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Artist Ai Weiwei Detained in Chinese Crackdown

 by Keith Goetzman


Tags: China, human rights, dissent, censorship, Ai Weiwei, arts, Keith Goetzman,

Ai Weiwei screen shot 

It has often seemed a foregone conclusion, but it has finally happened: Dissident Chinese artist and blogger Ai Weiwei has been detained in a Chinese government crackdown, and supporters fear he may be charged with subversion or held indefinitely.

Here at Utne Reader, we have followed Ai’s defiant trajectory with an unsettling sense of foreboding. In 2009, we reprinted an interview with Ai Weiwei from Index on Censorship in which he explained his outspokenness against the Chinese government, which he says is “against humanity”:

“For me this is not a responsibility: It is part of life. If you live in self-punishment or self-imposed ignorance or lack of self-awareness, it genuinely diminishes your existence. Self-censorship is insulting to the self. Timidity is a hopeless way forward.”

By later in 2009 it was clear that Ai was being closely watched, and in January his studio complex was razed in a blatant act of intimidation.

Now he has been held for two days, and signs from the Chinese government and police are troubling: That is, they’ve given no sign at all that they’ve even detained him. Reporters are being hung up on, websites are being scrubbed of references to the incident, and Ai is joining dozens of other activists and critics who have “disappeared” in recent months.

Ai’s very life has often seemed like performance art. But now the narrative arc of the performance is out of his hands, and many fellow Chinese and China watchers worry that his story will become something that his life has never been: routine.

Read Twitter reactions from Ai’s fellow Chinese liberals at Global Voices.

UPDATE 4/10/11: Ai Weiwei has now been held three days. See China Digital Times for numerous links and analysis related to his detention.

Sources: New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Global Voices, China Digital Times