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Chinese architect slams Olympic 'pretend smile'

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  • One of China's foremost architects slams country for Olympic ceremonies
  • Ai Weiwei say China is promoting superficial image of nation to world
  • Architect spent years as a child in labor camps
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BEIJING, China (Reuters) -- Just days after China marked the one-year countdown to the Olympics with fireworks, pomp and ceremony, the Chinese co-designer of the Games' most iconic stadium has slammed the event as a public-relations sham.

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Ai Weiwei: "Can a nation be celebrated and be so proud with this ignoring of its past?"

Ai Weiwei, one of China's foremost architects, said he feels "disgusted" that the $400 million, "Bird's Nest" National Stadium he helped design with Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron has become a proud symbol of China's development.

"I've already forgotten about it. I turn down all the demands to have photographs with it. I'm not interested," the portly artist told Reuters at a studio in Beijing's northeast suburbs.

"I would feel ashamed if I just designed something for glamour or to show some kind of fake image."

Last Wednesday, Chinese and Olympic officials hosted a 10,000-strong celebration gala with fireworks, dancers and pop stars on Tiananmen Square, scene of a bloody army crackdown on student-led pro-democracy demonstrations in 1989.

Ai's criticism stands in marked contrast to the upsurge in national pride the Olympics has generated, though it does join a chorus of deliberately timed criticism from mainly foreign rights groups.

The designer, who once smashed a 2,000-year-old Han dynasty vase for art, speaks candidly -- and from personal experience.

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Ai was raised in a labor camp in China's remote northwestern region of Xinjiang, after his father, Ai Qing -- himself regarded as one of China's finest modern poets -- was purged in the 1950s after being denounced as "an enemy of the state and a rightist."

"I spent five years with him at a labor camp where he cleaned toilets, but these stories become so catchy today," Ai shrugged. "I have my own problems."

He likened China's embrace of the Olympics as a "pretend smile."

"Can a nation be celebrated and be so proud with this ignoring of its past?" Ai asked, sitting on a bench next to one of his works, a distended wooden slab called "Crooked Coffin."

"Can you have the self-confidence to clearly examine yourself, rather than to give this kind of pretend smile on your face... It's this kind of fake smile which is disgusting ... So I hate this."

When asked about what China was trying to hide, Ai said: "There are too many things. The whole political structure, the condition of civil rights ... corruption, pollution, education, you name it."

"Then just say 'let's forget about all this,' let's just light some big fireworks, let's have those stupid directors, those people are such opportunists and they just become part of the powerful manipulators because they have no self-consciousness and have such bad taste."

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Ai said the 91,000-seat "Bird's Nest" remained a beautiful, if regretful, commission.

"I did it because I love design and the idea of how it would be looked at by others," he said. "I can also do self-criticism." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

Copyright 2007 Reuters. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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