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Ai Weiwei: In China, Lack Of Truth 'Is Suffocating'

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Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, who has been outspoken about the lack of freedom in his homeland and was imprisoned in what he and his supporters say was an effort to keep him quiet, told our colleagues at Boston's WBUR this week that the lack of truth in China is "suffocating ... like bad air all the time."

WBUR's On Point with Tom Ashbrook had the conversation with Ai, who hasn't spoken often with American media outlets in recent months. Among the highlights:

-- On Using Art To Spread The Truth: "We have to talk about the truth. We have to talk about the fact[s]. We have to also share our opinions or communicate with others. In China, this is basically very much lacking in daily life. ...The state newspaper or television never tells you the truth ... which is suffocating. It's like bad air all the time.."

-- Despite Censorship, He Speaks To More Chinese Than Anyone: "I think I represent more people in China, or speak to [a larger] Chinese audience, than anybody — artist — in history," even though the government is "scared if they let me to talk."

"I [am] very surprised too, because each day I will meet young people, walking in the park, or on streets. They will come to shake hands with me, to ask me to take a photo. They will say, 'we really understand you.' I [am] surprised because under such censorship, my name cannot even appear in the Chinese domestic Internet. If you type my name, the whole sentence will disappear, so even under than condition, they still know me."

-- Prison Was "Inhuman": "The prison is very different from a prison anywhere. ... It's completely inhuman treatment. You have two soldiers who watch you 24 hours a day, including when you're taking a shower, using the bathroom. The eye will never move away from you for one second. And you know, they're standing 80 centimeter[s] away from you. ... And they give you a lot of pressure. You cannot sleep at night. ... You never can even know what [the] outside looks like. You have no rights to call a lawyer or tell your family where you are. ... So the feeling is like you become ... little beans dropped on the floor in some corner and people just forget about you. It's a very terrifying situation."

(Our thanks to WBUR's Julie Claire Diop.)

Copyright 2013 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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