Denmark’s culture minister Marianne Jelved was in China last month for what the Culture Ministry described as the “largest Danish cultural effort in China to date”.
Although Jelved participated in over 60 arrangements while in China, she backed out of one high-profile meeting by cancelling plans to meet with China’s most famous international artist, Ai Weiwei.
A meeting with the dissident artist was in the cards before Jelved left for Beijing, but she told Berlingske that she thought better of it once there.
“When I was over there as an official guest with the Chinese government as a partner, it dawned on me that I didn’t care to take the initiative to meet with Ai Weiwei. The partnerships that I have in connection with the cultural exchange with China are something that I really value and that I want to build upon further and develop,” she said.
Ai Weiwei, who is barred from leaving the country by the Chinese government, said he couldn’t understand why Jelved wouldn’t meet with him.
“I would have very calmly participated so that people could see that it was an arrangement in which the intentions were on another level. When I’m invited, I always come. And there are never problems,” he told Berlingske.
An outspoken critic of China’s position on human rights and democracy, Ai Weiwei said that he didn’t see any problems with Denmark’s cultural collaboration with China but that “it is also important to take responsibility”.
“A lot of countries try to do business with China, but they should also understand that the China that they are dealing with is not necessarily a reflection of the Chinese people’s opinions. China is not a democracy,” he told Berlingske.
The activist added that he didn’t think that the Chinese authorities had pressured Jelved not to meet with him but rather that the Danish culture minister “handled the situation incorrectly” because the Danish delegation “misunderstands China”.
Jelved also stressed that it was her own decision to skip a meeting with Ai Weiwei. Prior to her October 24-30 trip to China, she said in a press release that the goal of the cultural exchange was for "Danish and Chinese artists to meet so they can be inspired by, and learn from, one another."
Ai Weiwei is considered one of the most influential and subversive artists of his time, with art exhibitions all over the world, including at the Tate Modern in London, Jeu de Paume in Paris, and Martin Gropius in Berlin. Just last week, he provided two ice sculptures to mark the opening of the Stockholm Film Festival