Some 20,000 people have donated funds to help internationally renowned Chinese artist Ai Weiwei pay off a $2.4 million bill of taxes and fines levied by the Chinese government. Chinese authorities say that Ai owes the huge bill due to late payments and fines from Beijing Fake Cultural Development Ltd, a firm that produces the artist’s sculptures, installations and other works. The company was registered in Ai’s wife’s name, but, he says, Chinese authorities are claiming that he is liable for the unpaid taxes as its “actual controlling person.”
Ai’s supporters contend that he was given the bill for his unflinching criticism of the authoritarian Chinese government, not for tax evasion.
People have been donating money to Ai via bank transfers, postal orders and paper planes containing folded-up cash and cast over the wall of Ai’s compound:
One reader, from Guangzhou, told the BBC he had sent money because it was a “rare opportunity to support what I believe.”
“I will keep my receipt of the postal order forever, because it is my first real vote,” the reader wrote.
Another reader, from Nanjing, told the BBC the 100 yuan they had sent was “for the protection and demonstration of human rights of dissidents.”
The state-run English-language Global Times has even gone so far as to say that Ai could be accused of nothing less than “illegal fundraising” and that his views are not representative of the Chinese population which is “opposed to radical and confrontational political stances.”
For his part, Ai has said that the donations are a “beautiful thing“:
“We don’t need the money, but we need attention for the public to understand what is going on.
“They really want to express an opinion … so we will temporarily hold their money for them and then return it.”
Back in April, Ai — whose artworks include the “Bird’s Nest” Olympic Stadium in Beijing — was detained at the Beijing Airport while on his way to board a flight to Hong Kong. For weeks afterwards, his whereabouts were unknown to his wife and family. He was held at an undisclosed location for 81 days, for much of the time in a tiny room with the lights on constantly and two military police sergeants within 30 inches from him for 24 hours a day. Since his release, Ai has not kept silent but spoken out about his detention and the reality of living under China’s repressive rule.
So far, Ai has received about $786,842.000 in donations; he has pledged to pay back everyone who donated to him. He has until the end of the week to pay the bill and is yet undecided about what he will do. He cannot challenge the tax bill as all the company’s documents were seized by the government after he was detained.
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Photo of flyers posted during Ai Wei Wei's detention by daquellamanera