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Ai Weiwei: Making of another Liu Xiaobo?

“You have to act or the danger becomes stronger”, Ai Weiwei twitted a week ago, who might have not realized then that the danger of being detained and persecution was heralding on his own head very soon. But why is Ai Weiwei–one of the most famous and internationally acclaimed Chinese artist and architect being detained and persecuted with no information about him to even his family members, ever since he was taken away into the custody at Beijing Capital Airport during the wee hours of last Sunday?

Ai Weiwei has answered this question several times on his own blog and slew of interviews he has given to the western media in the past.

“They crack down on everybody who has different opinions — not even different opinions, just different attitudes,” he told CNN last year. “Simply to have different opinions can cost your life; you can be put in jail, can be silenced and can disappear.”

Ai Weiwei is not a revolutionary, neither does he challenge the authoritarian communist regime nor does he want a change in the political system of China. He merely asks for basic rights of people from the authorities and wants to know the details and reasons of several hundred young students who died in the ill-built school buildings when a devastating earthquake smeared the surface of Sichuan three years ago.  As a famous artist and awakened citizen, he wants the answer from the Chinese authorities but in reply has got “rebuttal, refuse, pain and myriads of problems”.

Earlier this year, his newly built million dollar studio in Shanghai was razed to the dust and surveillance cameras were set up all around his Beijing residence, scrupulously recording all his activities. In August 2009, at Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province, when he had planned to attend the trial against fellow investigator and activist—‘Tan Zuoren’, who was charged with ‘subversion’, he was himself beaten by the police in the hotel very early in the morning and had to undergo a cranial surgery for cerebral haemorrhage in a Munich hospital four weeks later.

Ai Weiwei was lucky to have this kind of operation after police punishment but several others who are not as successful as Weiwei and get punched by the police and authorities will live with persistent pain in their brain throughout their life.

His major crimes? Questions! He just asks questions and then answers it himself too. “To ask a question against the authorities is anti-China. If people catch hold of a corrupt, rapist official—then the act is anti-China.” Children in the earthquake were killed because of the shoddy school buildings and if you ask a question then it is anti-China. Exposing the poison in the food and milk-powder is anti-China. All you need is to ask a question to be “Anti-China”.

Ai Weiwei, a prolific writer further said, “There isn’t education for everyone, there isn’t medical insurance, there’s no freedom of the press, there’s no freedom of speech, there’s no freedom of information, there’s no freedom to live and move where you choose, there’s no independent judiciary, there are no independent trade unions, and there’s no protection of the constitution.”

We all know that the state can never be brought under independent judiciary in the communist country and Ai Weiwei has not been happy about it.

Many had thought that because Ai Weiwei is famous and world-wide acclaimed and as he does not directly challenges the communist regime, hence he may not have the same fate like other dissidents but it seems time has run out for him now.

Weiwei basically demanded fairness, openness, sincerity and frankness from the authorities. He demanded that if the school buildings which collapsed during the Sichuan earthquakes were not properly built then we must admit it and take a lesson from it. He thought that hiding the facts was completely irrational.

Any question regarding the detention of this artist is being unanswered by the police officials and concerned authorities and the people in power as usual have not given any heed to the call from the foreign ministers of France, Germany, UK, EU or several other nations for the early release of this famous artist.

Even according to the Chinese rule, the member of the family should be informed within 24 hours abut the welfare of the detainee but that has been not done and after three days on April 6th, the “Global Times”—A mouthpiece of the communist party, published an article entitled, “Law will not concede before maverick” claiming, “Weiwei was close to the red line of the Chinese law”. But when he did not cross the line, why this punishment?

The Global Times piece is also ambiguous and misleading. It says, “Ai Weiwei, known as an avant-garde artist, was said to have been detained recently.” What does this “Said to have been” means? Was he indeed detained, was he only harassed, was he simply lifted and kidnapped by the police authorities and which side says so?

The article further says, “He also likes to do something ambiguous in law. On April 1, he went to Taiwan via Hong Kong. But it was reported his departure procedures were incomplete.” It is not that he does something ambiguous in law. On the contrary, the whole piece itself seems to be ambiguous. He was trying to fly from Beijing to Hong Kong rather than, “He went to Taiwan via Hong Kong on April 1”.  And what do they mean by “Departure procedure”? Was he travelling without any proper documents or had not properly filled the “departure card”?   It further says that, “Ai Weiwei chooses to have a different attitude from ordinary people toward law. However, the law will not concede before “mavericks” just because of the Western media’s criticism.” Yes, he has little different attitude but is it unlawful? If asking a question to the authorities is unlawful, then he is, but Chinese law and constitution does not say so. The original editorial article in the Chinese version of the “Global Times—Huanqiu shibao” has been more critical and more irrational as well.

The Chief Editor of the Huanqiu Shibao (Global Times), Mr. Hu Xijin although on his Sina blog wrote that “I personally admire this kind of individual, unique person, I also think that China needs this kind of artist or to some extent this kind of challenger and the pressure from west on ‘Human Right’ in China has also some constructive role to play; however Chinese law has stipulated some regulations and red lines which is very normal and China must resist the West”. His post has received hundreds of comments and most of them have criticized the detention of Ai Weiwei and demanded quick and early release of this venerated artist. Some of the respondents have hurled abuses on the editor and the system and asked why the red line of the law changes time to time, person to person and event to event and why not it follows the law of the constitution?

If Ai Weiwei was just going to touch the red line demarcated in the law of People’s Republic of China then what punishment should be given to the Chinese government themselves if they have crossed the red line?

Although, Twitter like many other websites is blocked in China, Weiwei has more than 75,000 followers on it and intellectuals in China, by paying a small fees to foreign VPN (Virtual Private Network) know how to circumvent the “Great Wall of China”. However any reference to Ai Weiwei on Chinese micro blogs is immediately obliterated but then people have their own way of venting out their feelings and expression. Chinese is a language of homophones and Ai Wei, the name of the artist, if written with different characters with the same pronunciation would mean “Love the future”.  Netizens have just effusively started to express their ‘love’ for the “Love of Future”.

In fact, because of being a successful and rich artist, he has a dream of creating a big office and employing 5000 people to do nothing but investigate into various aspects of corruption, high-handedness and bureaucracy of Chinese authorities. Some senior journalists of Southern weekend (Nanfang Zhoumo) also wanted to do so but were fired from the office because of the pressure from the government and party. Weiwei thought that except life, he does not have to loose anything hence he might be more successful than the journalists and editors.

A few days ago, I had asked my Chinese friend who was contemplating to settle in the west for good that when Chinese economy was developing so fast what the need of settling in an alien nation was? He answered, at the least I can express and write what I want; even if I am a junior tutor, I can buy my own house and I can have as large family as I wish!  At the moment, I am not wishing for anything but an early and immediate release of Ai Weiwei, son of one of the most prominent Chinese poet-Ai Qing!

(The writer Dr. Yukteshwar Kumar is course director of Chinese Stream at University of Bath, United Kingdom. His e-mail is yukt123@gmail.com)

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