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Do you think your release was due to international and domestic pressure?
I think it only could have come from support for me from the international art community and the political community and also in China.
In November, after you were served with a $2.4 million bill for taxes and penalties, Chinese citizens started giving money to you. After that, there was talk of a possible pornography charge, and in response to that, people started posting their own nude photos online as a sign of support. Have you been surprised by the reaction your case has inspired in China?
I'm very surprised, and I think the people who are doing this were also surprised. People are so encouraged by this new technology. It provides such possibility. This really changes the landscape of the political situation. In the past, only the powerful could make their voices heard. Today anybody with clear thinking or a special way of understanding will be recognized.
Does what has happened in the Arab Spring have significance here, or is China under a different set of rules?
I think Chinese leadership is trying to tell the world they have another set of logic or reasoning or values which are different from yours. Of course, I don't think they believe that. It's just an argument that's made when you can't confront the truth and facts. They really want to maintain power. At the same time, they refuse to communicate. They refuse to have good intentions. They refuse to be sincere. How can that last?
One of the criticisms that are made of you by some Chinese is that you promote democratic values that are not universal but Western, and China has its own path of development.
I never emptily talk of democratic values. I always focus on individual cases. How many students died? What are their names? What are the basic facts? Did the police really beat me that night? Can a human being speak out with dignity?
So, what would you like to see in China?
We need clear rules to play the game. We need to have respect for the law. If you play a chess game but after two or three moves you can change the rules, how can people play with you? Of course you will win, but after 60 years you will still be a bad player because you never meet anyone who can challenge you. What kind of game is that? Is that interesting? I'm sure the people who put me in jail, they're so tired. This game is not right, but who is going to say, "Hey, let's play fairly"?
Second, they cannot stop people from communicating freely, to get information and to express themselves. When they do that, this nation is not a right place to live. They sacrifice generations of people's opportunities. This is a crime.
Some people argue China doesn't need democracy.
Democracy, right or wrong, has been proved. The Chinese case has not been proved yet. For me there is no logic there. It doesn't matter if it's successful or not. You cannot sacrifice people. I cannot ever accept the kind of conditions where you can sacrifice someone's rights.
How do you spend your days? Are you still making art?
I'm an artist who is always looking for what is possible. I'm always looking to extend the boundaries. Art is the product of a person who uses a special form or shape or light to communicate. Life experience certainly teaches you how to become an artist.
I restrict the time I spend on the Internet now because I have to also talk to lawyers, communicate with the people who lent money to me.
In the afternoon I go to a park with my child to get some exercise. I go to the police station twice a week to hear their opinions and criticism. I do have a work I started two or three years ago it takes a long time to finish. I'm happy they never tried to stop me from doing art.
If you had a chance to go overseas, would you?
I have to evaluate, Is it better to stay in a jail here or go abroad? If you go, you really have to say goodbye.
You feel you wouldn't be allowed back?
Not only that. I'm afraid I would lose the sensitivity to this reality. There are so many things you can do in life, and of course, activist isn't my top choice. I think I would lose touch with here, and I certainly feel I owe a lot of people. If I can make a good effort, I would continue to do that.