Sunday, November 07, 2010

'Inhuman' govt arrests Ai Weiwei

Ai Weiwei, one of China's best known artists, has branded his government 'inhuman' after being placed under house arrest. Ai says he was arrested to stop him attending a gathering at his new studio in Shanghai which the artist has been told to demolish by authorities who say he ignored planning regulations. The artist had planned hold a demolition party at his $1.1m (£670,000) Shanghai studio on Sunday prior to its demolition and to serve up hundreds of river crabs. 

The proposed menu was evidently seen as politicising the event. The Chinese word for river crab is an slang term created by netizens in Mainland China in reference to Internet censorship. The word river crab [河蟹, héxiè] sounds similar to the word harmonious [和谐, héxié]. The construction of a Harmonious Society has been a stated aim of Chinese leader Hu Jintao and and anything that is banned or blocked on the Internet is often referred to as being 'harmonised'

On Friday, soon after returning from London where he unveiled his Sunflower Seeds at Tate Modern, a van without numberplates arrived at Ai Weiwei's Beijing home and 10 men blocked the entrance. "I'm under house arrest to prevent me from going to Shanghai. You can never really argue with this government," Ai told the Associated Press by telephone. According to messages on his Twitter feed, Ai has been told he will be under house arrest until midnight on Sunday. "Please accept my deepest apologies," he tweeted to his guests in Shanghai.

While his studio has been deemed illegal, and broke planning regulations. Ai Weiwei says it is a matter of revenge for his political outspokenness. "Ai's studio did not go through the application procedures, therefore, it is an illegal building," Chen Jie, director of the urban construction department in Malu township, where the studio is located, is quoted as telling the Global Times. But both Ai Weiwei and his architect have disputed this claim. 

Lü Hengzhong, the architect and Ai's assistant, believes that two documentary films made by the artist have angered authorities. One was about a man who killed six police officers in Shanghai, and the other was about Shanghai lawyer, Feng Zhenghu, who was stranded at Tokyo's Narita airport for more than 100 days. Ai says the head of Jiading district, Sun Jiwei, invited him to build the studio two years ago in the district. "We have reason to believe that such a move was a planned trap for me," he claimed.

While unable to leave his home yesterday, he was able to talk to reporters over the phone. He spoke calmly but critically of the Chinese government. "This society is not efficient, it's inhuman in many ways politically," the told AFP. "The government, the whole system... sacrifices education, environmental resources and most people's interests just to make a few people become extremely rich only because they are associated with the government. This cannot last too long.... This society basically has no creativity. It's just cheap labour and very police-controlled. How long can that last?" The outspoken artist hailed the Internet as being "the best gift to China" despite its being so strictly controlled. "This kind of technology will end this kind of dictatorship," he claimed.

In Shanghai a few hundred supporters of were reported to have gathered at Ai Weiwei' studio in Shanghai. One of them, a 27-year-old man surnamed Zhang, said supporters started turning up on Sunday morning to attend a party to commemorate the forced demolition of Ai's newly built studio. Zhang said several plainclothes security officials watched but did not intervene. "It is very orderly," he said. "We came here just to show our support for Ai Weiwei. China currently lacks the rule of law and I hope that we can build a society that is ruled by law. This is what we need to do." The host was absent, but more than 400 people turned up at the artist's million-dollar studio a thousand kilometres away in suburban Shanghai.

By confining the prominent Chinese artist to his home in Beijing in an attempt to stop his politically motivated performance art, authorities have instead created far more publicity than may have otherwise occurred. The demolishing of the artist's studio may well have drawn a few lines of criticism in the world's media. But placing an artist under house arrest has put a spotlight on China's political system. "In a harmonious society, we eat river crabs," [在一个和谐的社会,我们吃河蟹 / Zài yīgè héxié de shèhuì, wǒmen chī hé xiè] the guests chanted, as some posed for photos in front of banners and crowded into the two-storey structure's courtyard and expansive rooms. Of the decision to demolish his studio for allegedly misusing the land, Ai Weiwei said, "It's ridiculous." The decision has also made China look ridiculous, once again [BBC / BBC video / CNN].

tvnewswatch, London, UK

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