Wandering China

An East/West pulse of China's fourth rise from down under.

Ai [Weiwei] is out [Economist]

China’s cultural capital turning on itself? 80 days and he’s out. What a story that has gained much media traction worldwide. Ai Weiwei’s freedom seems to have been returned to him. Perhaps the proof in the pudding is to see the artwork he churns out after this experience – how much of Ai Weiwei’s mind can be ‘reformed’ by the authorities? Looking at his track record, it looks unlikely.. In any case here’s an interesting and comprehensive site documenting the case of Ai WeiweiThe Guardian reports here.  – Ai Weiwei released from detention with the tagline – China’s best known artist, looking thinner after 81 days in detention, says ‘I’m fine … I’m on bail. Please understand‘ (Guardian, June 22, 2011)

The Wall Street Journal offers an explanation for the release here –

The narrative in much of the West is that Ai Weiwei was detained because he was a critic of the Chinese government. International human rights organizations insist that this was one of those cases where the international community successfully stood up to Beijing, and that Ai’s freedom was due in direct measure to the force of global opinion. They point to museums and exhibitors who signed letters and staged exhibitions, and the continued complaints by officials interacting with their Chinese counterparts and raising Ai’s case as an irritant in relations with Beijing. (Why Ai Weiwei was let go, Wall Street Journal, June 23, 2011)

Perhaps not surprisingly, the China Daily’s report was only three paragraphs long, which I can sum up here –

BEIJING – The Beijing police department said Wednesday that Ai Weiwei has been released on bail because of his good attitude in confessing his crimes as well as a chronic disease he suffers from… The decision comes also in consideration of the fact that Ai has repeatedly said he is willing to pay the taxes he evaded, police said… The Beijing Fake Cultural Development Ltd., a company Ai controlled, was found to have evaded a huge amount of taxes and intentionally destroyed accounting documents, police said. (China Daily, June 22, 2011)

– – –

Ai is out
by J.M
Source – Economist Blogs, published June 23, 2011

Photo - Economist

AMID their most intense crackdown on dissent in several years, the Chinese authorities have given a rare hint of softening in the case of one prominent activist, Ai Weiwei. Late at night on June 22nd, looking a little thinner after nearly three months in detention, the bearded and still portly artist returned home. Mr Ai’s freedom, however, is unlikely to mean any let-up in China’s wider efforts to silence critics.

Officially, Mr Ai is “on bail”. China’s state-owned news agency, Xinhua, said in a three-sentence dispatch that he had been freed because of his “good attitude in confessing his crimes as well as a chronic disease he suffers from” (he has diabetes and high blood pressure). Mr Ai had also “repeatedly” said he was willing to pay taxes he had allegedly evaded. Chinese police like to use accusations of economic crimes to lock up dissidents. Mr Ai himself has refused to give details of his detention or comment on the charges, saying he was “on probation” and could not talk. Promises of silence are often a condition of release.

It may not be a coincidence that China’s prime minister, Wen Jiabao, was due to start a tour of Hungary, Britain and Germany two days later. Mr Ai’s arrest had aroused widespread criticism from Western governments. China has occasionally released dissidents as a way of smoothing the way for important diplomatic exchanges.

But given China’s current mood, Mr Ai’s release was unexpected. Police refused to say exactly where Mr Ai was being kept, insisting only that he was somehow under “residential surveillance”. His treatment was evidence of a new high-handedness in the treatment of dissidents, several of whom have simply disappeared. Many observers believe this is related to the Communist Party’s anxiety about its internal dynamics as it prepares for a sweeping change of its top leaders (including Mr Wen, who will retire in 2013) over the next couple of years.

Mr Ai may partly owe his freedom to his influence at home. He is the son of one of the Communist Party’s most celebrated poets, Ai Qing. Mr Wen himself quoted the late Mr Ai’s poetry at a press conference in 2007. He said (as few Chinese officials venture in today’s political climate) that to make people happy, China must ensure their democratic rights. “You may ask: what do you mean by being happy? Let me quote a line from Ai Qing, a Chinese poet, ‘Go and ask the thawing land, go and ask the thawing river’,” said Mr Wen. Chinese dissidents see little sign yet of an end to the freeze.


Filed under: Ai Weiwei, Art, Beijing Consensus, Charm Offensive, Chinese Model, Culture, Democracy, Domestic Growth, Economics, Economist, Human Rights, Influence, International Relations, Politics, Public Diplomacy, Reform, Social, The Chinese Identity, The construction of Chinese and Non-Chinese identities

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