Dissident Chinese artist made secret film about Wuhan during China’s coronavirus lockdown

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Dissident Chinese artist Ai Weiwei made a secret film called “Coronation” in Wuhan, the central Chinese city that became the origin of the coronavirus pandemic, during its strict lockdown.

The internationally known artist, who has called attention to human rights violations and government corruption in China with his work, said he had a camera team on the ground filming for the duration of the quarantine in the city where health experts say COVID-19 first emerged last year.

“China has assumed the status of superpower on the global stage, yet it remains poorly understood by other nations,” reads a statement on the artist’s official website. “Through the lens of the pandemic, ‘Coronation’ clearly depicts the Chinese crisis management and social control machine — through surveillance, ideological brainwashing, and brute determination to control every aspect of society.”


For more than two months, the 11 million residents of Wuhan endured a lockdown as coronavirus raced around.

Wuhan was the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak in China and saw the most deaths. The city and most of the surrounding province was locked down from late January to early April. People couldn’t leave or enter the city and were mostly restricted to their homes.

The spread of the disease has been all but halted in China, though isolated outbreaks pop up sporadically.

Ai directed the film remotely from Europe.

The film’s promotional statement continues: “The film shows the changes that took place in a city and in individual space under the impact of the virus; it illustrates the value of individual life in the political environment, reflecting on the difficulties we face as individuals and countries in the context of globalization. Ultimately, the result is a society lacking trust, transparency, and respect for humanity. Despite the impressive scale and speed of the Wuhan lockdown, we face a more existential question: can civilization survive without humanity? Can nations rely on one another without transparency or trust?”

Ai told The Associated Press earlier this summer that his artist friends in Wuhan had been sending him footage, even from a hospital, giving him multi-angled visuals of vulnerable and fleeting moments of the city during its unprecedented lockdown.

“I think China has handled it better (than SARS) because they’re much more experienced,” Ai said in May. But he said there’s still a lack of transparency.

“They (Chinese government) intentionally covered (up) the whole pandemic as a secret for many weeks,” Ai said. “In a certain sense, they will never change.”


Ai was arrested at Beijing’s airport in April 2011 and incarcerated for 81 days without explanation.

“I was disappeared,” he said, referring to his more than two months of jail time.

After his release, China said Ai had confessed to tax evasion and fined $2.4 million. He has since left China on his Chinese passport and legally has the right to return to his homeland. His last visit to his place of birth was a few months after he first left in July 2015, his studio said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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