November 8th, 2011
11:49 AM ET

In China, donors to Ai Weiwei's tax bill send message to Beijing

Ai Weiwei says he can't stop his supporters.

He can't stop them from folding RMB notes into paper planes and throwing them into his garden at midnight.

Earlier today, I talked with Ai Weiwei on the phone about the grassroots fundraising movement. He was thankful for the support but added, "I never asked the public for donations."

Ai said most of the donors are Chinese in their 20s and 30s - some giving up their first month's salary. He noted that a few retired Chinese have given him donations as well.

According to the artist, they are also using their money to make a political statement or a "ticket to vote." 

"They all have a message. They are saying, 'We support you. This is such unfairness. It's not a fine to you but to us all.'"

For days now, the Chinese activist/artist has been counting the yuan pouring in from his supporters. Thousands of people in China have been donating money to Ai as he is due to pay a $2.4 million tax bill by mid-November.

Tax evasion was one of the official reasons for his near three-month detention earlier this year.

As of 4pm on Tuesday, Ai Weiwei has received a total of 6,082,451 RMB (that's just over US$958,000) from 22,260 people.

On his Google+ page, Ai details the various payment channels for the donations which include cash, PayPal, China Construction Bank, and the Chinese third-party payment network Alipay.

He says he will pay back every penny.

A number of supporters have showed up to the artist's Beijing compound to donate money in person, including this crumpled RMB note which was thrown into his Beijing compound along with the paper airplanes.

He also described much "tighter control" and more police around his compound in Beijing.

Ai Weiwei also dismissed the state-run Global Times article that said he might be suspected of "illegal fundraising." He added that he "felt sorry" for Sina Weibo after it deactivated his Weibo microblog account just when the fundraising effort was picking up.

But if the total tax bill is paid - and mainly by donations from Chinese citizens - how would Beijing react?

Ai is bracing for the worst. He says, they can accuse him of another crime.

"Either way, you can't get out."


For more on Ai Weiwei, check out our Beijing team's report at his studio.

soundoff (8 Responses)
  1. Marisa

    What a country! The government of China should really be ashamed of themselves. I know why they act this way. Everyone in power in China believes that it is always better to clamp down than give in to the peoples' desires, because only those officials who give in seems to lose their jobs. I have never heard of a Chinese brown-noser losing his job because he broke too many legs. So, here is China – a third-world mentality country in the modern era. One day, the people of China will be so depressed to find out the truth that they could have had democracy years ago. They reason they don't have it is because the government of China has tricked the populace that they are stronger, but the honest truth is, the leaders of China are just a hair away from being overthrown. It is really up to the good people of China to get rid of them in a huge "mass incident".

    November 8, 2011 at 12:32 pm | Reply
  2. chi8

    The question is whether these donation is taxable.

    November 9, 2011 at 2:26 am | Reply
  3. Peter Pan

    Chinese communist party must change its culture, we are in the 21st Century.

    November 9, 2011 at 3:35 am | Reply
  4. Rex Remes

    What was his massive tax bill from??

    November 9, 2011 at 7:02 am | Reply
    • Sbusiso

      This does bring up an interesting facet of how we view China (or any other crntuoy, for that matter though I find China to be a particularly interesting case). In the West, we can easily say we love our crntuoy (the US, for example) while not particularly liking the government or the party in power and there is a clear distinction between the two. In China, that distinction is not so clear and saying that we don't love China today while the speaker may mean the Chinese government, it is often taken as an affront to the entire Chinese nation. This is due in large part to the efforts of the Party which have worked very hard (and to obvious success) to ensure that Party = China in the minds of its citizens and others.I may have to think a little on this topic and maybe address it in a little more depth if I can later Hmmm

      March 5, 2012 at 3:07 am | Reply
  5. Mário Silva

    Interesting article.

    November 10, 2011 at 5:08 am | Reply
  6. Inini

    Will Beijing here the message? I wish him the best.
    Watched Newstream today!

    November 16, 2011 at 2:02 pm | Reply
  7. Rex Remes

    Right on, Marisa. Right on.

    November 17, 2011 at 8:45 am | Reply

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