Ordinary Chinese Citizens Shower Ai Weiwei With $1.3 Million to Fight on in Court
When Chinese artist Ai Weiwei was detained last April, the official justification was that he was being investigated for tax evasion, not that he was being castigated for his well-known criticism of the government (though it took some time for the Chinese authorities to explain the detention at all). The allegations, widely seen as trumped up by the government to harass a critic, resulted in a $2.3 million fine against FAKE Cultural Ltd., a design firm which is, however, run under Ai's wife's name, making the justification for originally targeting the artist somewhat unconvincing.
According to the BBC, Ai was sent the bill at the beginning of the month, and given just 15 days to raise the funds. Now, he has ponied up 8.45 million yuan ($1.3 million) as a collateral payment to fight the charges in court. CNN reports that he made the decision to pay after the government began to threaten to jail the artist's wife if the fine wasn't paid.
Though it would seem that the successful Ai would have the money himself, the government made it hard for him to marshall his resources, according to CNN: "the tax authorities he dealt with made it difficult for he and his wife to fix the situation; refusing to take their house as collateral and even insisting that their money was transferred into a specific account." Ai's mother Gao Ying had even tried to sell her own house in order to help raise funds, though the short timeframe made this scheme unworkable. "The deadline for payment is so tight that not even robbing banks could help," Gao wrote in an open letter about her son's situation.
However, Ai and his family received unexpected support from the artist's many Chinese supporters and fans. After news of the situation spread, Ai supporters donated over nine million yuan ($1.4 million) to help him. The money from well-wishers came through the Internet, snail-mail, or even simply in the form of money thrown over the wall of his studio (this last detail comes via Time magazine). Ai has stated that he considers the contributions "to be loans, not donations," and that he will repay them within a year.
The $1.3 million serves as a down payment allowing him to challenge his situation in court. However, he is not necessarily optimistic that he will be heard. "We don't expect any justice to come after the administrative review because there was no justice from the beginning when I was taken away," Ai told CNN. The government, for its part, has suggested that using crowd-sourced funding to pay the fine may be illegal. The entire process is likely to take months.