China puts Ai Weiwei, co-designer of Olympic 'Bird's Nest' stadium, under house arrest

Ai Weiwei, one of China's best-known artists who has become an increasingly vocal critic of the Chinese government, was about to leave for his Shanghai studio.

By , Staff writer

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    Chinese artist Ai Weiwei poses with some seeds from his art installation 'Sunflower Seeds' in London, Monday, Oct. 11. Weiwei, who designed the Bird's Nest, China's 2008 Olympic stadium in Beijing, says he has been placed under house arrest.
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One of China’s best-known artists and a constant thorn in the government’s side, Ai Weiwei, says he had been put under house arrest for the weekend.

Mr. Ai earned wide international recognition as a co-designer of the “Bird’s Nest” stadium used at the Beijing Olympics. He has become an increasingly vocal and active critic of the Chinese government in recent years.

In what he describes as a farcical series of visits by the police, Ai was told he would not be allowed to host a mass party he had planned to hold in Shanghai on Sunday as a protest against the authorities.

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“They came at half past midnight and told me they did not wish me to go to Shanghai,” Ai said by telephone from his walled compound home on the outskirts of Beijing. “I said that I had already announced the party and that I could not not go.

“They suggested I should announce that I was under house arrest,” Ai says. “I told them I could not say that unless I was under house arrest.”

After three more visits and continued discussion on Friday morning, he says, “they told me at 1:30 this afternoon that I was under house arrest.”

He had planned to leave for the airport a few minutes later.

A less than 'harmonious' outcome

Ai had announced on Twitter that he would be holding a river crab feast on Sunday for whoever wanted to attend at his studio in Shanghai, which is due for demolition. He said thousands were expected.

The choice of dish was deliberately ironic. “He xie,” the Chinese term for “river crab” is a homonym for the Chinese characters meaning “harmonious,” one of the government’s favorite words and one that attracts scorn from many bloggers. When an offending website is blocked by the censor, for example, it is said to have been “harmonized.”

Ai says he began building the studio in the Jiading district of Shanghai two years ago at the invitation of Jiading mayor Sun Jiwei. Apparently under pressure from more senior Shanghai officials angry at Ai’s political activities, however, district authorities last month declared the studio an illegal structure and slated it for demolition, Ai says.

“Since it was going to be knocked down, I thought why not have a party there?” Ai says. “It would have been a beautiful party but it made them very nervous.”

The Beijing police did not respond to a faxed request for an explanation of Ai’s house arrest.

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