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‘Coronation’ by Ai Weiwei

The Chinese contemporary artist and activist Ai Weiwei published the film ‘Coronation’ in August 2020. It was made available internationally on Vimeo and on Alamo in the United States. It is a 1 hour 53 minute long dystopian documentary about the lockdown in Wuhan, China.

The artist grew up in the far north-west of China under harsh conditions due to his father’s exile. After he investigated government corruption and cover ups he was arrested in 2011 and detained for 81 days without any charges made against him. In 2015, the Chinese government allowed him to leave the country. Since then he has lived in Berlin, Germany and currently in Cambridge, UK. In his art, he reflects his political convictions, using Chinese art forms to represent political and social issues in China.

Film still: ‘Coronation’ A doctor examines a Covid-19 patient

Outbreak of COVID-19 in Wuhan, China

On December 1, 2019, the first person with COVID-19 symptoms was identified in Wuhan.  At the beginning of the outbreak, Chinese officials repeatedly denied that human-to-human transmission were possible. In addition, they concealed the number of infections and punished medical personnel for passing on information about the epidemic.

Film still: ‘Coronation’

The film ‘Coronation’

“It is probably the fastest that a documentary of this scale has been made.”

Ai Weiwei

11 million people are locked up in a city and we get a glimpse of the everyday Corona madness. Ai Weiwei began filming in January. It took two months to gather the footage and photos and another two months to complete the editing. The artist directed and produced ‘Coronation’ from Europe. The filming was done by ordinary citizens living in Wuhan and thus gives us an extraordinary insider perspective on an unprecedented moment in history. Patients and their families are interviewed and they show the private lives of individuals living under the lockdown. We bearwitnesses to oppressive, apocalyptic scenarios we follow a hooded doctor who walks for minutes through endless corridors of a giant clinic that was built in record time. From a drone perspective we follow an airplane flying over the extinct central train station of Wuhan. In another scene, we see a worker involved in the construction of the clinic making futile phone calls. He wants to leave Wuhan, but he lacks a pass.

Video still: ‘Coronation’ Wuhan Central Station during the lockdown

Ai Weiwei’s film ‘Coronation’ focuses not only on state policy and its impact on the population. It is a description of a virus crisis, which is being well managed, but makes it more than obvious that the human aspect suffers

Through the lens of the pandemic, ‘Coronation’ clearly depicts the Chinese crisis management and social control machine— 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 Waiwai