Thousands of Chinese netizens rallied in support of controversial Chinese artist Ai Weiwei on Friday, sending him more than 1 million yuan (U.S. $158,000) to help pay a tax bill of 15 million yuan handed down by the authorities.
"Beyond anyone's wildest expectations, we have all of a sudden received money from several thousand netizens," Ai told RFA's Cantonese service on Friday.
"We are bowled over," he said. "Most of them are students, and some of them have said they will go without their instant noodles next week, and some have said they'll forgo their facial."
"Some of them said they wouldn't buy that new pair of shoes," Ai said.
"Everyone is of one mind on this matter," he said, adding. "I am very moved."
The bill followed Ai's 81-day secret detention by Chinese police earlier this year, which the government said was linked to investigations into alleged tax evasion at his company.
More than 5,000 donors sent contributions to Ai via online payment services PayPal and Alipay on day one of a donation campaign across a 10-hour period, according to Ai's supporters.
"I think people are voting with their money," Ai said. "They know these charges are trumped up."
"This is very moving, because people have been saying that Chinese are unfeeling and powerless, but they're not."
"They just lack the right channels and the opportunity."
He said since the money landed, more pledges had continued to pour in.
However, he pledged to return the money to donors, and use his property as a deposit to pay the bill.
Alleged tax evasion
Beijing authorities ordered Ai to pay the bill last week in spite of the fact that the company allegedly owing the money is owned by his wife Lu Qing.
Keyword searches for Ai's name on Sina Weibo returned the following notice on Friday: "Owing to the relevant laws, we have been unable to show you these results."
Instead, netizens switched to using the code-word 'Tiger Ai' to communicate about the artist's plight, which has led his mother to seek to mortgage the family home.
Ai, who is still under considerable restrictions at his Beijing home following his release from 81 days in detention in June, has questioned the bill, suggesting in recent interviews that it is politically motivated.
Ai's detention drew criticism from the United States, Australia, Britain, France, and Germany, as well as from Amnesty International and other international rights groups.
But Beijing hit out at the international reaction, accusing Ai's company of tax avoidance.
Liu Yanping, one of those who began the campaign to collect money for Ai voluntarily, said she was astounded at the response from Chinese netizens.
"We sent out the account number at about 11:00 a.m. this morning, and I was amazed at the reaction," Liu said.
"I didn't think it would be so generous ... but in reality this is a form of protest," she said. "They think this bill is suspect."
The bill was sent to Ai, as the "effective controller" of his Beijing-based company, Fake Cultural Development Ltd, which is actually owned by his wife Lu Qing.
Ai has rejected his role as "controller" of the company and is seeking legal and expert tax advice over the bill, which he has just two weeks to pay.
Rights activists say the tax bill appeared to have been an afterthought on the part of the authorities, who had originally hoped to find evidence to support subversion charges.
Ai's mother Gao Ying said she still stood ready to mortgage the family home if need be.
"When there's a need, that's what we'll do," she said. "Nothing is important, just my son's safety and my daughter-in-law's not having to endure the suffering of prison."
Reported by Grace Kei Lai-see for RFA's Cantonese service and by Xin Yu for the Mandarin service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.