MOST OF THE details of Ai Weiwei's 81 days in jail have been written about in the two months since his release.
But in an Aug. 7 piece in Der Spiegel we learn for the first time of some of the details of the intimidation tactics the officers used on him during interrogation sessions, with important information about Ai's state of mind during and after the ordeal.
The article was written by the Chinese writer Bei Ling who befriended Ai Weiwei in 1988 and compiled the piece from second-hand accounts by Ai's friends and family. Below are excerpts translated into English.
Ai describes his agony while in detention:
"My story sounds simple, but every second at this place [I felt] insurmountable pain.""For someone who has lost his freedom, the day stretches to eternity.""I was afraid nobody knew where I was and nobody would ever know what happens to me."
His 30-40 interrogators played mind games with Ai, trying to break him mentally:
Some [seeimgly] did not even know who he was, or what "crimes" they accused him of.
"Ai Weiwei, what is your profession?"
"I'm an artist."
"How is that possible that you are an artist? I've never heard of you before. You don't look like an artist."
Others knew very well [who Ai was and what he was].
"You make your art with so little, then sell it for millions. You're tricking people."
"The point is that I do not determine the price [of my work]," Ai said. "The price of my art is determined by the market."
Some officers also tried to intimidate Ai with threats and scare tactics:
"Ai Weiwei," they cried, "you are arrogant and rude! Beware: pride comes before a fall! Let me tell you one thing: We will finish you!"
[Another:] “Your last hour is upon you, Ai Weiwei. Tell us, who is the last person you want to see [before you die?]" to which Ai Weiwei replied, "My mother."
Yet Ai said he pitied them:
Ai Weiwei believes that many of his captors were soldiers [members of the military]. Men, maybe 18 years old, who weren’t aware of much during their two-year service period and were not allowed to even leave their barracks. Young men who read neither newspapers nor books and sent part of their pay home to their family every month. Ai Weiwei told his family and friends that it was impossible to talk with these men about anything meaningful. He felt sorry for them because [he thought] they were exposed to their own kind of torment.
There's a funny bit in the article about Ai Weiwei's fine being nearly halved and the authorities' explanation of that:
For the entire 52 interrogations, not a single time did the officers talk about accusations of "tax evasion." Only after Ai's release was his 12 million Yuan fine announced.
"Wasn't it rumored that I was to pay 20 million [in fines?]" Ai Weiwei asked.
"20 million Yuan appeared too much to ask. We were afraid your mother would have to sell her house," an officer from State Security replied.
Ai Weiwei on if his detention will affect his art and his willpower:
"If my words mean that I lose my freedom, I will seek another form of expression."Ai always had an old saying that explained why he always continued with his [art]work: "Sometimes you just have to do something stupid."
Ai Weiwei on how things have changed:
A friend of Ai Weiwei has asked what will change now for him.
"Regarding important things, nothing will change," [Ai said.] “But I don’t care for a repeat [experience].