China puts Ai Weiwei, co-designer of Olympic 'Bird's Nest' stadium, under house arrest
Ai Weiwei, one of China's best-known artists who has become an increasingly vocal critic of the Chinese government, was about to leave for his Shanghai studio.
Lennart Preiss/AP Photo
Mr. Ai earned wide international recognition as a co-designer of the â€śBirdâ€™s Nestâ€ť stadium used at the Beijing Olympics. He has become an increasingly vocal and active critic of the Chinese government in recent years.
In what he describes as a farcical series of visits by the police, Ai was told he would not be allowed to host a mass party he had planned to hold in Shanghai on Sunday as a protest against the authorities.
â€śThey came at half past midnight and told me they did not wish me to go to Shanghai,â€ť Ai said by telephone from his walled compound home on the outskirts of Beijing. â€śI said that I had already announced the party and that I could not not go.
â€śThey suggested I should announce that I was under house arrest,â€ť Ai says. â€śI told them I could not say that unless I was under house arrest.â€ť
After three more visits and continued discussion on Friday morning, he says, â€śthey told me at 1:30 this afternoon that I was under house arrest.â€ť
He had planned to leave for the airport a few minutes later.
A less than 'harmonious' outcome
Ai had announced on Twitter that he would be holding a river crab feast on Sunday for whoever wanted to attend at his studio in Shanghai, which is due for demolition. He said thousands were expected.
The choice of dish was deliberately ironic. â€śHe xie,â€ť the Chinese term for â€śriver crabâ€ť is a homonym for the Chinese characters meaning â€śharmonious,â€ť one of the governmentâ€™s favorite words and one that attracts scorn from many bloggers. When an offending website is blocked by the censor, for example, it is said to have been â€śharmonized.â€ť
Ai says he began building the studio in the Jiading district of Shanghai two years ago at the invitation of Jiading mayor Sun Jiwei. Apparently under pressure from more senior Shanghai officials angry at Aiâ€™s political activities, however, district authorities last month declared the studio an illegal structure and slated it for demolition, Ai says.
â€śSince it was going to be knocked down, I thought why not have a party there?â€ť Ai says. â€śIt would have been a beautiful party but it made them very nervous.â€ť
The Beijing police did not respond to a faxed request for an explanation of Aiâ€™s house arrest.