For Ai Weiwei Silence Is Relative

The artist tweaked the Chinese government on Twitter for the first time since his release

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On Twitter late yesterday and today, dissident Chinese artist Ai Weiwei issued what The Guardian is calling his "strongest remarks" since he was released in June following a two-month detention for alleged "economic crimes." In reference to two detained bloggers, he tweeted, "If you don't speak for Wang Lihong, and don't speak for Ran Yunfei, you are not just a person who will not stand out for fairness and justice; you do not have self-respect." He also discussed the detention of four associates who were released shortly after him. "Liu Zhenggang, Hu Mingfen, Wen Tao and Zhang Jinsong innocently suffered immense mental devastation and physical torment." he wrote, adding that when he met Liu Zhenggang this week "this steel-willed man had tears coming down ... He had a sudden heart attack at the detention center and almost died" (Ai also tweeted, cryptically, "A new day"). He confirmed to The Guardian that he'd written the tweets, asking, "How could society and the system do this kind of thing and use the name of justice?"

Even though Twitter is blocked in China (Chinese citizens can get around the firewall using VPNs or other tools), Ai's comments put him at risk of further detention given that the authorities banned him from speaking to the press and using social media this year as part of his bail conditions. Here's how he's gradually moved from silence--well, for someone as outspoken as Ai, relative silence--to renewed criticism of the Chinese government over the course of two months:

  • Light Banter With Reporter When Ai is released on late June, he tells reporters in front of his studio that he can't give interviews but thanks the international community for its support, discusses his meals and lack of sleep, and says it's great to be home.
  • University Post in Berlin In mid-July, Ai accepts a guest professorship at Berlin University of the Arts. But it's unclear whether he'll actually be able to take the post given that he's required to remain in Beijing this year.
  • Google+ Membership Perhaps taking advantage of the fact that China didn't warn him about Google's new venture into social networking, Ai joins Google+ in late July. He posts a short, innocuous message--"I'm here, greetings"--and a picture of himself shirtless with the caption, "Here's proof of life." In his profile, he described himself as a "suspected pornography enthusiast and tax evader".
  • Food and Photos on Twitter On Friday and Sunday, shortly before he launched into his criticism of the Chinese government, Ai returned to Twitter for the first time since April, but his messages weren't exactly profound. "Lunch 10 dumplings, bodyweight regains 3kg," he tweeted in reference to a recent meal, following that up with a photo of his feet on a scale (cloves of garlic and hugs were also mentioned). You wouldn't have guessed that the next day he'd be condemning the treatment of detainees.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.