Report from ‘Sit In’ Outside Chinese Consulate, Manhattan, NY

A view of some of the many protesters at the Ai Weiwei protest in New York City (all photos by author)

At 1 pm EST today near the Chinese embassy in Manhattan, out by the water at 520 Twelfth Avenue, a congregation of chairs gathered. Members of the city’s art world, community members and human rights activists came out in force, to the tune of a few hundred, to protest for the release of Ai Weiwei, the internationally-famed artist who has been detained by the Chinese government for the past two weeks without charge.

Located in a fenced-off area just off the water, protesters staged a sit-in in homage to Ai’s 2007 piece “Fairytale,” which saw the artist bring 1,000 Chinese to Kassel, Germany and let them loose during a major art exhibition. Within the tent that formed the Chinese travelers’ dorms, Ai installed 1,001 Ming and Qing dynasty chairs. This protest, named “1,001 Chairs for Ai Weiwei,” didn’t quite match the scale of the original, but artists and activists alike used the gesture, plus an array of homemade signs, to send a statement in support of Ai Weiwei. As Anne Pasternak of Creative Time (who organized the protest) said to the crowd, “Our goal is to keep the story alive.” By keeping the problem of Ai’s detention in the public eye, mounting pressure is put on the Chinese government to clarify the artist’s situation.

Sadly, while I was present, protesters didn’t have access to the embassy itself. Anne Pasternak was seen negotiating with police and mayoral staff to get seated protesters in front of the nondescript building for a final photo-op, but the process seemed difficult.

What was meant as a gesture in support of the artist was also crowded by the political nature of the protest — past the main body of art world community members was a blue-hatted crew of representatives from the Democratic Party of China, a vehemently anti-government group who were heard shouting about how Mao Zedong and Communism destroyed China. Some protesters wanted to march, to the chanted tune of “Free Ai Weiwei,” but they didn’t get far: the protest area was small and largely fenced in. Others, who I felt most in tune with, were content to sit peacefully.

Other protests for Ai Weiwei took place all over the world today, at Chinese embassies in Berlin as well as a very small contingent in Washington DC. As we get word of more protest actions, we’ll update this post. For now, check out the New York City crew below.

w

Protesters bring chairs to the Chinese embassy at 520 Twelfth Avenue.

/ kc

w

A phrase similar in characters and sound to Ai Weiwei’s own name, “Love the Future,” or “Ai Wei Lai,” has become a way to bypass Chinese censorship for netizens.

/ kc

w

One of the protest’s youngest members, his sign reads, “Free Ai Weiwei.”

/ kc

w

A single chair left behind from protesters as some began to march back and forth, chanting slogans.

/ kc

w

The larger body of protesters were content to stake out their ground and sit peacefully on the chairs they brought.

/ kc

w

The one canine member of the protest sports a shirt saying, “Panda bears will be next.”

/ kc

w

This sign says “Indict or release,” which I thought was one of the most realistic statements made at the protest. The Chinese government still hasn’t stated what Ai is actually charged with or under arrest for.

/ kc

w

The Democratic Party of China protesters stuck to the rear of the seated crowd. They held up signs and shouted “Free Ai Weiwei,” “Free China,” and “Free Liu Xiaobo” (another jailed dissident). For the group, Ai’s case was implicated within bigger issues they have with the Chinese authorities.

/ kc

w

The Democratic Part of China holds up a banner at the rear of the crowd.

/ kc

w

Protesters hold up signs and chairs.

/ kc

w

The protesting group was blockaded by police cars. Police made sure that the demonstration didn’t interfere with the large bike lane or the sidewalk.

/ kc

w

The protest was meant to take place in front of the Chinese embassy, but the protest was relegated to a position across the street. The embassy was closed today, so the area was eerily silent.

/ kc

w

Anne Pasternak of Creative Time, the organization that planned the protest action in support of Ai Weiwei.

/ kc

w

Anne Pasternak speaks to the protesting group after trying to negotiate a change in position with police and mayoral staff.

/ kc

w

Protesters brought all kinds of chairs, from old to new, stools to wicker furniture.

/ kc

w

New York Magazine (and Facebook) art critic Jerry Saltz joined the protest for a short time, holding up a tiny model of an easy chair given to him by a protesting artist. His shirt references the artist Rikrit Tiravanija’s very hip latest show at Gavin Brown gallery. It reads, “Fear eats the soul.” He bolted right after this photo op.

/ kc

w

The protesters, seen looking towards the Chinese embassy.

/ kc

Tagged as: 1001 Chairs for Ai Weiwei, Ai Weiwei, Anne Pasternak, Chinese Art, Creative Time, Jerry Saltz, politics, protests

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under 2011, Ai Weiwei and Wen Tao's disappearance, detainment

Ai Weiwei arrest: Chinese lawyer and designer are latest to disappear

Crackdown on dissent continues with apparent detention by authorities in China of two more associates of activist-artist

People in Hong Kong walk past street stencils of detained Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei

People in Hong Kong walk past street stencils of detained Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei. The words ‘Who’s afraid of Ai Weiwei’ are painted underneath. Photograph: Kin Cheung/AP

A lawyer linked to Ai Weiwei went missing on Thursday night and a designer from the company handling the artist’s affairs was taken by police six days ago, according to supporters.

Friends have not been able to reach Liu Xiaoyuan for almost 24 hours. The rights lawyer posted a message on a microblog at 8pm on Thursday saying he was being “followed by identified people”. His phone is switched off.

Last week he said he would “of course” act for Ai if requested. He spent several hours at a police station on the day Ai disappeared, although his brief detention did not appear to relate to the artist. It occurred after he requested to visit a female activist and officers reportedly berated him for tweeting about another missing lawyer.

Separately, a letter issued online on Friday said plainclothes police seized designer Liu Zhenggang, 49, at his home in Beijing on 9 April and no one had been able to reach him since. Liu worked for FAKE, the design and architecture firm that handles Ai’s affairs and belongs to the artist’s wife.

Police did not respond to queries about the two men.

Ai’s detention has sparked an international outcry, and his case is far from alone. The last two months have seen dozens of lawyers, dissidents and activists being criminally detained and arrested or simply going missing in one of the toughest crackdowns for years. It appears to have been sparked by anonymous calls on websites overseas for “jasmine revolution” protests inspired by the Middle East uprisings.

Ai was stopped at Beijing airport on 3 April and has been incommunicado ever since. Officials have said he is under investigation for economic crimes but police have still not informed his family that he is detained.

Also missing are his friend Wen Tao, 38; driver and cousin Zhang Jinsong, also known as Xiao Pang, 43; and accountant Hu Mingfen, 55.

An open letter to the ministry of public security and Beijing police, signed by Ai’s wife, Lu Qing, as well as colleagues and relatives of the missing, urged an investigation into the disappearances. The Guardian was unable to reach Lu but a friend of Ai’s posted a link to the letter and a studio assistant confirmed it was genuine.

“The people … all disappeared or got kidnapped in a very short period of time and we request that the public security bureau investigate the matter. We are deeply concerned about the situation Ai Weiwei and his colleagues are in now,” the letter said.

“Kidnapping citizens or making them disappear is a severe crime and it immensely hurts people, relatives and friends around them.

“We believe justice can only exist if every administrative procedure is carried out in accordance with the law. Otherwise any conclusion or result that’s been drawn does not hold water … We hope that the public security bureau can act according to the law and protect people’s rights.”

Reuters reported that a third person had been sent to re-education through labour after taking pictures of police officers at a site proposed for a “jasmine revolution” protest on 6 March.

Wang Yuqin said her husband Yang Qiuyu, 48, a campaigner for the rights of petitioners, was seized by police at Xidan in Beijing.

She said she would hire a lawyer and sue authorities for sending him to a labour camp without trial. “They want to use labour camps to crush dissent,” she said.

Rights groups say that lawyer Ni Yulan, who was taken by police a few days ago, has been criminally detained for “creating a disturbance”. A person close to her, who did not want to be named, told Reuters: “She has nothing to do with it [the “jasmine revolution” call] … She was very careful about not getting involved.

“The innocent are being taken away. It’s getting more and more terrifying out there.”

The International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institution warned in a statement: “An expanding catalogue of abductions by the Chinese authorities [is creating] a climate of fear. The IBAHRI calls on the Chinese government to release all illegally detained human rights lawyers; cease all forms of harassment of the same; and to make a public statement on the whereabouts of ‘disappeared’ lawyers, the reasons for their arrest and their treatment in detention.”

xxxxxxxxxxxxx

This is crazy, does that mean now that Ai Weiwei is without a lawyer? The only lawyer I could think of with enough teeth and guts to agree to his case was Liu Xiaoyuan … now what?

Stay tuned.

Leave a comment

Filed under 2011, Ai Weiwei and Wen Tao's disappearance, detainment

Update on Wu Yuren: Authorities Order Wu to Return home for ‘R&R’

Since his parole release on April 3rd, Wu Yuren has spent over a week and a half with his daughter in Beijing, while meeting with the authorities once a week, handing over his passport, and keeping a very low profile.

However, Wu left last night on a train to Jiangsu province to visit his family for 14 days, as ordered by the authorities in charge of his case.

Stay tuned.

Leave a comment

Filed under 2011, Updates to the Wu Yuren Illegal Incarceration Case

Please Remember WEN Tao, my assistant, who also disappeared April 3rd, 2011

Wen Tao, a very good friend and helpful assistant to Ai Weiwei, was an extremely helpful and supportive member of the Wu Yuren PR/communications team that was assembled shortly after Wu ‘s disappearance and detention, from June 2010 until very recently.  Unfortunately, he was also detained and disappeared on April 3rd, 2011 from a studio in the Caochangdi area of Beijing, as no one has heard from or seen him since. Wen was responsible for translating from Chinese/English and English/Chinese almost all documents that were put on line regarding Wu Yuren’s case last year and into this year.

I was very sad to hear of his detention/disappearance, as Wen Tao was the first one I wanted to announce Wu’s parole to on the afternoon of April 3rd, 2011.

Wen Tao, 38 years old from Sichuan, is a journalist by training, who used to work for the Sports Illustrated, China, and then with the Global Times, Beijing. He was ‘asked to leave’ his Global Times posting in 2010 after covering the 008 March on Chang’an Jie, in February 2010.  Wen Tao has previously lived and worked in Canada.

Best wishes to his family and friends, and hope for a speedy location and release.

Wen Tao, characteristically a smiley guy by nature.

Leave a comment

Filed under 2011, Ai Weiwei and Wen Tao's disappearance, detainment

Sit-in At Your Local Chinese Embassy – 1001 Chairs for Ai Weiwei

4.13.2011

This Saturday: 1001 Chairs for Ai Weiwei


Ai Weiwei, Fairytale, 2007

An email from Creative Time:

A question posted on Facebook about what we, as an arts community, can do to support the safe release of Ai Weiwei sparked great ideas, including one by curator Steven Holmes to reenact Ai Weiwei’s project Fairytale: 1001 Qing Dynasty Wooden Chairs—an installation which was comprised of 1001 late Ming and Qing Dynasty wooden chairs at Documenta 12 in 2007 in Kassel, Germany—in front of Chinese embassies and consulates around the world. This Sunday, April 17, at 1 PM local time, supporters are invited to participate in 1001 Chairs for Ai Weiwei, by bringing a chair and gathering outside Chinese embassies and consulates to sit peacefully in support of the artist’s immediate release.
Artist and activist Ai Weiwei is an internationally regarded figure who has fought for artistic freedom and for freedom of speech throughout his distinguished career, envisioning and shaping a more just and equitable society through his work. He has been missing since his arrest on April 3rd in Beijing. Referencing the spirit of his work, 1001 Chairs for Ai Weiwei calls for his immediate release, supporting the right of artists to speak and work freely in China and around the world.

To participate, find an embassy near you.

Leave a comment

Filed under 2011, Ai Weiwei and Wen Tao's disappearance, detainment

The Purge of Ai Weiwei – a very good read!

The Purge of Ai Weiwei

Colin Jones – April 13, 2011

WHY WAS Ai Weiwei allowed to say the things he did? Any journalist who interviewed him in the last several years would eventually ask him the question, and it was incredible how Ai could reformulate the same answer again and again. Here he is on CNN in 2009: “On the one hand, the prime minister would memorize my father’s poetry in front of the great public, but on the other hand, the police were, you know, following me. So it’s hard to say.” In other words, Ai did not know why, but he suggested that whether he was going to get away with it or not remained to be seen.

There is a fine line in China between being a critic of the government and being labeled a subversive. If for these past years Ai navigated it with better luck than many Chinese activists, his run looks to have ended on Sunday, April 3. That morning, about to board a routine flight to Hong Kong, Ai was detained going through customs at the Beijing Capital Airport and never reemerged. The assistant traveling with him waited until a uniformed officer approached her to say that Ai would not be making his flight. He had “other business.” On the same day, some twenty policemen swarmed his studio-residence in a tumbledown village in northeastern Beijing. They confiscated over one hundred pieces of electronic equipment—computers, hard drives, and servers, along with his financial records—and led away seven of Ai’s employees for questioning. His wife, Lu Qing, was detained for the day. Upon her release, she began asking for legal advice on Twitter.

In the first twenty-four hours, there was some hope that Ai’s detention was only temporary. He had clashed with authorities in the past. This was another warning, perhaps, a scare tactic. That hope is fading. The simultaneity of his detainment and the raid on his studio suggests that the decision to move on Ai came from up high. Further evidence that a criminal prosecution may ensue appeared on April 6, when the Party-backed Global Times published an editorial titled “Law Will Not Concede Before Maverick”:

Ai Weiwei is an activist. As a maverick of Chinese society, he likes “surprising speech” and “surprising behavior”.…In such a populous country as China, it is normal to have several people like Ai Weiwei. But it is also normal to control their behaviors by law. In China, it is impossible to have no persons like Ai Weiwei or no “red line” for them in law…

Foreboding ambiguity and awkward locutions are characteristic of the English edition of the Global Times, the Party’s attempt at soft power. Its editorials describe screening college students for political radicalism as “self-management training,” and instead of dissidents there are “weak political elements.” Even so, this kind of sputtering defamation of an individual is not common, especially considering the government had neither filed charges against Ai nor admitted to having him in custody when the article was written.
THE CHINESE government has perhaps never jailed someone with Ai’s celebrity. That it may do so soon has grabbed the world’s attention and provoked calls for his release from the United States, the United Kingdom, France, and Germany. But Ai’s disappearance is part of a much larger crackdown that began in mid-February, when anonymous Internet users first suggested that China, too, might benefit from a mass movement like those occurring in North Africa and the Middle East. A “Jasmine Revolution” they called it, taking their cue from Tunisia. In the months since, Chinese authorities have “detained a total of 26 individuals, disappeared more than 30, and put more than 200 under soft detention,” according to a March 31 report from the advocacy group Chinese Human Rights Defenders. The numbers differ slightly depending on the source, but there is no doubt that the scope of government action against activists is huge—not on the same scale as what followed Tiananmen, but not rivaled by anything since.

“We have watched the Chinese government over the last couple of years, and particularly over the last couple of months, step up its efforts to silence all forms of dissent,” said Sophie Richardson, Asia Advocacy Director at Human Rights Watch. “It no longer seems to matter whether we’re talking about people who are extremely well-known, like Ai Weiwei, or people who are not really known at all.”

In the latter category is Wen Tao, a man with a slight build, in his late thirties, who also disappeared on April 3. Wen met Ai last year when he was working as a reporter at the Global Times. In February 2010, Wen began covering the demolition of an artists’ colony about a mile away from Ai’s studio. The artists did not want to move and held out for weeks in their brick enclave, long after the water and electricity were cut off. The standoff ended with a nighttime visit from some thirty men armed with clubs and pipes. Eight of the artists were injured, one so badly he was temporarily confined to a wheelchair. The next morning, a handful of the artists along with Ai Weiwei, who had taken up their cause, marched down Chang’an Avenue in a ramshackle protest. Had the police not stopped them, they would have walked straight into Tiananmen Square.

Wen wrote a full-length story about the march that was published on the front page of the Global Times. The prominence of the article aside, it was shocking that the protest was even mentioned in the domestic press. I Googled Wen’s name and found a cache of his old stories. They range from pieces about tainted milk to one titled “Air Force Declares War on Birds,” which described measures taken by the People’s Liberation Army to create a “bird-free” zone over northern Beijing. Ai’s name begins showing up frequently following Wen’s report on the protest. Eventually, the two men became friends.

Was it simply his association with Ai Weiwei that made Wen a target? Or did his conversion, from Global Times reporter to something else entirely, make him stand out? Six hours after Ai was detained at the airport, three men grabbed Wen, stuffed him into a car, and drove off. “They gave no explanation whatsoever,” Tweeted a friend who was walking with Wen. “I don’t know where they took him, and as of now, I haven’t been given any information.” Wen, like Ai, and like hundreds of other Chinese activists, is still incommunicado.
FIFTY HOURS after Ai Weiwei disappeared, his mother Gao Ying posted a missing person notice in the alleyway fronting her house. Her action was “a means of inquiring with the police,” she told Deutche-Welle. Chinese law allows the police twelve hours after detaining someone before they must notify the family. In three days, they are supposed to have conferred with the prosecutor about whether the state will press charges. This can be stretched to seven days if the police encounter transportation difficulties or other contretemps. Thirty days may be taken if the case involves matters of national security. This last option has become the norm.

News about Ai might come sooner, however. On Friday, April 8, police told his mother that they would inform her about the status of her son within seven more days. That would put Ai’s case outside the one-week limit but well within thirty days. If this counts as expediting the process, it seems that the attention Ai’s disappearance is receiving has forced the bureaucracy to shift gears. The speed is uncomfortable, and, so far, the government’s message has been confused.

Xinhua, the state news agency, gave the first official nod to Ai’s detention with a one-line blurb that appeared on its website shortly after midnight on April 7. Police were investigating him for “suspected economic crimes.” This was enigmatic in two ways. It contradicted the Global Times editorial, which made Ai’s transgressions out to be overtly political, and within minutes it was taken offline. It is unclear why. By the morning, “economic crimes” had stuck. The Foreign Ministry emphasized this point at its routine press conference and then cut short the briefing. On the same day, the Global Times ran a second editorial on Ai Weiwei. Most notable was the conclusion: “[The] authorities should learn to be more cautious and find sufficient evidence before detaining public figures next time.” (Never mind those citizens without celebrity status.)

The confusion about what to say about Ai Weiwei seems to have lessened now. At the least, it is not playing out in the state press, which has moved on to a vicious smear campaign. (“Participants in Chinese artistic circles often evaluate Ai’s achievements as third rate,” read one recent article.) But the momentary disarray leaves room to wonder. Was this a PR failure? Was Ai detained before the government had put together a legally justifiable reason for doing so? Or is there a conflict in the Party? Are the hardliners and moderates divided about how to handle Ai? The answer is unclear.
“WHAT WE’RE witnessing now is a vivid illustration of the failings of the criminal justice process,” said Jerome Cohen, a professor of law at New York University and expert on the Chinese legal system. “This may be Weiwei’s finest contribution to the human rights field. Until now he’s been calling attention to the denial of substantive freedoms. Now we’re moving on to the other area of political and civil rights: due process of law.”

Since Ai’s detention, police have made regular visits to his studio. Every staff member there has been interrogated, some multiple times, and employees who were not present on the day of the raid have been tracked down. One was brought back to Beijing from Anhui, where she was visiting her relatives for the Qingming festival. Police questioned her for three hours and then released her, according to another employee. Ai’s foreign staff—which includes people from the United States, Holland, and Germany—has been expelled from the studio, and at least two staff members have been told to leave the country. Ai’s driver and his accountant have now also been detained.

This is not a parable telling us to switch from carrot to stick—nor is there much evidence that either has had much effect on the CCP’s treatment of the Chinese people. China is better and freer than it was decades ago, and Ai was a measure of how far it had come. But he has disappeared into an opaque and intractable apparatus, and daily the life he built is being dismantled and diminished. The coordination and thoroughness of this purge betrays a belief that a person can be removed if he or she is sufficiently inconvenient. The Party is now attempting to do this to Ai and some few hundred other dissidents that have vanished since February. This will not work.

Colin Jones is reading for a doctorate in history at Columbia University. He is also a contributing producer for the upcoming documentary Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry.

Image: Ai Weiwe

2 Comments

Filed under 2011, Ai Weiwei and Wen Tao's disappearance, detainment

Ai Weiwei and Wen Tao-missing for over one week-against Geneva Convention of 1955

It has been over a week since Ai Weiwei and Wen Tao disappeared … that sort of lack of communication is totally illegal according to Chinese law, as it relates to China having signed the Geneva Convention on the

Standard minimum rules for the treatment of prisoners adopted by the First United nations Congress on the prevention of Crime and Treatment of Offenders, held in Geneva in 1955.

Article 92 states:

“An untried prisoner shall be allowed to inform immediately his family of his detention and shall be given all reasonable facilities for communicating with his family and friends, and for receiving visits from them, subject only to restrictions and supervision as are necessary in the interests of the administration of justice and of the security and good order of the institution”.

Let’s pray for some good news soon.

Leave a comment

Filed under 2011, Ai Weiwei and Wen Tao's disappearance, detainment