Summer holiday 2015

Summer holiday 2015
JISHOU, HUNAN — Classes and exams ended over a week ago, but I was obliged to stay in town until the Public Security Bureau returned my passport, complete with a new residence permit. I was luckier than Ai WeiWei. I only had to wait three weeks to get my passport back. He waited four years, for entirely different reasons, of course. In the meantime, I booked my tickets to, around and from the USA, got invited to a wedding this Saturday, and settled where I’d go between the wedding and my departure for the US on Aug. 3. Xi’an. I’ve been talking about visiting Xi’an and the Terracotta Soldiers for a few years now, but till now hadn’t gotten around to going. It’s about time, I guess. So, here’s my itinerary for the next few weeks. July 24 (Friday): Zhangjiajie, Hunan, to attend a wedding party July 26: Changsha, Hunan, overnight stay July 27: High speed rail to Xi’an,Sha’anxi (travel time 6 hours) July 31: High speed rail to Hengyang, Hunan, to visit a friend (travel time 7 hours) Aug. 2: Return to Changsha, overnight stay Aug. 3: fly to Shanghai, onward to Chicago and Cedar Rapids Aug. 13: Amtrak ...

Dissident artist Ai WeiWei gets his passport back after 4 years

Dissident artist Ai WeiWei gets his passport back after 4 years
Chinese authorities returned artist Ai WeiWei’s passport this week, four years after they confiscated it for unspecified reasons. Ai is an outspoken critic of the Chinese government, which has responded by harassing him in various ways. In April 2011 authorities seized the passport as Ai was on his way to Hong Kong, and detained him for 81 days for alleged tax evasion and financial misconduct. He was released on probation for those charges, then later was charged with trafficking in pornography after exhibiting photographs of himself in the nude. Security police also closely monitor his movements within Beijing, where he is essentially under house arrest. Plus, his studios outside Shanghai were bulldozed down, supposedly because he had failed to get proper permits and pay taxes on the property. This week, also for unspecified reasons, authorities gave him a new passport. Ai posted a photo of it in his Instagram account @aww. This is China. More details at CNN.

Released from detention, Ai WeiWei still fights authority

JISHOU, HUNAN — Despite a lengthy detention, a crushing tax bill and continued harassment by Chinese authorities, dissident artist Ai WeiWei remains undaunted. Ai was arrested in April for “economic crimes” and held in an undisclosed location for more than two months. Authorities claim Ai owes $2.4 million in back taxes, an accusation he disputes but is paying with the help of his fans. Now, he says one of his associates is being investigated on child pornography charges. Technically, Ai and his wife are under house arrest; he cannot leave Beijing, cannot write anything critical of the government and cannot talk to the media. But he did anyway. Newsweek magazine carries an essay by Ai in which he describes Beijing as a “prison,” without referring specifically to his own quasi-imprisonment. We know what he means, though. Beijing is two cities. One is of power and of money. People don’t care who their neighbors are; they don’t trust you. The other city is one of desperation. I see people on public buses, and I see their eyes, and I see they hold no hope. They can’t even imagine that they’ll be able to buy a house. They come from very poor ...

Dissidents released just before Chinese premier visits the UK

JISHOU, CHINA — What a coincidence. Days before Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao visited British Prime Minister David Cameron to sign trade deals worth $2.2 billion, Chinese officials released two prominent dissidents, Ai WeiWei and Hu Jia. Cameron, pro forma, gave some lip service to preserving human rights as he signed the trade agreements worth £1.4 billion, while Wen gave the usual Chinese reply — “MYOB” — though somewhat more diplomatically than my shorter version. Last week, Ai, an internationally known artist, was finally released on bail after being picked up in a Hong Kong airport three months ago and kept virtually incognito. He was charged officially with tax evasion, but he also has been a vocal political gadfly in China. Ai has been publicizing the names of students who died when their “tofu-construction” schools collapsed in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake. The state news agency reported Ai, 54, was released because he had confessed to his crimes and because he was in poor health. Prior to his arrest, Ai, his family and his associates denied any tax evasion. Hu, 37, was also released at the end of his a three-and-a-half-year prison sentence on Sunday, which apparently was his official release date. ...

Chinese authorities charge Ai WeiWei with tax evasion, bigamy

JISHOU, HUNAN — Take this news with a grain of salt, since it comes from official sources via The AP. Dissident artist Ai WeiWei, who has been detained for the last two weeks, has been charged with tax evasion, destroying evidence and bigamy. No figures were given regarding how much tax Ai owes (if any), and his family has denied the charges, anyway. “He has made the government unhappy by speaking up for ordinary people,” Ai’s sister Gao Ge told The Associated Press. “Now the government wants to get him back.” Ai has been openly critical of government officials, challenging them through China’s own legal system to uphold constitutionally guaranteed rights of free speech and equal protection under the law. He was a public supporter of 2010 Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo, who is serving a 11-year sentence in China for “inciting subversion of state power.” (As in co-authoring Charter ’08, a call for more democracy in China. Very subversive. Yeah.) The government newspaper Wen Wei Po, which is published in Hong Kong, has been smearing Ai as part of the government’s efforts to discredit him. In addition to the tax evasion charge, he is being held for allegedly ...

China charges Ai WeiWei with ‘economic crimes’

JISHOU, HUNAN — The BBC reports that Chinese authorities have confirmed they picked up dissident artist Ai WeiWei and are holding him for “economic crimes,” without providing any other details. Ai, the co-designer of the Olympic Bird’s Nest stadium, has had several run-ins with Chinese authorities in the past, who don’t like his persistent questioning of the status quo. They reportedly arrested him Sunday at the Hong Kong airport, where he was planning to take a flight abroad. An exhibit of Ai’s work is at the Tate modern gallery in London. Foreign governments have protested the arrest and detention, but Beijing has basically said, as it always has, “MYOB.” Here’s a quote from the BBC report, so you can see what I mean. “China is a country ruled by law and will act according to law. We hope that the countries concerned will respect China’s decision,” [foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei] said. Since I know nothing about Ai’s supposed “economic crimes,” (a bogus charge, in my view) I can’t say if he broke any applicable laws. As for his dissidence, Ai has apparently been very careful to follow the strict letter of the law, as spelled out in the Chinese ...

Prominent Chinese dissident artist Ai WeiWei “disappears”

JISHOU, HUNAN — Chinese authorities have apparently detained artist Ai WeiWei, after they prevented him from flying overseas from Hong Kong’s airport on Sunday. His whereabouts remain unknown. Following the public protests in several Middle Eastern and North African countries, China’s political bosses have been rounding up dissidents left and right, in an effort to quell any similar movements here. Ai has had several run-ins with authorities already. He was blocked from attending the ceremony awarding Liu Xiaobo (who is in prison) the Nobel Peace Prize, one of his art studios near Shanghai was bulldozed, and in recent weeks, the cops have visited his offices and studios several times. The artist, who designed the Olympic Bird’s Nest Stadium, had been keeping a running tally of dissident detentions on a Twitter feed that had 70,000 followers. I guess the politicos didn’t like that many people knowing what they’re up to. The AP has the story, though The Guardian has a more detailed one. Incidentally, the Chinese constitution guarantees freedom of the press and freedom of expression. It’s just applied very selectively.

Chinese government tears down dissident artist’s studio

JISHOU, HUNAN — Beijing artist Ai WeiWei is a vocal critic of China’s Communist Party. While party officials have not arrested him (yet), they seem to take special glee in making his life miserable. On Tuesday, government officials authorized the demolition of Ai’s newly built artists’ studio in a village outside Shanghai. The link above will take you the complete article at The New York Times.
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