What's next for Ai Weiwei?


Ai Weiwei photographs himself in the nude, with only a small horse covering his middle.



In the attached photo, Ai Weiwei appears in the nude, with just a little toy horse covering his manhood.

He called the photo, taken back in 2009, "Grass Mud Horse," referring to the Chinese internet meme used in defiance of censorship.

What's interesting about "Grass Mud Horse," is that the phrase is almost identical in Chinese to "F ... k your mother." The two terms have the same consonants and vowels with different tones, which are represented by different characters.

Thus the title of Ai's piece has been interpreted as: "F ... k your mother, the party central committee." It's not much of a leap.

(Here's another rare photo of Ai and a gallery of the ongoing saga)

Not much is unclear about why Ai Weiwei was detained in the first place.

The official party line is that he was detained for tax evasion, though "no formal charge has ever been made against him; he was apparently not even formally arrested, not to mention indicted," according to legal scholar and expert in Chinese law Jerome Cohen.

As to why he was released, however, no one save the Chinese government knows for sure.

China Geeks lays out a few plausible reasons why — and why now.

  • One possibility has to do with Wen Jiabao, China's premier, heading to Europe soon. It's possible they chose to release Ai ahead of Wen's trip simply so the premier wouldn't have to discuss the matter with everyone and their European mom.
  • Another possibility is that China actually caved to international pressure, as Cohen suggests:

The decision to grant QBHS [bail] has little to do with the rule of law, but everything to do with the untrammeled exercise of discretion enjoyed by Chinese authorities. This outcome makes clear that great international public pressure plus significant domestic and personal connections can be a potent combination even in the case of someone who went further than anyone before him in openly thumbing his nose (and other body parts) at the Communist regime. Undoubtedly, Ai’s star talent, his family history and global support from the artistic community helped a lot.

  • A third possibility put forward by China Geeks is that this was actually a pretty brilliant propaganda move on the part of the Chinese authorities:

Having Ai free but quiet takes the wind out of the sails of his domestic supporters, and will probably help disintegrate and fracture the dissident community that was essentially built around Ai’s twitter feed. Meanwhile, it also shuts up the international community, who will be too busy patting themselves on the backs ... to notice that (a) Ai isn’t allowed to speak or travel freely and (b) there are many, many other dissidents still in prison or being detained for political reasons.

It's still too early to tell how this will all play out.

But, for now, we know we didn't hear much from Ai Weiwei today. And we didn't hear much from the other nearly 1,500 people believed to be languishing in Chinese prisons.

The last post on Ai's Twitter feed is from April 3, the day of his arrest. So we have to rely on one of his blog posts from 2009:

There isn’t education for everyone, there isn’t medical insurance, there’s no freedom of the press, there’s no freedom of speech, there’s no freedom of information, there’s no freedom to live and move where you choose, there’s no independent judiciary, there’s no one supervising public opinion, there are no independent trade unions, there’s no armed forces that belongs to the nation, there’s no protection of the constitution. All that’s left is a Grass Mud Horse.