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July 27th, 2011
11:02 AM ET

Ai Weiwei joins Google+, along with '100,000 Chinese netizens'

From Ai Weiwei's Google+ account

China's dissident artist Ai Weiwei was an avid social media user before his recent two-month detention by Chinese authorities. On Twitter, he frequently interacted with followers which now number more than 92,000 on his now-silent Twitter page.

It's been widely speculated that one of the conditions of Ai's release was a self-imposed ban on social media. So, this came as a big surprise.

The "online godfather of the Chinese art world" returned to the networked fold with a message on Google+. Posted on July 25, it simply reads: "I'm here, greetings."

That was followed by a photograph of himself, shirtless, with the caption: "Here's proof of life." (Consider it Ai's way of proving his authenticity since Google+, unlike Twitter, does not offer verified accounts.)

Ai has also a posted a gallery of black and white photographs from his time in New York as a young artist in the '80s and early '90s. Aside from a profile description of himself as a "suspected pornography enthusiast and tax evader" (a reference to the two charges against him), Ai Weiwei's Google+ page is not likely to stir controversy. For now, it seems his few updates are his way of reuniting with his online fans.

The Google+ community has quickly taken notice. As of today, more than 9,000 users have added Ai into their circles, including influential Chinese blogger Isaac Mao. Mao is also a fellow with the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School, and a Google+ user in Ai Weiwei's inner G+ circle.

Mao calls the artist's digital return a "reincarnation."

"I have no idea on the details between Ai and authorities," Mao says, when asked about any social media conditions attached to the artist's release. "But I believe (Google+) is not part of the agreement. As one G+ user commented on his G+ stream, 'They don't allow Ai to speak on Twitter, but didn't expect there to be a newcomer.'"

Google+ has been mostly inaccessible from inside Mainland China since its launch. The site has been reported blocked from various locations and ISPs throughout the country. Chinese users of Google+ access the site with a variety of circumvention tools like Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) or tunneling protocols.

China is home to nearly half a billion Internet users. Mao believes there are over 100,000 Chinese netizens on Google+. "It's not a big number compared to the huge internet population in China," says Mao. "However, I see that those top G+ users are influential geeks, bloggers and Twitter users."

Mao believes the number of Google+ users in China already surpasses the number of active Chinese Twitter users (less than 20,000). "There are still millions of Google fans in China," says Mao. "So they rushed to try this new service as its accessibility dimmed."

The digitally reincarnated Ai may find that Google+ is not just a convenient Twitter alternative. Given its popularity in China and growth trajectory, it may offer him a more far-reaching and thus powerful platform for his message.

soundoff (17 Responses)
  1. alumette

    It's great to see him free. I hope he can navigate safely from the political issues of his country. The world needs artists who have the courage to speak their minds. Too many brainwashed people on our planet.

    July 27, 2011 at 4:02 pm | Reply
  2. Sowhat

    Ewwwwwww, lose some weight!!! And put the shirt back on!!!

    July 27, 2011 at 4:33 pm | Reply
  3. its_ash_4u@hotmail.com

    not bad, he had to join Google+

    July 27, 2011 at 5:04 pm | Reply
  4. NorCalMojo

    ...and he's already posting creepy nude self-shots.

    July 27, 2011 at 5:29 pm | Reply
  5. China

    this disgusting person.

    July 27, 2011 at 7:11 pm | Reply
  6. santafecanon

    Disappeared for two months in Chinese detention.

    One can only imagine the deprivation (torture) he endured. This and the threat of more to come if you dont do what your told would silence most anyone.

    July 27, 2011 at 9:17 pm | Reply
  7. jc.yin

    And how is this "newsworthy"? Wow.. Ai Weiwei joins google+, big news!! Ai Weiwei shirtless, wonderful!! Ai Weiwei eats noodles!! Brilliant. Ai Weiwei takes a piss, incredible! He's defied the Chinese authorities!!

    Unbelievable that a 50 something bare chested hairy old man with a penchant for public displays of nudity is attracting so much admiration. If this was in any other country people would be calling him a freak, but no let's all adore and venerate this fat hairy naked man.

    July 27, 2011 at 10:08 pm | Reply
  8. Mike Smith

    Chinese Human Rights Abuses:

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zbDSOmTWU7U&w=640&h=390]

    July 28, 2011 at 12:39 am | Reply
  9. Mike Smith

    Chinese Human Rights Abuses:

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_gohXIkN8bg&w=640&h=390]

    July 28, 2011 at 12:41 am | Reply
    • Dakota

      I have heard "Hold 不住" several times brofee, it's kind of a set phrase; people use it in speech too. I also hear the word "offer" a lot (as in a job offer) used in Chinese; in this case I think (correct me if I'm wrong) it is difficult to concisely express the idea in Chinese. This also reminds me of the fact that during the New Culture movement in the 1920s, many article writers and authors used English and other European language terms rather than Chinese translations or approximations, in part because it is difficult to express the idea concisely in Chinese. There has been far less of this since 1949, but it is re-emerging. I think it is quite natural for a language that is in vigorous contact with other languages through culture, work, and education to hybridize. The English language is a perfect example, in which French words like "tete a tete," "rendezvous," "deja vu," German words like "verboten," "kaput," "gezundheit," and Yiddish words like "meshugana," "knosh," and "klatch" are used so commonly that they have entered English dictionaries. The idea of a "pure English" language was never a possibility. It just looks more jarring when the writing systems are so different, but then Japanese has so many borrowed terms "gairaigo/外来语" that one would have a hard time expressing oneself in Japanese without them. Many modern Chinese terms, like 政治 社会 世界 etc., for that matter maybe even 语言, even though they are made of Chinese characters, have been shown to be borrowed from Japanese translations of Western concepts anyway. I heartily endorse the idea that one should strive for more elegance in language, and "Hold不住" does indeed look and sound inelegant, but purity should not be the criterion, as it is already too late for purity.

      March 3, 2012 at 7:19 pm | Reply
    • Rojiblanco

      Authoritarian governments are faced with the anretnil contradiction, as Ms. Nelson and Mr. Singleton note, in that they need an educated, articulate and worldly class in order to compete in an increasingly global and sophisticated environment, but at the same time need this class to continue to support the crude propaganda and repression that keeps the government's power in place. Our online information age has exposed this contradiction like never before. Since these governments (and I include Eurasia among these too) cannot completely cut off their societies from international information and influence, they have decided to buy them off instead. Societies which a generation ago were accustomed to very meager standards of living are now flush with Gucci and Prada stores and the trappings of the tech boom that Ms. Nelson mentions. The new, educated and worldly class, as well as the general society, are a little in awe of their new possessions and improving conditions, but this awe has a shelf life. Before too long the youth in these societies will find their voice and use their online presences more to exercise their freedom of expression than to shop or chat. They will see that although their personal standard of living has improved a little bit, that of the elite has skyrocketed. They will start to ask questions, and co-ordinate actions. It will take a little time, but the Chinese, and those living in other repressive countries, cannot abide in this parallel information universe for too long. The political and democratizing impact of the internet can only be slowed down, it cannot be stopped.

      March 5, 2012 at 2:14 am | Reply
  10. 战地他爹

    28er到此一游

    July 28, 2011 at 11:14 am | Reply
  11. cnnwocaonima

    My comment is awaiting moderation.

    July 28, 2011 at 11:36 am | Reply
  12. Inini

    Hi,

    My favorite moment is when Kristie finishes news presentation and is walking away from the studio...
    On a serious note, she is excellent on the job and always a delight. In my opinion, one of the best in the business.

    Regards

    July 28, 2011 at 2:11 pm | Reply
  13. fenyangtang

    But the world does not need an artist as a tax evader.

    August 4, 2011 at 8:31 am | Reply
  14. kmaples2009@yahoo.com

    casey anthoney probation. the Hulks son on his sisters show 2009 shows him getting our of jail after a year with probation served while in jaiil as long as he did nothing wrong. So it can be served while in jail.

    August 5, 2011 at 3:31 pm | Reply
  15. otropogo

    Having spent some months in China recently rubbing shoulders (and bumpers)with both the ultra-poor, the super-rich, and the agents of the police state, I can only cheer Ai Weiwei on from afar. I would never set foot in that country again at any price.

    Sadly, when a people does not value freedom of expression, it is hard to imagine how they can ever free themselves from authoritarian rule. And in the case of China, that authoritarian rule threatens not only the global social structure, but the very survival of our species. Without freedom of speech there is no possibility that the Chinese plan for expansion of nuclear power production will receive the detailed scrutiny it desperately requires.

    My only hope for a peaceful, non catastrophic reform of Chinese society lies in the influence of Taiwan, which absolutely requires the unswerving economic and military support of the West to survive. If that fails, it will be a race between a disastrous collapse into chaos of the world's largest nation and the destruction of the entire global environment.

    August 30, 2011 at 4:34 pm | Reply

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