Shanghai Razes Artist's Studio

Chinese authorities demolish the studio of an outspoken artist and activist under the cover of night.

aiweiweiatstudio305.jpg Ai Weiwei holding a piece of debris of his newly built Shanghai studio after it was demolished, Jan. 11, 2011.

Authorities in Shanghai have demolished a major studio belonging to prominent artist and social activist Ai Weiwei.

"They went over there in the middle of the night," said Ai, shortly after receiving the news on Tuesday.

"The contract they signed with me said they would demolish after the Chinese New Year," he added.

Ai, who has recently been banned by the authorities from leaving China, said he had already been notified of the demolition plans by the city government.

"But they went there in the middle of the night, and finished the job in a single day."

"They probably thought they didn't need to inform me, as they have already paid compensation."

Actions 'typical'

Ai Weiwei's Shanghai Malu studio before it was razed by authorities. Credit: Ai Weiwei
Courtesy of Ai Weiwei
Ai, who shot to fame after he designed the "Bird's Nest" stadium for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, invested around U.S. $1.13 million in the studio, which became a focal point for social activists and netizens.

He said the authorities' actions were typical of Chinese officials, who frequently acted without consulting people or explaining their actions.

"This has almost become a convention now," he said. "Once the government has decided something, then no one has any choice but to implement it. It's probably a lot like the army."

A worker who answered the phone at Ai's Malu studio premises surnamed Lu on Tuesday, said demolition work was continuing.

"They are knocking down the walls now," Lu said, amid heavy construction noise in the background.

"We have put the photos online for everyone to see. I can't really hear what you're saying."

Ai's studio was designated an "illegal structure" in October, and the authorities issued a demolition notice, sparking widespread concern online that the decision was linked to Ai's work "River crabs," a punning and satirical reference to President Hu Jintao's policy of "harmony."

Ai, who lives in Beijing, was prevented from traveling to Shanghai late last year to attend his own exhibit at the Malu studio.

Netizen response

One day after demolition began, the studio is already razed, Jan. 11, 2011. Credit: Ai Weiwei
Ai Weiwei
Hundreds of netizens and social activists arrived anyway, and held a meeting at the studio in his absence.

Netizen Yuan Xiaoshuai said he went to the studio as soon as he heard the news.

"The brick walls have basically all disappeared," he said from the scene on Tuesday. "Half of the building has collapsed on the floor, and some of the roof."

Meanwhile, netizen Zui Hulu wrote on the microblogging service Twitter: "I saw some of the pictures of the demolition work, but I didn't have the heart to look at any more."

"The memories won't be demolished," tweeted netizen Su Yutong.

Ai was prevented from leaving the country ahead of the Nobel prize-giving ceremony in Oslo for jailed dissident Liu Xiaobo on Dec. 10.

He was among dozens of academics and lawyers have also complained that they have been prevented from leaving the country to attend events long scheduled in advance.

Reported by Xin Yu for RFA's Mandarin service, and by Bi Zimo for the Cantonese service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.


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Jan 12, 2011 12:36 PM

Dish out Noble prize to him