Holland Carter explains how Ai Weiwei found a position critical of China’s government that was protected until the uprisings in Africa and the Middle East caused China’s harshest crackdown:
To anyone familiar with China’s hardball official politics, Mr. Ai’s aggressive words sounded suicidally aggressive and the silence from the government in Beijing was perplexing. But at this juncture, both parties were almost ceremonially enacting ancient roles. In Chinese culture, going back to Confucius, there has been a tradition of individual scholars and intellectuals denouncing rulers for wrongdoing that was bringing disharmony to society, and particularly if that wrongdoing was injurious to innocence.
Examples of such face-offs recur in traditional literature and painting. And often, but not always, the self-sacrificing honesty of the accuser has rendered him immune to retaliation.
An Artist Takes Role of Cina’s Conscience (New York Times)