. Cats look after themselves and entertain themselves. They are individuals with the ability to be “self-content”. These are good qualities for a good life.
And he believes that animal cruelty reflects people’s inner fear, uncertainty, and misconception about themselves. He is correct. A brilliant observation. A remember of American Indian saying that what humans fear they want to kill. I have always remembered that.
I have a huge amount of admiration and respect for this man. It isn’t just because he loves cats and other animals. He seems to me to be very well balanced and sensible. He is gentle and enlightened but courageous at the same time. He wasn’t frightened to be openly critical of the Beijing government. That would frighten a lot of people into silence. Perhaps he got away with it because he is and was very high-profile so they couldn’t silence or get rid of him.
But this man has courage and on top of it all he is a brilliant contemporary artist who has exhibited all over the world including the Tate Modern in London. What a man!
My deep thanks to The New York Times Style Magazine on the internet.