As the detention of Ai Weiwei passed the one week mark, the Chinese government lashed out at both the famous artist and his supporters in an attempt to discredit what has become a growing international cause. The erratic character of this counterattack gives the impression that the security apparatus had been unprepared for the broadpublic scrutiny the regime would receive following the disappearance. Here is a gloss on the latest developments, which include several new allegations against the artist:[content:shareblock]
A New Charge of Plagiarism: A report in the official Xinhua news service offered up a host of insinuations about the artist's character, mainly based on unattributed rumors, including tax evasion and even the allegation that Ai's art was regarded as "third rate" within his native China. Most strangely, the Xinhua story highlighted allegations that Ai was guilty of plagiarism with regard to his 2007 "Fairytale" project, a social art experiment that saw him fly 1,001 Chinese citizens to Kassel for Documenta. The report alleges that the idea was stolen from Academyof Fine Arts of Xi'an art professor Yue Luqing.
The Guardian tracked down Yue for comments on the plagiarism charge. "I hope he is safe, no matter where he is now," the professor told the paper. "I know that he has not been in good health. I have been paying attention to what he has been doing during the years, and I identify with him. These are completely different matters." Yue added: "I would like to clarify that personally I have never said that Ai Weiwei plagiarised my work. I don'tthink it is necessary to sue him and I don't have that kind of plan either. In the art world sometimes there are what we call 'collisions' of ideas."
At any rate, the notion that Ai Weiwei had been detained for more than aweek without contact with his family over plagiarism charges is ludicrous on its face. The story appears, by most accounts, to be an attempt to muddy the waters, and dent public support for the outspoken artist.
A New Charge of Obscenity: A report by Michael Sheridan in The Australian offers up a completely new narrative, holding that Ai Weiwei "was detained after an obscene satirical work he drew enraged Communist Party leaders." Quoting unnamed "rights activists and journalists in Hong Kong," Sheridan says that the detention was triggered by a photo work by the artist naked except for a toy horse held as a fig leaf. A caption in Chinese has a double meaning, one of which is "Fuck your mother, the party central committee." The work in question was executed in 2009 — so if this really has anything to do with the current detention, it is not exactly a testament to the security apparatus's efficiency.[content:advertisement-center]
Parsing the "Economic Crimes" Charge: The most serious threat continued to come from the rumblings about an investigation into still-undefined "economic crimes" perpetrated by the artist. What could this mean? "The catchall term 'economic crimes' is frequently used as a legal cover by police officers who wish to detain or imprison someone whom Communist Party officials consider a political threat," the New York Times reports. However, authorities appear serious about digging for information to support the charge: Ai's accountant as well as his driver have now also gone missing as part of the expanding investigation.
Accusing the U.S. of Human Rights Abuses: After the United States's Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor issued its report on various countries worldwide over the weekend, mentioning China's recent detentions of human rightsactivists, China counter-attacked by releasing its own massive report on U.S. human rights abuses, highlighting poverty, inequality, racism, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and America's ballooning prison population. The U.S., of course, does have its own human rights problems — hundreds of legal scholars just signed a letter denouncing the shocking treatment of accused WikiLeaker Bradley Manning this weekend — but the Chinese reportappears to have been a rush job, according to Forbes. For instance, it prominently cites a Web site called beforeitsnews.com as an official source, as well as conspiracy theorist Alex Jones.
Chinese Media Censorship on Ai Persists: Official news of Ai continued to be censored within China. China's Foreign Ministry removed all references to the artist from the official transcript of a news conference it held last Thursday, even though by far the majority of the questions had been about the case.
Hong Kong Emerges as a Locus of Protest: Despite attempts to discredit Ai Weiwei or to sweep his detention under the rug, the uproar did not yet appear to be dying down. ArtRadarAsia reports that 40 people rallied in Hong Kong for Ai Weiwei yesterday, marching to the BeijingLiaison Office. It also notes that John Batten, the president of the International Association of Art Critics-Hong Kong,addressed a letter to Hong Kong chief executive Donald Tsang: "We in Hong Kong are protected by the rule of law and our Association similarly believes that the mainland must immediately uphold moral standards to protect its people and the precious civil right of freedom of expression."
Tate's Sunflower Seeds Take on New Dimension: Finally, at Tate Modern in London — which put up a statement saying simply "Free Ai Weiwei" on its facade Friday — another demonstration this weekend saw critics of China's human rights crackdown spread pictures of Ai's "Sunflower Seeds" installation currently on view at theinstitution on the grass out front, each with the name of one of 50 Chinese dissidents who have been detained or disappeared during China's recent crackdown on civil society. The Guardian reported that protesters then read outthe names, for an event called "Nian Nian Bu Wang" ("Read, Read, Don't Forget"). The title is a tribute to an activist project by Ai Weiwei himself, which had him calling on Internet users to help him commemorate the names of children killed in the Sichuan earthquake.
To see a clip of the protest for Ai Weiwei in Hong Kong, click below: