Ai Weiwei, the internationally acclaimed artist who has been harassed and imprisoned by the Chinese government, appeared on Trevor Noah’s The Daily Show on Wednesday. While the upbeat host usually cracks jokes and does impressions during the interview portion of the show, his conversation with Weiwei was somber as the two discussed the artist’s new memoir 1,000 Years of Joys and Sorrows, which recounts his time in prison as well as at that of his father. The host started off by heaping praise upon Ai: “You are, without exaggeration, one of the coolest human beings I’ve ever spoken to,” Noah said, “and you’ve also lived one of the hardest lives I’ve ever come across.”
When asked why his memoir recounts so much of his father’s life, Ai responded, “I’m often asked, ‘How did you become you?’ and when I was in detention I asked myself the same question: How did I become an enemy of the state?” Ai went on to talk about the threads that have connected him to his father in the context of the Chinese government’s changing political landscape. Noah asked Ai if he has been able to challenge the government because he has no fear, but Ai said that’s not the case. “There is fear,” he said. “The fear is that I don’t speak out.”
Noah turned the conversation to the Uighurs, an ethnic and Muslim minority in China who have been put into reeducation camps. International human-rights groups have called the Chinese treatment of Uighurs a genocide. When asked what he thought, Ai said that China has a history of treating certain people, particularly Tibetans and Inner Mongolians, in a similar manner. “They do this to their own people,” he said.