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SOAS China Institute

Citizen Ai: Warrior, Jester and Middleman

William A. Callahan

William A. Callahan

William A. Callahan, Professor of International Relations, London School of Economics

Date: 20 January 2014Time: 5:15 PM

Finishes: 20 January 2014Time: 7:00 PM

Venue: Russell Square: College BuildingsRoom: G50

Type of Event: Seminar

Series: SOAS China Institute Monday Forums


Ai Weiwei is famous for crossing boundaries, especially the boundary between art and politics. To appreciate the often contradictory nature of Ai’s work, this essay employs multiple narratives: “Ai the Heroic Warrior” who criticizes the Chinese government, “Ai the Court Jester” who plays with the Chinese state and Western media, and “Ai the Middleman” who acts as a broker between China and the West and between civil society and the state in the PRC. The essay concludes that a fourth narrative can bring together these three stories in an multicoded understanding of Ai’s work: “Ai the Citizen Intellectual” who sometimes works with the state, and at other times against it—but always for the good of China. “Citizen intellectual” also tells us about a broader movement of activists and public intellectuals who are building civil society in China’s rapidly changing political context.

Working paper: Citizen Ai: Warrior, Jester and Middleman


Professor Callahan's research examines the interplay of culture and politics in China and Asia, and considers the overlap of domestic and international politics. His new book "China Dreams: Twenty Visions of the Future" was published last year by Oxford University Press, and his other books include "China: The Pessoptimist Nation" (2010), "China Orders the World" (co-editor, 2011), and "Contingent States: Greater China and Transnational Relations" (2004).

Organiser: SOAS China Institute

Contact email: sci@soas.ac.uk

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