President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) yesterday called for China to respect human rights and defended Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei’s (艾未未) right to freedom of expression as he attended an exhibition of Ai’s work at the Taipei Fine Arts Museum.
Dubbed “Ai Weiwei, Absent,” the exhibition features 21 of Ai’s works, including photographs, installation pieces, videos, 12 bronze heads representing Chinese zodiac symbols and a new piece consisting of about 1,000 bicycles.
Ma praised the diversity, deep emotions and reflections on Chinese society shown in Ai’s artwork and installation pieces, such as a surveillance monitor made of marble, a comment on Ai’s life under the Chinese government’s scrutiny, and said it highlighted the difference between Taiwan and China.
“In Taipei, local borough chiefs and residents urged the city government to install surveillance monitors as a public safety measure. It is an interesting observation of how monitors here are rarely used as a tool for the violation of human rights,” he said.
Defending his efforts to press China on improving human rights, Ma said he urged the Chinese government to release Ai and Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo (劉曉波) in his statement on the 22nd anniversary of China’s Tiananmen Square Massacre on June 4, urging China to respect human rights as a way to promote cross-strait relations.
“The distance between Taiwan and the Mainland depends on the two sides’ views on the protection of human rights. The more similarities we share on the issues of human rights, the closer that distance will become,” Ma said.
In a written statement this year marking the Tiananmen Square Massacre, Ma urged the Chinese authorities to release Liu, Ai and other Chinese dissidents, and called on China to “undertake political reforms and promote the development of freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law.”
Ai, an outspoken critic of the control the Chinese Communist Party exerts over Chinese society and censorship in the country, was imprisoned in April on his way to Beijing airport for a planned trip to Taiwan.
He was released in June after almost three months of detention that sparked outrage worldwide.
He is currently being investigated for tax evasion and has been prohibited from leaving the country.
Pan-green lawmakers have accused the Taipei City Government and the museum of failing to help Ai visit Taiwan and attend his own exhibition, which began on Oct. 29 and runs through Jan. 29.
Ma yesterday defended the city government, saying Taipei Mayor Hau Lung-bin (郝龍斌) had invited Ai to attend the opening of the exhibition and the city government has never had a problem with Ai visiting Taipei.
Accompanied by Taipei Department of Cultural Affairs Commissioner Cheng Mei-hua (鄭美華) and Taipei Secretariat Chen Yung-ren (陳永仁) at the exhibition, Ma spent about 15 minutes glancing over the works.
However, he passed over some of Ai’s well-known works, including Study of Perspective: Tiananmen Square, in which Ai gives the finger in front of the square.