When Mr Ai was arrested on the 3 April while attempting to board a plane for Hong Kong several key factors were ignored by the Chinese authorities. These include the understanding that his profile is so high in the west that every move he makes is followed closely by the international media. Social networking has also made a difference to his profile and Weiwei generates pages upon pages of tweets and facebook alerts every day.
The question still remains, where is he being detained? and what are the charges against him? It has now been nearly two weeks since his disappearance which has created a media frenzy of speculation and rumour. Is he being held for income tax evasion or the depiction of obscene, satirical imagery in his paintings and drawings? We know the latter has enraged the Communist Party for quite sometime. Rights activists and journalists in Hong Kong say one of Ai’s visual critiques of the party crossed the censorship line. The work in question shows the artist naked except for a toy horse concealing his genitals. The caption has a double meaning in Chinese, so millions of internet users have seen the six characters interpreted as: “F . . . k your mother ie. the party central committee.” It was also reported in the Wen Wei Po newspaper, an off shoot of China’s ruling communist party that Weiwei was a bigamist. The allegation is that Mr Ai’s name appears on the birth certificate of a child he is said to have had with a woman who is not his wife. Online comments by members of Beijing’s artist and dissident communities suggested that Mr Ai is the father of the child, but there is no proof that he was ever married to the mother, hence Bigamy is not possible. He was also suspected of spreading “pornography” on the internet. When analyzed they were actually photos of Mr Ai used for promoting his exhibitions.
The fact remains that his busy work schedule in the West including exhibitions in Boston,New York, Washington and London are being interrupted. This is drawing further attention to his internment as well as wider pro-democracy issues. In one of the few comments on his case, a party-controlled newspaper said: “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.”
It has also been reported, according to his staff, that days before his arrest he was invited by Chinese officials to join a political advisory body. His family believes he has been targeted because of his activism but few are clear as to why he has been arrested at this point in time.There seems to be more than one faction at work here and the mixed messages coming from central government are less than clear. Police have not notified his family of his detention and international calls for Ai’s release have been ignored. His disappearance has put the spotlight on a campaign against repression that sparked when news of the Arab revolts spread on the internet to China. There has still been no official explanation as to why Mr Ai has been interred. The government seems to be clutching at straws and this is creating widespread anger among his supporters and fans internationally. Photo © ArtLyst 2011