Exiled Chinese artist Ai Weiwei: 'Censorship in West exactly the same as Mao's China'

Political censorship in the West today is "exactly the same" as it was in China under its ruthless communist leader Mao Zedong, exiled artist Ai Weiwei has told Sky News.

The 66-year-old dissident told Sky News' Sunday Morning with Trevor Phillips that "society becomes so timid, to really avoid any kind of questioning or argument".

He was responding to a question about the cancellation of his exhibition by the Lisson Gallery in London in November following comments on social media referencing the Israel-Hamas conflict.

His post, which was subsequently deleted, suggested the "sense of guilt around the persecution of the Jewish people" had been transferred and used against the Arab world.

He also argued the Jewish community had a significant influence in the media, finance and culture in the US, and that America's $3bn (£2.45bn) annual military aid to Israel meant the two countries had a "shared destiny".

Ai told Phillips: "You know, society becomes so timid, to really avoid any kind of questioning or argument.

"So basically I was talking on Twitter, just answering someone's question.

"Normally you can talk, or whatever you like.

"You can joke, you can make fun, you can, you know, just give your opinions.

"But today I see so many people by giving their basic opinions, they get fired, they get censored.

"This has become very common."

Referring to his own family's exile when he was one year old, the activist said: "I grew up within this heavy political censorship.

"I realise now, today in the West, you are doing exactly the same."

He drew parallels with the disastrous purge under Mao, which took China to the brink of anarchy.

Criticising the suspension of two New York University professors for comments related to Gaza, Ai said: "This is really like a cultural revolution, which is really trying to destroy anybody who have different attitudes, not even a clear opinion.

"So I think that this is such a pity, that it happened in the West, so broadly in universities, in media, in every location.

"In universities or political sector - everywhere - you cannot talk about the truth."

Ai's art often addresses political issues in China and he has frequently criticised Beijing's record on human rights and democracy.

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Asked if he believed Western artists were doing enough to defend freedom of expression, Ai described them as having been "corrupted by capitalism".

"They are just seeking money and also to be famous," he said.

In 2011, Ai was arrested at Beijing Capital International Airport and detained for 81 days. He left China in 2015 and has not returned since.

His main residence is currently in Portugal, but he maintains a studio in Berlin and a property in the UK.

But the artist said he "never regrets" speaking out.

He said: "I'm defending a value which would profit and benefit everybody.

"My little experience does not really matter, but rather I somewhat have to speak out.

"An artist has the responsibility to do that."

Weiwei's graphic memoir, Zodiac, was published by Penguin Random House at the end of January.

Watch Sky News' Sunday Morning With Trevor Phillips at 8.30am to see Ai Weiwei's full interview.