Ai Weiwei under House Arrest (Updated)

Artist and activist Ai Weiwei has been put under house arrest to prevent him from attending a party he had organized to “celebrate” the demolition of his artist studio. From Straits Times:

Mr Ai had planned a feast for supporters featuring 10,000 crabs – an autumn delicacy – at the studio on Sunday as an ironic celebration of a decision by authorities to demolish the studio, after they had persuaded him to build it.

Mr Ai said state security officials in Beijing told him he would not be able to leave his home until after midnight on Sunday. ‘Ai Weiwei shall be put under house arrest immediately until 2400 on the 7th and must not leave his residence,’ the artist wrote on Twitter, citing the order.

The artist had planned a banquet on Sunday including Chinese wine and 10,000 crabs – the word ‘river crab‘ in Chinese sounds like ‘harmonise”, a euphemism for government censorship. ‘Please accept my deepest apologies,’ he wrote to his supporters via Twitter.

When one supporter asked if the event would go ahead – adding he was already on a train to Shanghai – Mr Ai responded: ‘Can the train turn around?’

Update: See a New York Times piece which explains the significance of the crab feast Mr. Ai planned:

At the planned goodbye party for the studio, in lieu of chips and dip, Mr. Ai planned to serve river crabs — a sly reference to the Mandarin word hexie, which means both river crab and harmonious. Among critics of China’s censorship regime, hexie has become a buzzword for opposition to the government’s call to create a harmonious society, free from dissent.

In short order, 800 supporters from across China made plans to attend, and eight bands volunteered to play at the event. “They already call it Woodstock,” he said Wednesday in an interview. “I think it’s nice. It shows a kind of understanding and solidarity.”

On Friday, Mr. Ai said he thought the unnamed Shanghai powers were taken aback by the attention to the demolition and the party and reacted in typical fashion. And by doing so, they created a piece of performance art that called more attention to the embarrassment they were seeking to suppress.

See also a post from the New Yorker’s Evan Osnos, who profiled Ai Weiwei for the magazine earlier this year.


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