• Ayesha Dodo-Williams

Ai Wewei's Coronation: a Document

A constant tension, a sense of despair and anxiety, perpetuated by stirred up feelings of dejavù: the images that announce the arrival of Ai Weiwei’s Coronation.

The crowning of an event that will be remembered for years to come.

The covid 19 crisis has defined and controlled the last months of our life, creating a new normal and a new present, but how did it start?


“Coronation” (2020) is a film that documents the lockdown in Wuhan, China, in the spring of 2020, at the peak of the Covid19 crisis in Weiwei’s birth country.

Recorded from a distance, seen through the eyes and lenses of the quarantined inhabitants of the first city to become like a ghost town.

A political narration of space and time


“Coronation” examines the political spectrum of Chinese state control from the first to the last day of the Wuhan lockdown. The film records the state’s brutally efficient, militarized response to control the virus. Sprawling emergency field hospitals were erected in a matter of days, 40,000 medical workers were bused in from all over China, and the city’s residents were sealed into their homes.


What at the times looked like a window into an apocalyptic scenario, was actually the life of millions of people. Millions of people living under one of the most mysterious regimes in the world.

Sure we all have an idea of how the country works but the Coronavirus crisis showed us both the pro’s and con’s of a nation established by order and discipline.

Coronation opens a small door into that world.

Directed from a distance and recorded through inhabitants of the Epicenter of the crisis,


“Coronation” [...] clearly depicts the Chinese crisis management and social control machine—through surveillance, ideological brainwashing, and brute determination to control every aspect of society. 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.


One minute. That’s the duration of Weiwei’s trailer. But one minute stirs up so many questions. Looking back, what can we learn? What have we learned? Is globalization really such a bad thing?


In hindsight, what can these images tell us about the handling of what is now a global pandemic, whose numbers keep growing every day? I, for one, am eager to see what “Coronation” proposes and how the eyes of normal people captured the daily lives of the real heroes of this crisis: medical staff, self discipline and care for one another.

And how Ai Weiwei’s critical and openly opposed views, depicted the superpower’s handling of the health crisis.


Because the truth is, you only know what truly happens if you're on the inside, and the director was able to achieve exactly that.



Press release on the official Ai Weiwei films site.

The images are all stills from the trailer.

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