Lionel M. Jensen: Ai Weiwei and the “Age of Madness”

For History News Network, Lionel Jensen, professor at University of Notre Dame, expands an earlier essay he wrote for China Beat about the case being built against Ai Weiwei:

Owing to comments made last Wednesday and Thursday in three of the Chinese Communist Party’s growing number of online and print “news” sources, China and the world now know that Ai’s actions were, according to Renmin ribao (“People’s Daily”) and the Global Times, legally “ambiguous” and too near “the red line of Chinese law.” The Global Times also reported that the departure papers for his flight to Hong Kong were “incomplete,” thus he could not board the plane.

Under China’s “stability maintenance” (weiwen) program, the customary circumstances of disappearance, with which many are familiar following the treatment of Liu Xiabo in 2009 who vanished for many months without acknowledgment, as allusion, innuendo, and vague, groundless assertion made the case for the subsequent necessity of his “trial” and imprisonment, these are serious charges. Last Thursday morning the character assassination phase became more ominous, when Xinhua (“New China”), another official news agency, reported that Ai was being “investigated for suspected economic crimes in accord with the law.”

Yet, the ambiguous language of the official report conveyed that the state was having difficulty obtaining actual evidence to make such a “case.” This may have been because the forty police officers who investigated Ai’s studio early last week taking a great many things including money, vigorously interrogated his assistants, only to discover that none of them knew anything of his financial matters.

The New York Times’ Room for Debate series gets several experts’ opinions on the detention of Ai Weiwei and the role of artists in China today.