FP: But it's still home. If you weren't here in Beijing, where would you be?
AW: It's a home not occupied by the people. That's the problem. A home can be poor, and we'll still love it because it belongs to us. It can show our feeling, our attachment, our memory, and our hope for the future. But in Beijing, people disappear for political reasons or other reasons, yet we have no open trials, no media discussion. My name cannot appear on the Internet. What is the future?
FP: If you changed one thing about Beijing for your son, what would it be?
AW: Just one thing? [Laughs.] Liberation. I think everybody deserves freedom. Freedom is such an abstract word, but it's all we need.
FP: You just talked about Beijing, and you also had trouble in Shanghai with your studio there.… [Chinese officials tore down Ai's studio in Shanghai in January 2011.]
AW: It's not just Beijing. It's a problem of the system, which could be more efficient, more loving, friendlier to people. Even if you're not elected. But that's very naive. That's why you need democracy. Either you're elected or you have to leave, because otherwise you're a monster.
FP: Are there Chinese cities where you have been pleasantly surprised for the better?
AW: No way. Other places are worse than Beijing. There's less opportunity and more corruption. It can be very ruthless. It's beyond comprehension, some of the things that have happened. The one exception is Tibet, because of its natural resources, but the Tibetan people are burning themselves to death. Already over 40 of them in the past two years, and nobody's talking about it.
FP: Have you been to Lhasa before?
AW: No. I would feel ashamed to go. I think to respect [the Tibetans] is not to touch them, to leave them alone.
FP: An acquaintance of mine who works for CCTV [the state broadcaster whose new headquarters are in a landmark building designed by architect Rem Koolhaas] said she's afraid to go to the new building because she thinks it's a terrorist target.
AW: Oh, that building … only when it's occupied, because then it will be occupied by terrorists. Nobody will touch it [laughs]. Come on; don't be naive! They are the No. 1 terrorists. They raped this nation's ideology and thinking for 60 years.
FP: Are you traveling again soon?
AW: For the past year, I've not been allowed to travel, but now by logic and reasoning I'm a free man, except that I cannot leave China. You know, I have no desire to travel. I have so many things to do; I cannot finish them now.
FP: Your life seems to have migrated onto the Internet almost completely.
AW: Yeah, before you arrived, I'd already spent two hours on the Internet.
FP: So, if your life moves onto the Internet, that's a big, open city.
AW: It is. Twitter is my city, my favorite city. I can talk to anybody I want to. And anybody who wants to talk to me will get my response. They know me better than their relatives or my relatives. There's so much imagination there; a lot of times it's just like poetry. You just read one sentence, and you sense this kind of breeze or a kind of look. It's amazing.
FP: And yet the city of the Internet is not free for everyone here.
AW: No. We have to dig in or climb over, and we have to do so many things to reach our city. That makes the city beautiful. It's worth the effort.