Opinion

“We Need to Ai Weiwei”: The Ai Weiwei Question on Chinese Social Media

MANILA, PHILIPPINES — What has the response to Ai Weiwei’s tax case been like in China? We’ve seen the thrilling surge of netizens lending over a million dollars to the artist, and he recently made a deposit while he contests the bill. The artist has returned to Twitter, posting actively once more (select translations available here). Many reports have emphasized that Ai’s name is blocked on searches on Sina Weibo, but, as with the Wenzhou train collision last year, netizens are using images to circumvent censorship and show their support.

For a while, Ai’s Sina Weibo account, Tiger Cub Ai (艾虎子), became a rallying point, as he actively posted in the mornings and evenings and chatted with his followers. As with hashtags on Twitter, netizens used the search term of “Tiger Cub Ai” to post messages of support.  The account was then deleted, and searches for the account were also banned. Here’s a brief selection of Sina Weibo posts that I was able to cull together.

My favorite of the images I found. This one shows Ai being whipped, with different types of punishments. The one the guard is holding says “tax evasion”. Others include stirring up trouble and being a counter-revolutionary.

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Ai’s head superimposed onto a “grass mud horse,” a Chinese meme and symbol for defiance on the Internet.

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Ai lets out a curse while contemplating the figure (roughly 15,000,000 RMB) of his tax fine.

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Recently, Ai had been distributing sunflower seeds to his followers on Weibo, and netizens posted pictures of the seeds they received. This one shows the seeds being placed as eyes on a river crab. “River crab” is another Chinese meme — they symbolize and sound like the word for “harmony,” itself a euphemism for internet censorship.

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A missing persons notice revived for the tax case and posted around. This one calls for Ai’s return so he can come to cook sunflower seeds.

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Sometimes, a simple sketch of Ai’s face suffices.

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In lieu of posting the news word for word, users often post a screen capture of the news, either in English or Chinese.

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Yes, we do.

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And what about Ai’s presence on Sina Weibo?  He’s opened another one and has already attracted a couple thousand followers.  Search around and you’ll find it, or ask me directly for the link.

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