Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei was detained at Beijing airport while attempting to board a flight to Hong Kong on April 3. The artist’s wife, assistants, friends, family members and associates were also subsequently detained and interrogated. But Ai himself continues to be held at unknown location. China’s Foreign Ministry said only that he is being investigated for unspecified “economic crimes” and that his detention has “nothing to do with human rights or freedom of expression.” The detention has nonetheless sparked global protests. In London, supporters gathered at the Tate Modern museum on April 11, and climbed into Ai’s “Sunflower Seeds” installation—an exhibit of 136 tons of hand-painted porcelain sunflower seeds—and scattered posters bearing the message: “Free Ai Weiwei.” (CBC, April 11)
Two days before Ai’s disappearance, he spoke out about police harassment at his Beijing studio, and presciently warned that “people with different minds and voices are being thrown into prison.” He told the German broadcaster ARD in his last interview before his detainment: “There are two surveillance cameras at my gate entrance, my phone is tapped and every message I send on my microblog is censored. Yesterday and the day before over a dozen police came to my place, but in my opinion, it is purely nuisance. They are coming again today.”
“China in many ways is just like the middle ages,” he said. “China’s control over people’s minds and the flow of information is just like the time before the Enlightenment. Writers, artists, and commentators on websites are detained or thrown into jail when they reflect on democracy, opening up, reform and reason. This is the reality of China.” (The Guardian, April 11)
China’s official state news agency, Xinhua, published a one-line story April 7 saying police were investigating the 53-year-old artist—but deleted it from its website within one hour. The piece did not explicitly state that Ai is being held, and authorities have not responded to faxed queries from the foreign media.
Ai’s older sister, Gao Ge, told Reuters: “The economic crimes report is absurd, because the way he was taken and then disappeared shows it’s nothing of the sort. This is more like a crime gang’s behaviour than a country with laws.” His mother, Gao Ying, said the “economic crimes” allegations were being used to silence him. “If he’s not released, this will be the start of a long struggle… They still haven’t notified us why he was taken or where he is.” (The Guardian, April 7)
Ai’s detainment follows his release on the Internet of a satirical drawing, according to The Australian of April 11. The drawing (not shown in the account) is said to depict the artist naked “except for a toy horse concealing his genitals.” (We will attempt to shed some light on this enigmatic imagery below.) The account said the drawing’s caption had a double meaning in Chinese, which can apparently be interpreted as: “Fuck your mother, the party central committee.” If this is true, we can imagine the party central committee was not pleased. In one of the few comments on his case, an official party newspaper is quoted as saying: “The law will not be bent for mavericks. Ai Weiwei always likes walking on the edge of the law and doing things others dare not.”
An undated post from sometime last year on the dissident English-language Beijing Doll website (perhaps produced by Chinese ex-pats or liberal China-watchers abroad) sheds some light on the case. First some basic background:
Born in Beijing, his father was Chinese poet Ai Qing, who was denounced during the Cultural Revolution and sent off to a labor camp in Xinjiang with his wife, Gao Ying. Ai Weiwei also spent five years there. Now, according to Chinese authorities, he is a dissident to be watched, one whose inflammatory blog needed to be silenced. But to others, the Chinese conceptual artist, architect, photographer, and curator—loathed and loved for his human rights activism—is the courageous voice needed in today’s repressive China. Ai Weiwei is a hero.
The post informs us that on June 4 last year—21st anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre— he posted the following message:
Let us forget about June 4th, forget this ordinary day. Life has taught us, under totalitarianism, every day is the same. Every day in a totalitarian society is one day, there is no “other day”, no “yesterday” or “tomorrow”…
Without freedom of speech, without freedom of news, without freedom of elections, we are not people, we do not need to remember. Lacking the right to remember, we choose to forget.
Let us forget every instance of persecution, every instance of humiliation; every massacre and every cover-up, every lie, every time we are pushed down, every death. Forget every moment of suffering, then forget every moment of forgetting…
Forget those soldiers who fired on civilians, those students whose bodies were crushed by the treads of tanks, the whistle and scream of bullets and blood on [the] streets and in the alleyways… Forget the interminable lies, the rulers hoping everyone has forgotten, forget their coward[ice], their evil and ineptitude. We must forget, for they must be forgotten. Only when they’ve been forgotten can we exist. For the sake of existing, let us forget.
Several days later, we are told, he posted actual photos of himself nude—except for a stuffed toy of the “Grass Mud Horse,” symbol of resistance to Internet censors, covering his genitals. (The Beijing Doll post does include one of these photos.)
OK, so why has the Grass Mud Horse, a mythical creature from Chinese folklore, become the symbol of resistance to censorship? The New York Times informed us on March 11, 2009 that it is a “dirty pun”—because the creature’s name in Chinese “sounds very much like an especially vile obscenity.” The less squeamish Global Voices Online states that Grass Mud Horse （草泥馬） “is phonetically equivalent to ‘Fxxk Your Mother!'”
So perhaps this epithet was not the “caption” of the drawing that got Ai Weiwei arrested, but was more subtly conveyed by the image itself. But we can’t check to see for ourselves. The artist’s website, Aiweiwei.com, does seem to still be online—but it is almost entirely devoid of content. One link to a blank page coyly reads (in English) “Fake Editorial”—which may be a way of protesting the censorship of content while still getting around the censors.
Beijing has considerably turned up the pressure on dissidents since Internet calls were issued for “Jasmine” protests in China in the wake of the Arab protest movements. The New York-based New Tang Dynasty TV reported March 31 that activists Chen Wei, Ran Yunfei, and Ding Mao of Sichuan Province have all been charged with “inciting subversion of state power,” apparently in connection with the Internet call. The group China Human Rights Defenders has now documented at least 26 cases of dissidents criminally detained since mid-February, with a further 30 listed as “disappeared.” (As we write, the CHRD website is mysteriously down, although it is cached by Google.)
See our last post on the China and the politics of cyberspace.
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Western interference disrupts China’s democratic process
Western nations are the real threats to China’s democracy. By making democracy a tool to contain China and to gain leverages, Western nations are suffocating any opportunities of democracy in China.
It is only natural for the Chinese government to take control of those seeking to overthrow it and create political turmoil in the country, especially when they are supported by the Western governments which have no real interests in China’s political progress but their own economic and political objectives.
China’s political and government systems will be chosen by its own people, and the contemporary Western influences and Western puppets like Ai Weiwei and Liu Xiaobo are obviously disrupting what was otherwise a progressive and peaceful process.
What does Ai Weiwei know about the needs of the majority Chinese people? If he really cares, he should start with giving up his luxury life, stopping profiteering from his trash arts few ordinary Chinese appreciate, and caring for the life of those in need. Otherwise, he’d better move his trash art galleries to the West – but I guess by doing so he or his trash art will have little reamining value to his Western masters.
Is Ai Weiwei a “western puppet”?
Is he seeking to “overthrow” the Chinese government or “create political turmoil”?
These are serious charges, and you had better be prepared to provide some evidence.
We have noted Liu Xiaobo’s free-market ideas. If the United States were to take similar draconian measures against those who espouse communistic ideas, you would be the first to protest. Wouldn’t you?
Ai Weiwei “completely unimportant idiot”
what has this completely unimportant idiot – paid by the cia – done for the chinese working class? nothing! why don’t you report on (wildcat) strikes in china? who could seriously give a shit about this stupid fucking artist except the western propaganda media and other liberals?
Then why censor him?
If you have any evidence that Ai Weiwei is paid by the CIA, we’d like to hear it. Until then, we will thank you to eat your hateful calumnies.
If he is so unimportant, why is the Chinese state censoring him?
As a blogger, it would show little solidarity on my part not to be concerned with Internet censorship in China (and everywhere else).
It is rather ironic for you to bait us over the wildcat strikes in China, which we have given prominent coverage to.
Now who exactly is the “completely unimportant idiot” here, “Anarko”?
well, in your daily report
well, in your daily report you didn’t mention a single strike/riot (in china) since 2008 (the events in tibet weren’t related to workers resistance in anyway). am i right with that? so you obviously had to copy and paste this (excellent) article from insurgent notes.
and just for liberal pro-democracy “anarchists” like you: as far as the development of the capitalist system and state in china and the condition of the working class is concerned weiwei is definitely a completely unimportant idiot (again: except for the western nation states, the media which gave him a lot of coverage before the arrest and the usual democratic petty bourgeois elements). what i said about this human ideologic propaganda tool ai weiwei and the cia was more a provocation, but it is quite obvious that all the legalistic babble about human rights in china is promoted in the service of the imperialist competitors of the chinese capitalist state.
i am really sorry if i offended your favorite artist and his masterpieces: http://www.artartworks.com/wp-content/gallery/artworks/ai-weiwei-forever.jpg
more completely unimportant idiocy
What are you talking about? We have covered unrest and uprisings in China again and again and again. And we didn’t “cut and paste” from Insurgent Notes, we ran the piece first, noting that it would appear in a future issue. You’re pretty critical for someone who doesn’t pay attention.
I don’t consider “pro-democracy” to be an insult. I consider it to be a compliment. I’m not particularly enamored of formalistic bourgeois democracy as it exists in the West, but I have no greater love for so-called “anarchists” who serve as unpaid propagandists for authoritarian regimes.
I’m also generally not too crazy about pretentious artists, but Ai Weiwei’s statement on the Tiananmen massacre was brilliant and courageous, as is his campaign against Internet censorship.
So you made a flat accusation about the CIA paying Ai in your first post, but when cornered retreat that it “was more a provocation.” Nice dodge. (You’ll note that, refusing to stoop to your level, I called you an “unpaid propagandist.”)
Again—if Ai is so unimportant, why has the Chinese state “disappeared” him and censored his website? And do you support this kind of thing? You certainly seem to have more ire for Ai than the repressive measures taken against him. What the hell is up with that?
We have already noted Western hypocrisy on the human rights issue, but that certainly doesn’t mean it isn’t a valid issue. Your cynical use of the word “legalistic” is nothing short of terrifying.
the provocation seems to have worked….
bill, what so-called “anarchists” like you don’t get is the fact that criticizing the hypocritical human rights and pro-democracy propaganda and the spectacularization of some mediocre artists promoting the introduction of democracy (and democracy is nothing but the pre-dominant STATE form in the capitalist system), parliamentarism and all that crap doesn’t equal the propagation or support of any kind censorship, repression etc. – not even against the most disgusting figures.
as if the democratic state wouldn’t react in exactly the same way as the chinese state does. in contrast to confused left liberal “anarchists” like you i prefer the abolition of the state (including the chinese) as such – in its democratic or authoritarian form (both forms cannot be separated from each other and both systems are forms of class domination).
i mentioned strikes/riots/uprisings etc. because they are of much more significance than the reformist ideology from some pro-western artists and their legal problems. regarding the arrest of your artist friend: i’m not really interested why he was arrested, but all i know is that it was not because he is an revolutionary.
instead of replying with your hysterical and moralistic comments you should also read a little bit more careful what i wrote and at least try to understand what i mean. thanks.
How about abolition of muddle-headed pseudo-anarchism?
Let’s see. Over the past several years, I’ve written scores of posts about peasant and labor unrest in China. (If you include the ethnic rebellions in Xinjiang and Tibet, the figure is probably in the hundreds.) But I write one about Ai Weiwei, and this makes me a “confused left liberal” pseudo-anarchist, blah blah blah. Find another anarchist-oriented blog that has given such rigorous coverage to peasant protests in China. I’ll be waiting.
You have nothing to say in response to any of my points. Instead you smarmily dismiss them as “hysterical and moralistic.” So I’ll try again, just for the record:
Not only have you refused to state clearly that you oppose the draconian measures against Ai Weiwei (perhaps you state it very unclearly in your muddled opening run-on sentence), but you will not even forthrightly eat your crow over the CIA charge. Pathetic.
I “prefer the abolition of the state” too, but I live in the real world, and I am interested in real struggle, not an irrelevant pursuit of ideological purity. What you scornfully call “confused left liberal,” I call pragmatic. The restive workers and peasants of contemporary China aren’t committed to the “abolition of the state” either. They want better wages and to keep their lands from being usurped. The closest thing they have to an ideology is, maybe, a vague nostalgia for Mao. But I (and presumably you) support their struggles anyway.
“read a little bit more careful” (sic)? The problem isn’t with my reading, but your writing.
against muddle-headed liberal state “anarchism”
“The restive workers and peasants of contemporary China aren’t committed to the “abolition of the state” either. They want better wages and to keep their lands from being usurped.”
And that’s why they can ignore the liberal phantasies of petty-bourgeois conformists (so-called “dissidents” like weiwei who are just described as dissidents because the chinese state reacts quite repressive against them) or bureaucratic us-“anarchists”. And they’re absolutely right because they – as you said – fight a real struggle and don’t produce some irrelevant scandals for the fucking media.
But thanks for your comments anyway.
If you were “disappeared” and held incommunicado for expressing dissent, I don’t think you would consider it “irrelevant.” I’m sure many would consider your anarcho-dogmatist “phantasies” (sic) to be just as juvenile and self-indulgent as Ai Weiwei’s artistic statements. The difference is that he has demonstrated genuine courage and paid a high price, while you are just trolling anonymously on someone else’s website.
Furthermore, you do not know how to use quotation marks, or the difference between an adverb and an adjective (“chinese state reacts quite repressive”).
slowly we’re getting personal
slowly we’re getting personal…
hahaha, this invention from you must be the result of a serious brain damage. and by the way: english isn’t my mother tongue (this explains maybe some mistakes), you fucking us-nationalist pseudo-anarchist! go and make your ai weiwei online-exhibition on your private blog for some other “concerned citizens” like you.
You made it personal
You made it personal several posts back by baiting me as a “liberal pro-democracy ‘anarchist’,” etc. Accusing those who disagree with you of “brain damage” and “hysteria” is the hallmark of totalitarianism, not anarchism.
You have now officially overstayed your welcome here. You may diss me to your heart’s content on your own blog. Have fun.
i don’t want to discuss who started first
i don’t want to discuss who started first with (more or less indirect) insults – just look back at the first comments of this discussion.
and again the hysterical liberal fanatic of democracy – the hegemonic totalitarism in our time – comes out. well, if my anarchist critique of the state and some harmless comments like the ones at the end of our “discussion” are something like totalitatarism in your opnion i am glad to be a “totalitarist”.
Democracy is totalitarianism.
War is peace, freedom is slavery, ignorance is strength, chickens are frogs, etc.
We’ve heard it all before.
Go get your own blog, willya?
your dichotomic “logic”
your dichotomic “logic” (democracy as absolute contradiction of “totalitarism”) is so infantile. it is democracy itself that transforms itself into “totalitarism” (if it is “necessary” for the capitalist state to protect the system as both modes are just two forms of the state in capitalism) and vice versa. but ok, that’s to complex for you hippie anarchist. or maybe you don’t get it because of the strong anti-communist orwellian mccarthy-tradtion in your country.
Better “dichotomic” than Orwellian
Democracy implies pluralism and popular participation, which are inimical to totalitarianism. Bourgeois democracy does have a tendency to “transform” into totalitarianism in times of crisis (Italy 1922, Germany 1933, Spain 1939, Chile 1973, etc.). That doesn’t mean there is no difference between the two. Your “democracy = totalitarianism” pseudo-logic is a profound betrayal of the anti-fascist tradition.
i hope i don’t have to answer again
“Your “democracy = totalitarianism” pseudo-logic is a profound betrayal of the anti-fascist tradition.”
your idealism of the democratic state (as an anarchist – sic!) is a profound “betrayel” of the revolutionary tradition and of class struggle.
and: where is the “=”? read this again:
“it is democracy itself that transforms itself into “totalitarism” (if it is “necessary” for the capitalist state to protect the system as both modes are just two forms of the state in capitalism) and vice versa.”
but in your orwellian newthink i said everything is identical – of course.
read the critique of democracy by anarcho-communist errico malatesta (http://theanarchistlibrary.org/HTML/Errico_Malatesta__Democracy_and_Anarchy.html) or go away, stupid us-middleclass citizen.
You don’t have to answer at all
Excuse me? I’ve “betrayed” the class struggle by providing aggressive coverage of peasant and worker movements in China (and India, and the Arab world, and Latin America, etc.)? Acknowledging the obvious reality that such struggles have at least marginally more political space under democracies than under dictatorships upsets your ossified anarchist dogma?
When I clutter up your website with condescending malarky, you can tell me to “go away.”
I repeat: GO GET YOUR OWN BLOG.
one last quote from you
“I don’t consider “pro-democracy” to be an insult.”
“last”? Do you promise?
But you obviously intended it as an insult (perversely)! How disingenuous can you get?!
Ai Weiwei’s NYC anarchist roots
What a nice little irony. After being relentlessly CIA-baited by the above anarcho-dogmatist, it emerges that Ai Weiwei is himself a veteran of the 1980s Tompkins Square anarchist scene on New York’s Lower East Side! Clayton Patterson writes for The Villager, April 21-7, in a piece that centers on recent litigious controversies surrounding the NO!Art movement:
From Tompkins Square to Tiananmen Square… literally
Clayton Patterson has a more in-depth piece for The Villager Sept. 6 on Ai Weiwei’s years on the Lower East side, including an account of his role in the 1988 Tompkins Square riot…
Hong Kong artists go guerilla for Ai Wewei
From Reuters, May 2:
Ai Weiwei freed —but silenced?
From Korea JoongAng Daily, June 27:
CNN reports June 26 that Hu Jia, a human rights activist sentenced to 3.5 years in prison for “inciting to subvert state power” after writing a series of articles ahead of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, has been similarly keeping an uncustomary silence since his release June 26.
China court agrees to hear Ai Weiwei’s case
A Chinese court agreed on May 7 to hear the case brought by dissident artist Ai Weiwei. Ai challenged the government’s imposition of 15 million yuan (US$2.4 million) tax evasion penalty on Fake Cultural Development Ltd. which helps him to produce and market his works. He was accused and charged with tax evasion in November. Ai claims that by imposing such penalty, the government violated the tax law, and he urges the court to overturn the tax bureau’s rejection of his appeal against the penalty. The ruling is surprising because Chinese courts have been denying, or rarely accepting, claims brought by dissidents and their relatives. (Jurist, May 8)
Chen Wei gets nine years for “subversive” writing
Chinese writer Chen Wei was sentenced to nine years in prisoned for “inciting subversion of state power” Dec. 23. His crime was publishing essays online calling for freedom of speech and reform of China’s one-party system. He was among hundreds of dissidents detained earlier this year after online calls for protests in China inspired by the uprisings in the Middle East.
Attorney Liang Xiaojun said that the trial at a court in Suining (Sichuan province) lasted only about 2½ hours. Liang said that after the sentence was handed down, Chen said: “I protest. I am innocent. Constitutional democracy must win, autocracy must die.”
The trial was the first time Chen’s wife, Wang Xiaoyan, saw her husband since he was detained more than 300 days ago, and she said he looked like he had aged a lot. Wang denounced the punishment. “He is innocent, and the punishment was too harsh,” she said by phone from Suining. “The court did not allow him to defend himself, and he was completely deprived of his right to free speech. What’s wrong with a person freely expressing his ideas?”
Chen, 42, previously served time for participating in the 1989 Tiananmen Square pro-democracy demonstrations in Beijing, where he was attending college. In 1994, he was sentenced to five years in prison for “counterrevolutionary propaganda and incitement.” He is also a sign signatory of Charter 08, a manifesto for democratic reform that was co-written by imprisoned Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo. (BBC News, AP, Dec. 23)
China: another activist on trial
Chinese housing activist and lawyer, Ni Yulan, and her husband, Dong Jiqin, went on trial Dec. 29 on charges of fraud and “inciting a disturbance” in Beijing. Lying on a stretcher and relying on an oxygen machine, Ni pleaded not guilty to charges of fraud for falsifying facts to steal property and inciting a disturbance when they were detained by police in April. Although a court spokesperson indicated the trial was open to the public, foreign journalists and diplomats were barred from the proceedings. Ni, a trained lawyer, and her husband have assisted victims of government land seizures including those displaced by the Beijing Olympics project. Ni’s lawyer, Cheng Hai, indicated the hearing was interrupted for unclear reasons after only four hours and without producing a verdict as expected. It is unclear when a verdict will be announced.
Ni Yulan’s fight against land grabs began in 2002 after her home in central Beijing was requisitioned and demolished. She has been barred from working as an attorney and already imprisoned twice. She and her husband have continued to advise others whose land has been seized. Ni, 51, uses a wheelchair—a consequence, her supporters say, of mistreatment by police. The couple were detained earlier this year as authorities rounded up scores of activists to deter a popular uprising inspired by the Arab Spring.
Ni Yulan is the third high-profile dissident to be put on trial in recent weeks as part of a larger crackdown timed around Christmas in an apparent effort to avoid international scrutiny. Earlier this week, a Chinese court sentenced political activist Chen Xi to 10 years in prison for inciting subversion.The charges against Chen, 57, stemmed from more than 30 political essays that he had published online.
Last week, a Chinese court sentenced human rights advocate Chen Wei, who is unrelated to Chen Xi, to nine years in prison. Chen Wei, 42, was sentenced after a two-hour hearing in which he pleaded not guilty to inciting subversion of state power. He was charged for having written essays critical of the Communist Party, which he published on overseas Chinese websites, avoiding the national Internet censorship firewalls. Chen was one of more than 130 activists detained after the US-based news site Boxun reported an anonymous appeal for people to stage protests across China last February. (Jurist, BBC News, Dec. 29)
China court sentences rights activist to prison for subversion
Chinese authorities on Jan. 18 sentenced a prominent rights activist to 10 years in prison, marking the third such sentence in a month. Dissident Li Tie was sentenced for subversion. The charges were brought in response to pro-democracy articles Li wrote in 2010. Li professed his innocence saying that his articles accorded with the Constitution. Li was detained in September 2010, but his trial did not take place until April 2011. During the trial Li’s family attempted to hire a lawyer, but the government removed him from the case and appointed a government lawyer. His family has vowed to appeal the conviction. Chinese Human Rights Defenders rejected the decision and said that such harsh sentences would do nothing to prevent or curb the social unrest. (Jurist, Jan. 19)
Chinese dissident gets seven years for poetry
Talk about a harsh review. From Amnesty International, Feb. 10:
Ai Weiwei goes Gangnam Style!
Or, actually, 草泥马 (Cao Ni Ma) Style.
From The Lede, Oct. 24:
Note that the whole video seems to have been shot in Ai's backyard—at least, all the scenes in which he actually appears. Does he remain under house arrest at the moment? (Symbolism of the handcuffs is not subtle.)
Ai Weiwei’s studio demolished without warning
Artist and activist Ai Weiwei has said the Chinese authorities have started to demolish his Beijing studio without any warning. The 60-year-old posted videos on Instagram of the large factory building being emptied and a digger clawing at it, smashing through windows on Aug. 3. In Chinese he wrote: "Today, without any notice, my 'Zuoyou' studio was suddenly forcibly demolished." And in English he wrote: "Farewell." (Sky News)