Chinese Netizens Pay Ai Weiwei’s Taxes; Ai Says He’ll Fight “to the Death”
UPDATE (7 November 2011, 9:30 A.M. HKT): The CCP-blessed Global Times has retorted with an opinion article this morning that paints the donation campaign as a distortion by the foreign media:
Some experts have pointed out this could be an example of illegal fund-raising. Since he’s borrowing from the public, it at least looks like illegal fund-raising. Meanwhile, as Western media reported, Ai purchased an upscale apartment in Berlin last year, and had planned to buy a 4,800-square-meter studio this year also in Berlin. Does he need to borrow money to pay off his tax evasion? However, as we are neither legal or tax professionals, these are not the key points we have tried to make.
It might be true that a few people in China would like to give him some money. Some donators said they view the donation as an act of voting. But the thing here is, Ai’s borrowing and the subsequent donations will not make any substantive change to Ai’s case. First, it will not alter the matter of Ai’s tax evasion, something his followers don’t even question. But many hold the view that tax evasion is rampant in China. This time, it is an excuse Chinese authorities have used to punish the dissident.
The donations will not change the public’s attitude toward Ai’s case, either. It is absolutely normal for a certain number of people to show their support for him with donations. But these people are an extremely small number when compared with China’s total population. Ai’s political preference along with his supporters’ cannot stand for the mainstream public, which is opposed to radical and confrontational political stances.
Read the entire piece here. In the meantime, while donations don’t seem to be stopping, Shanghaiist reports that “some donors have reported being unable to send money to the Paypal account.” Ruh-roh. But that hasn’t stopped some supporters; Ai recently told the BBC that people had even begun “throwing money into his garden in the form of paper aeroplanes”!
Original story below.
Ai Weiwei, detained and later released by the Chinese government earlier this year, was finally issued a bill for his troubles: a startling 15 million yuan (US$ 2.4 million) of alleged back taxes and fines. With little over a week left to pay and the threat of his wife being imprisoned hanging over his head, Ai has declared that he is willing to fight the charges “to the death.” Despite being banned from speaking to the press, the artist—accompanied by a team of tax experts and lawyers—met with Reuters in his Beijing home, where he explained why his defiance is now greater than ever:
Will a person like Ai Weiwei surrender? [...] Ordinary people will not be able to endure this. But because they’ve targeted me, I’m still willing to accompany them on this road. Because I’m not afraid of them. I think it’s improper that a country is engaging in shameless activities.
Now, Ai is using his mother Gao Ying‘s lovely house as collateral. It was left to her by Ai’s father, revered poet Ai Qing, and estimated to be worth 25 million yuan. Ai plans to ask for an administrative review in which a panel will re-examine the decision. Why he even bothers going through the motions of bureaucratic appeal confuses me. Just as the artist has stuck to his guns, the government will likely stick to theirs. According to one of Ai’s associates, Fake Ltd.—the company being slapped with the tax bill—has in fact yet to receive an audit report. Its financial manager Liu Zhenggang was “illegally detained,” before being sent to his hometown and barred from contact with others.
In the meantime, an incredible outpouring of support has come from the Internet. Human rights activist Hu Jia announced on his microblog that he had donated money to Ai, jumpstarting a fundraising campaign to pay off the tax bill. Not long after, Ai posted his bank account number and address on his Weibo account—emphasizing that he would be only taking loans, not charity—and thousands of netizens began to send money his way. The Chinese artist, recently voted “The Most Powerful Person in the Art World” by The ArtReview, vouched he would return all of the money, tweeting:
Lend it to me. If I lose, I’ll return the money. If I win, I’ll also return the money. One old Ai, 6,000 of you. What’s there to be afraid of?
Organizers of this campaign have begun to ask donors for personal information, though for the most part, there is no real loan system in place. In any case, the majority of donations have come through the form of Alipay, the Chinese third-party online payment platform. Others have even used Paypal, bank transfer and postal order. We expect the latter three to become more important to this campaign, since Alipay will presumably block the payments to avoid the wrath of the CCP. But as Penn Olson acutely points out, the Alibaba-owned company “risks angering netizens,” and might find it tough to prevent a crowdsourced effort if “Ai’s many friends and fans began to collect donations on their own to pass along.” The government has already shut down Ai’s Weibo account, though he has been operating under the pseudonym accounts “Ai Huzi” (@艾虎子, lit. Ai “tiger cub,” or “brave youth”) and “Tui Jing Ban” (@推京办, lit. reject the Beijing Office) - which also seem to intermittently go offline.
A trusted “studio supporter” of Ai Weiwei who has helped manage the loans announced today that over 16,000 people have helped raise funds:
Thanks friends. In the two and a half days since we made the announcement on November 4th at noon, a total of 16,134 users have used Alipay and bank card loans to lend @aiww 3.48 million yuan worth of funds. This is called a miracle.
Perhaps the best suggestion we’ve heard so far comes from Human Rights Watch researcher Nicholas Bequelin, who tweeted: “Suggestion for Ai Weiwei: 1. Frame the tax bill. 2. Autograph it. 3. Let a rich collector buy it for the stated figure.” Or, as BianTaiLaJiao.com’s comic below suggests, he might think about some more drastic measures. Then again, it’s not like he hasn’t gone nude before (image slightly NSFW). Except we don’t think he charged for a peek last time.
Bian Tai La Jiao (lit., Crazy Chili) interviews Ai Weiwei. The Chinese word for pear is a homophone for “stress” (ya li), symbolizing the giant tax burden he has to bear.
“Everyone can see it. Your pear (stress) is enormous. How do you intend to respond this time, if you don’t mind me asking?”
“Sell myself…” “How?”
“150 yuan, one time viewing! 1500 yuan, monthly subscription! 15,000 yuan, yearly subscription!”
“Your mom can afford this. So when are you going to go buy it? Fuck…” (Note: The Chinese characters refers to Ai’s company, Fake Design, but are also pronounced “fa ke.”)
For those who are interested in helping out, Ai Weiwei’s Alipay/Paypal account is firstname.lastname@example.org.
(via Penn Olson)
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TAGS: Ai Weiwei • Alibaba • censorship • China • Internet reactions • Twitter • Weibo
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