News

Ai Weiwei’s Status Still Unknown; Studio Occupied by Police [LIVEBLOG]

by Kyle Chayka on April 4, 2011

Guards at Ai Weiwei’s studio on Sunday morning (image via nytimes.com)

On Sunday morning Beijing time, Chinese artist Ai Weiwei was arrested and detained at the airport on his way to Hong Kong. We haven’t heard from the artist since. Ai’s studio remains occupied by police forces though the larger neighborhood of Caochangdi is unaffected at present. Studio assistants, including foreigners, are being questioned by the police. This post will be live updated.

Police raided Ai’s studio shortly after arresting the artist. The police had come several times in previous weeks ostensibly to check on the visa status of foreigners employed in the studio. Ai’s assistants, both foreign and Chinese, were questioned by police, who remain guarding the studio at present. Sources inside Beijing report that police continue to question studio workers and those affiliated with Ai.

Electricity in the studio is still shut off, internet is reportedly out (as of 12:30 AM EST) in the neighborhood of Caochangdi, where Ai’s studio is located, and Ai’s name and news of the arrest is being at least partially censored from Weibo [not entirely true, see below], the Chinese version of Twitter.

Ai’s wife Lu Qing was detained at the artist’s home and studio by the police as well, but was released several hours later. Reports on Twitter note that the police told Lu to “go home and wait for news” from Ai. Studio assistant Xu Ye was the most recent to return from police custody. Ai Weiwei and reporter Wen Tao are the only people whose whereabouts are still unknown. While raiding the studio, police confiscated electronics, such as laptops, CDs and harddrives, and extensively questioned Ai’s studio assistants. Alison Klayman has details:

All eight studio assistants have been released and continue to report a strong police presence around Ai’s studio compound. During their questioning, assistants were repeatedly asked about their salaries, size of the studio and visa status. Police also confiscated hundreds of objects from Ai’s studio, including computers, hard drives, CDs and notebooks. Four police officers remained at Ai’s studio until midnight on April 3rd hoping to interrogate other members of Ai’s staff. At 5:20 am [Beijing time] in Beijing on April 4th, Ai’s lawyer Liu Xiaoyuan reported that Ai’s phone remained off and that he had been unable to locate the artist. Police returned to the studio Monday morning and have been stationed at the gate since 7 am.

Wen Tao, an activist and former journalist, was also arrested during yesterday’s raid. No one has been able to contact Wen in 24 hours.

Ai’s arrest is part of a larger crackdown by the Chinese government that New Yorker correspondent Evan Osnos has deemed “The Big Chill.” China has been warning, arresting and detaining lawyers, writers and intellectuals that fall on the liberal side and have openly critiqued the government. Find a list of those affected at China Geeks. “The Big Chill” has followed the “Jasmine Revolution,” the Chinese people’s quiet attempt at responding to the revolutions of the Middle East by staging protests. The small-scale protests seem to have pushed the government over the edge into paranoia territory.

Ai has been openly provocative and critical of the government over the past decade, and has been detained, questioned and placed under house arrest several times. Yet this time seems different, points out Austin Ramzy at Time, because of the greater Chinese political atmosphere and larger crackdown on free expression.

See our liveblog from yesterday for information on Ai’s arrest, plus collected tweets documenting the news as it came in and links to articles from major news outlets. Stay tuned to this post for live updates as more news comes in today.

Updates

11:53 PM EST: Dan Rather has what is now the last known interview clip of Ai Weiwei. See it on YouTube below.

On Slate, Alex Pasternak has analysis of the situation.

6:41 PM EST: THE US STATE DEPARTMENT CALLS FOR AI’S RELEASE

According to the AFP, the US State Department is calling for China to “immediately release artist and activist Ai Weiwei,” saying “his detention was inconsistent with the fundamental rights of all Chinese citizens.” Look for more international pressure on the Chinese government to make Ai’s situation clear.

Alison Klayman has an op-ed over at Huffington Post on why Ai Weiwei is not a criminal. She explains her account of the arrest as seen from New York, and concludes that the arrest is illegal by Chinese law (not to mention immoral and wrong):

Ai has violated no law. On the contrary, he has been scrupulous about working through and in accord with the Chinese legal system. His detention, then, seems to be without cause — a violation of Weiwei’s human rights and the rights guaranteed him by the Constitution of the People’s Republic of China, especially Articles 35 and 37.

3:10 PM EST: The New York Times has reported that Ai Weiwei’s upcoming Zodiac installation at the Plaza Hotel in NYC will go forward whether the artist can be present or not. Artinfo has an interview with filmmaker and Ai documentarian Alison Klayman in which Klayman notes that this most recent arrest represents an escalation of pressure on Ai Weiwei. GlobalVoices has a collection of translated Chinese tweets from prominent cultural figures responding to Ai’s arrest. Peng Xiaoyun, opinion page editor of Guangzhou-based Time Weekly Magazine (@Pengxiaoyun) writes,

Ai has shown how an artist can participate in social affairs. He has overthrown the traditional image of China’s intellectuals – self-preserving, moderate, and pedantic. He has international visions, he is humorous and lovely, and he is well versed with the boundaries of civil movement. He is not a politician, but the authority is helping to nurture a political opponent for itself.

2:36 PM EST: UK Foreign Secretary William Hague has also decried China’s arrest of Ai Weiwei in a statement released today:

I am very concerned by reports that Ai Weiwei has been detained by the Chinese authorities. I call on the Chinese government to urgently clarify Ai’s situation and wellbeing, and hope he will be released immediately. The UK remains committed to engagement with China on human rights. I am absolutely clear that the development of independent civil society and application of human rights under the rule of law are essential prerequisites for China’s long-term prosperity and stability.

Still no word from any US government body. Twitter has seen a rash of calls for Hillary Clinton to speak up, and I’d agree. There’s also a movement to vote for Ai on Time’s Top 100 list of influential people for 2011, the artist currently ranks #10 in the polls.

1:52 PM EST: TED has released a “secretly recorded” video of a personal statement by Ai Weiwei. TED received the video a while ago when Ai was unable to give a live talk at a TED event, but the organization didn’t publish the video until now, apparently out of fear of tarnishing its image in the eyes of the Chinese government. Controversy has arisen with the caveat text that TED published along with Ai’s video. The text is quoted below. This hedging seems to be an effort by TED to separate themselves from Ai’s provocative politics. TED has previously enjoyed a fairly free relationship with the Chinese government, holding video screenings and affiliate events in Beijing and other cities.

TED is a nonpartisan, nonpolitical organization, and we understand the Chinese authorities’ concern at anything which might provoke social unrest. But for anyone who believes in the power of ideas, of human imagination, it is heartbreaking to see one of the world’s great artists shackled in this way. We will be tracking developments carefully. [Emphasis added]

Watch the video below:

  • Ai Weiwei assistant Jennifer Ng has given an interview with the BBC about the events surrounding Ai’s arrest at the Beijing airport. Ai was taken away to the offices of the airport, “to a more closed area,” and has not been seen since. Ng was let through the security check and waited for 30 minutes. Police said Ai had “other business” and Ng should board the plane alone. Ng is currently in Hong Kong.

12:36 PM EST: No news on Ai. The Guardian notes that Germany and France lead the international outcry against Ai’s detainment. Cooper Union professor and experimental architect Lebbeus Woods has stated that he will not work in China until Ai is released. The Economist analyzes the legal situation, fearing for China’s “use of the law to impose political orthodoxy.” The Atlantic Wire has a list of quotes and events that lead up to Ai’s arrest. Should we have seen it coming? I think everyone did, including Ai.

The current attitude seems to be that the longer the detainment goes on without word of Ai, the more likely it is that the government has decided to keep him in custody, rather than simple questioning or a warning scare. Fox describes the implications of Chinese law:

Under Chinese law, police can hold someone for questioning for 12 hours without allowing him or her to contact anyone. If police formally detain someone for investigation, they are supposed to inform the person’s family within 24 hours… The fact that Ai has not contacted his lawyer or his wife suggests he is being held in a form of legal limbo that rights activists say is being increasingly used to coerce government critics into curtailing their political activities.

11:18 AM EST: The 2010 New Yorker profile of Ai Weiwei by Evan Osnos has been unlocked; it’s worth checking out. Donna Guest, Amnesty International’s deputy director for the Asia-Pacific, says in a statement by the organization: “There seems to be no reason whatsoever for [Ai's] detention, other than that the authorities are trying to broadcast the message that China’s time for open dissent has come to an end.”

10:25 AM EST: @Duyanpili (below) reports that the girlfriend of still-missing journalist and Ai associate Wen Tao returned to their Daxing district home to take care of their puppy and found that police had searched through the place, confiscating the computer harddrive and disturbing other objects, including taking some objects from the bookshelf.

Ai Weiwei is on the front page of the Financial Times today, see image here.

10:17 AM EST: No word on Ai Weiwei. Filmmaker Alison Klayman confirms that there has been no news. NPR Morning Edition has an audio story on Ai’s arrest, including an interview with Klayman. The story notes that Ai expected something like the arrest to happen as a consequence of his actions, provoking the government and speaking out against censorship. “This is a risk that was always there,” Klayman says.

7:41 AM EST: Still no word from Ai Weiwei. The artist’s studio assistants don’t know his status and the police are refusing to answer questions on why the artist was detained. Reactions are starting to come in from abroad. The German Press Agency reports that “German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle on Monday demanded the release of Ai Weiwei.” The artist has close ties in Germany and has worked there many times; Ai also has a studio under construction in Berlin.

Resources:

  • The AP has an interview with Ai’s wife Lu Qing and notes that police are silent on why Ai has been detained.
  • The New York Times reports on Ai’s arrest and gives some background to the event, noting that the government is redefining “the limits of what kind of criticism is tolerable” in China.
  • Kathleen McLaughlin has a good report and analysis on GlobalPost. Joshua Rosenzweig of the Duihua Foundation, which tracks detentions and other human rights issues in China, notes that if the Chinese government is willing to tackle someone with the international stature of Ai Weiwei, they will show no compunction in arresting lesser-known intellectuals.
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  • midwestbesttest

    Ai Wei Wei’s situation in China tells us a lot… if anything, it reiterates young Americans’ utter indifference towards the freedom of speech and expression, whether here or abroad. Most of my art students don’t even know this is happening.

    • Katie M.

      interesting….see my reply to the US goverment “budgetcuts” that they did to the ARTS…..heading toward the same damn thing that China is trying to infiltrate on their ppl. I will not stand for it….it makes me SICK to my stomach.you know what!!?? Never mind I will just cut and paste it for u 2 read….I am trying to spread this thing around as much as i can! I hope u can help!
      Katie M.
      this is my response to the budget cuts….a 75% CUT! Tell ur ART STUDENTS ABOUT THIS IT CONCERNS THEM NOW!!! ESP. if they want to get an ARTISTIC GRANT!!!!

      my comment: OMG!!!! This is a travisty to ALL AMERICANS! I can see our lives sprialing out of control and into a military state. U will have NO freedom of expression, speech, no color, no life. OUR CHILDREN and our children’s children will never know the meaning and feeling of a painbrush in their hand or a crayon to color outside the lines because they CAN. I call out to EVERY ARTIST OUT THERE to make a statement and SPEAK OUT about this MASSIVE CUT!!! I know we will pay DEARLY w our lives and culture if we do not do something NOW! Music, GONE! Visual art, GONE! Performing art,GONE!!!! YOUR lives will be a BLAND lifeless meaningless VOID and u wont even know it until it’s GONE! GET UP AND STAND UP TO STOP ART FROM ALWAYS BEING THE FIRST TO BE CUT AND CUT THE DEEPEST and THE LAST TO BE HEALED! If no one believes me, fine…….I hope u like ur lifeless dull void that YOU created!! I will NOT stand for it and will fight it all of the way! Get out there and VOLUNTEER at least. Help that child paint, or sing. Help that young lady get her degree/grant in art(any kind of art) w out feeling like there is nothing to go into. Help that teacher keep his class and his job to help developing minds create and be free. Help that artist by BUYING her work and supporting her so she can eat that night. Help that gallery stay open because ppl STILL want to see the wonderous creations from the past, into the present and on into the future. Help that Theatre stay open so that they can keep bringing joy to those around them with their wonderous expressions on stage! Help that Guitarist want to keep creating beautiful music and have joy from doing so beacuse they CAN.
      THIS is what we are cutting if we keep letting the GOVERNMENT decide it for US! We are a UNITED STATES and we should STAY UNITED to KEEP ART in our lives and hearts forever!!!! Thank you.
      ………………………………………………………………………………..
      Plz spread this to others….maybe this will finally reach the right ears and eyes! I DO NOT want to become like CHINA…our censorship is bad enough w our puritan way of thinking. I am SO sick and tired of it. TV is the WORST enemy of freedom of expression! Even the NEWS channels were censoring the Tihitian women’s breasts after the mentally unstable woman tried to attack it (because it was evil..she said)in Washington DC. Another person that was raised under the puritanical thought process going on in the U.S. I hear only ONE news channel showed the piece of art as it SHOULD HAVE BEEN SHOWN (I think it was ABC or NBC). NO blurring of the nipples, no shoulder up shots, that one station was NOT afraid to show a beautiful piece of art work as it was in its entirety. BRAVO to them! BOO to the other cowards not able to stand up to show a CLASSIC piece of art from Gaugain! For Shame….because if they(we) keep thinking like that we will end up right where China is now, arresting their artists for doing NOTHING but EXPRESSING THEMSELVES!!!! I hope u bring this up and any other moments of censorship in america. Such as this one…..this was just last week…..

      San Rafael artist riled after nude painting removed from Marin Civic Center gallery – San Jose Mercu
      http://www.mercurynews.com/breaking-news/ci_17825700?nclick_check=1

      and also bring up the (symbolic AIDS) video that the National Gallery kicked out cause it “offended” some politician and Christian group(Catholic) about a couple of months ago, cause it used a Crusifix w ants crawling on it.
      Sorry i am rambling on so long about this..i was an art student once and i was NOT ignorant to this kind of stuff. That is the one thing that gets me and my other artistic friends riled up…..is to tell us that we CANT DO IT cause someone SAID SO!! LOL!!!
      I have been rooting for the small victories that we have made, but AMERICANS have a LOT to learn esp. from our European counterparts. We treat art like we are naughty children looking in a book that we werent supposed to. It’s just ignorant and stupid to think that the HUMAN body (that “god” made as the christians believe it) is something to be ashamed of and to be evil if it is shown in anyway except in PORN!!!! WTH???? What? It makes NO SENSE! I have been a free thinker and will always be one and I hope that u can TEACH ur students to be one too! MAYBE they can change the state of mind of ART in it’s true form to the masses!! I wish u luck and positive thoughts ur way.
      Thanks for (listening) /reading,
      Katie M.

    • Katie M.

      here is the website to the recent budget cuts as of TODAY(4/13/11)!!!!!!
      Budgets Cuts on $9.5 million Art Grants
      http://hyperallergic.com/22633/budget-cuts-ncaca/

  • http://twitter.com/elizaj Elizabeth Jenkins

    @USALINYU: Jerome Cohen on the Detention of Chinese Artist Activist Ai Weiwei @aiww http://bit.ly/i3BppD

  • Groovyhombre

    please spread this huge injustice with everyone you know, it is imperative that we support human rights and the right of a human being to express itself. with free expression there can be no art!

    • Groovyhombre

      sorry have type o should have read “without free expression there can be no art”. oops please forgive

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