Online and by Paper Airplane, Donations Pour In to Ai Weiwei

Chinese authorities last week ordered Ai Weiwei to pay 15 million RMB in back taxes on behalf of Beijing Fake Cultural Development Ltd., claiming that while his wife is the company’s registered legal representative, he is its ‘actual controlling person’. While Ai told the BBC that the case was not about money, a flood of donations—over US$550,000 so far, which Ai has promised to repay in the future—has surged into his Beijing compound to help cover the cost. From The New York Times:

“It’s surprising; it has really changed my perspective on people,” he said in a telephone interview on Sunday, describing how scores of supporters, some of whom traveled from distant cities, have been delivering cash to his home ….

Since the amount of his fine became public on Tuesday, Mr. Ai appears to have shed any reluctance to speak out and has criticized the tax penalty as an act of naked retribution for his critiques against the governing Communist Party.

The donations began pouring in on Thursday, many of them delivered electronically and accompanied by politically tinged comments. “You helped them to design the Bird’s Nest, but they sent you into a bird cage,” said one donor, referring to Mr. Ai’s role in designing the Olympic stadium in Beijing. “You charged them fees, but now they fine you more than hundreds of times that in blood and sweat ….”

“Over the past three years, during all the efforts I’ve made, sometimes I felt like I was crying alone in a dark tunnel,” he said. “But now people have a way to express their true feelings. This is a really, really beautiful event.”

Evidently disagreeing with this assessment, Global Times questioned the legality, necessity and significance of the donations, and the number and motivations of the donors:

Some experts have pointed out this could be an example of illegal fund-raising. Since he’s borrowing from the public, it at least looks like illegal fund-raising. Meanwhile, as Western media reported, Ai purchased an upscale apartment in Berlin last year, and had planned to buy a 4,800-square-meter studio this year also in Berlin. Does he need to borrow money to pay off his tax evasion? However, as we are neither legal or tax professionals, these are not the key points we have tried to make.

It might be true that a few people in China would like to give him some money. Some donators said they view the donation as an act of voting. But the thing here is, Ai’s borrowing and the subsequent donations will not make any substantive change to Ai’s case. First, it will not alter the matter of Ai’s tax evasion, something his followers don’t even question. But many hold the view that tax evasion is rampant in China. This time, it is an excuse Chinese authorities have used to punish the dissident.

The donations will not change the public’s attitude toward Ai’s case, either. It is absolutely normal for a certain number of people to show their support for him with donations. But these people are an extremely small number when compared with China’s total population. Ai’s political preference along with his supporters’ cannot stand for the mainstream public, which is opposed to radical and confrontational political stances.

The Wall Street Journal’s Scene Asia blog, meanwhile, interviewed a Taiwanese curator who criticised the omission of some of Ai’s most politically charged work from a current exhibition in Taipei.

Although the exhibit does feature some of Mr. Ai’s political work, in particular a photo of him giving the middle finger to the Forbidden City from one side of Tiananmen Square, some local artists have pointed out that the exhibit is missing his most sensitive projects, notably the pieces he made to commemorate the many children who died during the 2008 Sichuan earthquake. Also, they argue, the museum’s pamphlet that is distributed along with the exhibit fails to introduce his views on China and his activism.

“The museum has displayed Ai’s work not as a political statement but as an artistic statement… [they] exclude the political part totally….it’s important, now the Taiwanese government is dealing with the Chinese government because you know the Taiwanese government needs to stand up for democratic values. In particular in the case of art exhibitions in this massive retrospective of Ai Weiwei to exclude these political works is very bad,” said Manray Hsu, curator of the Taipei Contemporary Art Center ….

“We have many artists around the world whose practice is switching between art and activism. That’s how art functions in a society, and it is art’s relation to the social reality,” he said. “We have to bring art to touch on reality — we cannot avoid reality.”

Money can be lent to Ai Weiwei through the following channels:
1)By mail:北京朝阳区崔各庄乡草场地村258号 100015 路青收
2)China Construction Bank Qianmen Branch, Xinfu Avenue, Beijing, Account # 6222 8000 1013 1006 244 Account Name: Liu Yanping (刘艳萍)


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