This video that Ai Weiwei uploaded of a street brawl (allegedly between Han Chinese and Tibetan street vendors) is unreal. Every time I am in Beijing, a friend and I eat a spicy roast fish in a restaurant a few yards away from this scene. It is one of my favorite things to do in Beijing, because it means I get to eat a whole fish (which I love) and catch up quietly with someone dear to me (which I also love). I have never seen anything like this there. In fact, I have never seen a fight in China get so bad that people were running away from it rather than towards it. Seriously, something so terrible must have happened.
Or (and this is perhaps Ai Weiwei’s point) maybe it mustn’t have. Maybe nothing happened and this is just decades of systemic and structural violence, finally taking form in the physical. Which for all our high theories and philosophies is still its most terrible form. Seriously, what is happening here?
A moment of doubt, fear. A place I love, filled with people I feel I could know, suddenly changed. This is a smaller, lesser outburst than the bombs that exploded in Boston on Marathon Monday, but it’s a testament to my limited, provincial, and selfish sense of belonging that I’m moved in the same way, can feel my whole stomach lurching and roiling. Here it is again: matter, trembling and terribly out of place.