Ai Weiwei – The Political Artist

We recently learned about China and the censorship of its media, so I want to write about Ai Weiwei, the Chinese artist who was recently detained for tax evasion, but probably more realistically detained for his political opinions and activism in China. According to the New York Times, Ai now owes the Chinese government $2.4 million in taxes. Not only has there been buz over his recent release, but now he is receiving money contributions from thousands of people wanting to help him pay the debt and it’s causing even more of a stir. “More than 20,000 people have together contributed at least $840,000 since Tuesday,” according to the NYT article.

Because we’d had the discussion in class about China’s censored media, I looked at its news site Xinhuanet.com, and found only a very short piece from back in June, right after Ai’s release, mentioning his release and that he’d been detained for not paying taxes. There’s nothing about the contributions he’s receving, which is news on every other large news site. According to the Global Times, a state-owned paper in China, Ai had asked on his Weibo blog site to “borrow” money from the public. Western news sites have mainly portrayed the contributions as random and unasked for, but Chinese media continues to mention Ai’s Weibo blog, which was taken down, and how he asked for funds. Also, very unlike in the U.S., the money he’s gaining could possibly be considered illegal fundraising because it’s money borrowed from the public, according to the Global Times.

The media attention Ai has gained from the “illegal funds” and charges against him has also brought attention to his political cause. In an article from The Guardian, Ai is quoted saying, “We don’t need the money, but we need attention for the public to understand what is going on.” And according to a Reuters article, many of the contributions come with supportive messages, some of the most moving being that it was the first time they’ve had a chance to vote. The article calls it a wave of spontaneous activism. NPR also compares the money to votes. It said, “Ai says he thinks people are sending money to support his bold attempts at free speech — and because they don’t like how the government is treating him.” Ai said in the article, “People started to release their anger [by] sending their money in. They just send their money as a voting ticket.”

Ai Weiwei played a large part in designing the centerpiece of the Beijing Olympics — the “Bird’s Nest,” where the games opened and closed. As part of his protest he later criticized the stadium he had had so much to do with. I find it peculiar that he criticized it after designing it, and probably after being paid for his work, but this video explains his opinions and criticism. It said he felt that the stadium and the image China was portraying before the Olympics wasn’t a true portrayal of the country.

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