In Ai [Weiwei], American pundits find a rare bird indeed: he’s a well-respected and politically conscious international artist who doesn’t have a grudge against the United States. In fact, he kind of likes the good old U.S.A. In an interview with New York Times columnist and Inspector Clouseau of imperialism Nicholas Kristof, Ai said, “China still needs help from the U.S. To insist on certain values, that is the role of the U.S.” When goaded to complain, he faults America for not dealing with China more actively on human rights.
This is certainly how America likes to think of itself — as a global force for liberal enlightenment values like free speech — especially in comparison with China, its largest rival and creditor. But artists, including Ai, have been quick to point out the USA’s inconsistent moralizing. What good is artistic freedom to a drone strike victim?