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The COVID-19 pandemic is believed to have begun to spread late last year in Wuhan, a city of 11 million in China’s Hubei province. This past January, as cases rose rapidly, the Chinese government put the area into a lockdown, enacting the largest documented quarantine in human history. Last Thursday, artist Ai Weiwei revealed that he had a team of camerapeople within Wuhan from the start. Under his remote direction from Europe, they filmed throughout the city for the duration of the quarantine. The result is the newly released film Coronation.
“China has assumed the status of superpower on the global stage, yet it remains poorly understood by other nations,” reads a statement on the artist’s official website. “Through the lens of the pandemic, ‘Coronation’ clearly depicts the Chinese crisis management and social control machine — through surveillance, ideological brainwashing, and brute determination to control every aspect of society.”
The statement continues:
The film shows the changes that took place in a city and in individual space under the impact of the virus; it illustrates the value of individual life in the political environment, reflecting on the difficulties we face as individuals and countries in the context of globalization. Ultimately, the result is a society lacking trust, transparency, and respect for humanity. Despite the impressive scale and speed of the Wuhan lockdown, we face a more existential question: can civilization survive without humanity? Can nations rely on one another without transparency or trust?
Ai has encountered numerous legal troubles in China over his art, activism, and criticism of the government, including a three-month imprisonment in 2011. He has lived in Europe since being allowed to leave China in 2015.