Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei is calling his prolonged tax battle against the Chinese government a “social performance.” Weiwei agreed to pay $1.3 million of the $2.4 million that officials say he owes. The conceptual artist’s performance dates back to April, when he was arrested and detained for nearly three months, with no charges ever brought against him.
Though Weiwei’s supporters, who believe he is being silenced for his criticism of the Chinese government, helped him to raise money, he at first refused to pay. On Tuesday, he deposited the money into a government account out of concern for his associates, according to the Associated Press. Beijing tax officials told Weiwei’s wife Lu Qing that if they missed the deadline, the case would go to the police. Though Weiwei’s fans raised $1.4 million, his lawyers advised him to offer a bank certificate of deposit as collateral instead, as the donated money could be seen by the government as an admission of guilt.
Interviewed as he was heading to the tax bureau to fill out paperwork, Weiwei said, “It’s more or less like I was a hostage half a year ago, now I paid the ransom, and I feel I have been robbed.”
He has 60 days to challenge the tax bill. During his visit to the bureau, he wore a T-shirt with a picture of a missing person poster in his own image. The shirt was an example of the ways that Weiwei has turned his own imprisonment and fight against the government into political theater and performance art.
“This has become a social performance and there are so many people involved. Even the Global Times. They are also playing a role in this,” Weiwei told the AP. “This has generated such energy which has never happened in the history of China. If they want to crush somebody, then normally, for that person, what’s left there is just silence.”
In addition to inspiring his own art — such as an exhibition by the artist in Taiwan that contemplated his own absence — Weiwei’s struggle has become fodder for other artists’ work. In Germany, Chinese artist He Xiangyu’s sculpture of a dead Weiwei likened him to French revolutionary Jean-Paul Marat, a famous subject in art history, but the sculpture was so lifelike that passersby thought it was a real dead body.