Evan Osnos has a blog post up about Ai Weiwei and the latest phase of his battle with Beijing. Served with a trumped-up tax bill by a government seeking to retroactively justify disappearing him, Ai’s fans are now the ones escalating the fight:
The long-running tussle between China’s most famous artist and his state entered a curious new stage recently, when the government served him a $2.4-million bill for tax evasion, to be paid in full within fifteen days. Every day that he is late adds $31,640.
Supporters began to send donations by PayPal; they wrapped cash around fruit and delivered it to his doorstep; they folded hundred-yuan notes into paper planes and sent them sailing over the wall into his Beijing compound. On Tuesday, the reporter Melissa Chan tweeted, “Man, wife, and baby just showed up in Mercedes outside Ai Weiwei’s studio/home looking to contribute.” The list of donors is a manifesto of its own; it includes people like Zhao Lianhai, who became a food-safety activist after his baby fell ill in 2008 from infant formula that had been tainted with melamine to appear to have more protein.
By Tuesday’s end, according to his assistant’s public accounting, his supporters had donated 6,082,451 yuan—more than 958,229 dollars, putting him nearly halfway to covering his bill. (The prospect of him being charged with illegal fundraising is especially intriguing, as one commentator to the Global Times article points out: “How is asking someone to lend you money ‘illegal fundraising’? This happens every second of every day in China.”)
It should be pointed out that he hasn’t actually asked anyone to lend him money- the donations began spontaneously. He probably doesn’t even need the money, given his reach and history of having sold art pieces abroad. What’s interesting is that this affair is giving ordinary Chinese a chance to make a statement, and many seem to be doing so. The Communist Party would have been far better off if it had just ignored him all those months ago.