Ai Weiwei

Daughter of journalist in 'lingering shadow'

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 04 June, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 04 June, 2011, 12:00am


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For Dai Weiwei, the taste of being a child of an 'anti-party and anti-revolutionary rightist' came before she was even born.

While pregnant with her in 1963, her mother, a cashier at a paint factory, was sent to toil in the workshop where toxic chemicals were used as a punishment for being the wife of Dai Huang, a Xinhua journalist branded a 'rightist' for doubting the supreme leadership of Mao Zedong .

Five days before she was born, her father was sent to do forced labour in the countryside. She was able to see her father only once every few months. He was not released until she was 14.

Even when she was as young as three, she already sensed that her kindergarten teachers were particularly cool to her because her father had been branded as a 'rightist' - a blanket term for intellectuals who were critical of the Communist Party's far left policies and ideology of the time.

'I was one of those cursed 'offspring of rightist dogs'. When there were arguments between playmates, people would insult you with those terms,' said the younger Dai, now 47.

She was ostracised at school: she was not allowed to join her classmates in performances, was forbidden to become a junior red guard and was not allowed to be a class captain. When she was older, teachers only grudgingly agreed to let her join the party's Young Pioneers group, after saying she didn't really qualify because of her family background.

'When the children in my class went on stage, I wasn't allowed to join them. There were rows of empty chairs, and just me sitting there,' she said.

And no matter how hard she worked at school, she never got any words of praise from her teachers.

'I gave up trying eventually, because I knew that no matter how well I did, it would do me no good,' she said.

The trauma of long-term social exclusion and isolation has had a lasting effect on Dai. The sense of injustice, humiliation and loneliness from years of being ostracised as a social outcast still haunted her to this day, she said.

'Because of our background, I am not very keen on socialising because I tend not to trust people,' she said. 'We're always on the margins of society, observing it from a distance.

'The lingering shadow is something you can never get rid of.'