River Crab
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ajardini's picture

Sr. Editor

Continuing the “metaphorical piles of food” theme (see Sunflower Seeds), this Ai Weiwei work consists of 3,200 handcrafted porcelain crabs.

While it may look more like a tribute to the great state of Maryland than a political statement, like all of Ai’s work there is a disparaging message about the Chinese government hidden in the seemingly innocuous, albeit delicious object. 

Unfortunately understanding that message requires knowledge of Chinese, but luckily you have this Sartle cheat sheet to break it down for you! The title “He Xie” means river crab, but in Chinese it also sounds like the word for “harmonious,” which is part of the Chinese Communist Party slogan.  They say that they are a “harmonious society” but obviously Ai Weiwei, who has been the victim of their super intense censorship, disagrees. Perhaps by making the connection to crabs he's saying that their oppressive regime aims to make citizens all the same, like so many crabs caught in a trap, with no individuality or rights.

Ai must also just really like the tasty crustacean: when the government told him they were going to demolish his new studio in 2010, he got on his Twitter and invited folks to a feast of 10,000 river crabs in protest. But tragedy struck- they placed the politically outspoken artist under house arrest and he couldn’t attend his own demonstration/seafood extravaganza.  Now that is truly cruel and unusual punishment.