It has been more than 24 hours since anyone has heard from Ai Weiwei, the Chinese artist and pro-democracy activist detained by authorities at Beijing's Capital Airport Sunday while attempting to board a scheduled flight to Hong Kong. Police also raided Ai's studio near Beijing, questioned eight of his assistants, and placed his wife under house arrest. The lack of news and the sudden disappearance of all mentions of the artist on Chinese micro-blog Weibo have sparked fears that Ai, perhaps most famous in the West for designing the "Bird's Nest" stadium for the 2008 Olympics, may be the latest critic of the Communist government to be charged with subversion. Looking back on some of the reports about the situation in China over the past month, some eerily prescient details stand out.
"Step by step--so quietly, in fact, that the full facts of it can be startling--China has embarked on the most intense crackdown on free expression in years." - Evan Osnos, The New Yorker, April 1
The magazine China's correspondent says the fighting in Libya and earthquake in Japan have largely overshadowed the Chinese government's "most intense crackdown on free expression in years," which started in mid-February, when Internet chatter about protests similar to the ones taking place in the Middle East began to pick up. Osnos cites a report by advocacy group Chinese Human Rights Defenders estimating that the Chinese government has "criminally detained 26 individuals, disappeared more than 30, and put more than 200 under soft detention”over the past six weeks.