Report Suggests China’s Case Against Artist

Details are beginning to emerge about the specific charges the Chinese government is planning to file against artist Ai Weiwei, who has been held in incommunicado detention since April 3. From the New York Times:

Ai Weiwei, the prominent Chinese artist and social critic who was detained by police this month, is being investigated for tax evasion, destroying evidence that could have been used against him and distributing pornography, according to a Hong Kong-based newspaper with close ties to Beijing.

The newspaper, Wen Wei Po, was the latest Chinese publication to speculate about the fate of Mr. Ai, an internationally recognized artist and outspoken government critic, and its claims were immediately disputed by his wife.

The newspaper cited anonymous sources and did not offer details of the allegations. The paper’s sources said Mr. Ai had begun to confess, a claim that was impossible to verify.

Mr. Ai’s wife, Lu Qing, rejected the allegations, maintaining that her husband had been arrested for his political views.

In an interview with The Associated Press, she said his financial affairs were controlled by a company registered to her, so any tax issues would be her responsibility, not his. The allegations of pornography, she said, were probably related to a semi-nude self-portrait Mr. Ai posted on the Web, apparently to mock government’s Internet censors.

On the Guardian’s On Art blog, Jonathan Jones writes that, “Ai Weiwei isn’t on trial: China is”:

Those absurdities are brilliantly recreated in the historically set Berlin film The Lives of Others, and anyone who has watched it must surely feel a shiver of familiarity at official news from China that Ai Weiwei is co-operating with enquiries into alleged economic crimes and bigamy. Observers who side with the Chinese government on this should be ashamed, and those who dislike Ai Weiwei’s art and so welcome any prospect of his undoing are seriously confused about basic human rights. The fact is that regimes such as the Soviet and the Chinese are brilliant at exploiting weaknesses and flaws in the people they need to crush. Dissidents can be shamed and subdued in many ways. What do you think a police state is? It is a place where truth can be manipulated.

Ai Weiwei has spoken out eloquently for the universality of human rights and the worldwide hunger for freedom. Even if all the charges China are apparently raising were true, it would not alter anything – and given his brutal detention it is reasonable to assume they are false.

Something historically obscene is happening here. It is as if different times exist simultaneously. In one time-stream, democracy is in global demand and artists including Ai Weiwei are revealing the richness of China’s culture to the world. Yet in the sinister second stream it is 1950, and dissidents can be blackguarded and bullied with total impunity by a system that takes Orwell’s 1984 as a handbook.