BEIJING – Chinese artist Ai Weiwei has become something of a unwitting Pied Piper, leading his fans into a series of pranks in the past few days. First, they sent him money to help pay off the tax bill China charged the artist. Then, they posed naked on the Web to protest a pornography investigation. Now, they are calling a newspaper at his prompting on Twitter.
Last weekend, he posted in his Twitter account the names and phone numbers of four people, including the editor of the Communist Party-owned Global Times newspaper, who he said were making unfounded criticisms of him and claiming that he was a tool of foreign powers, including the foreign media. The four have since been deluged with phone calls from Ai’s irate supporters.
On Tuesday, the Global Times’ lead editorial again attacked Ai, saying it’s editor-in-chief and another editor at the paper “were among the victims” of “many prank calls.”
“This is a prominent case in which political dissent drives people to take immoral activities,” the paper said. “Take Ai Weiwei,” the editorial warned. “He should be cautious about his behavior, by invading the privacy of his criticizers because of criticism against him.”
It said, “The Chinese government should take measures to regulate the online order and curb the increasingly rampant violations on personal rights, including invasion of privacy and death threats.”
Backers of dissident artist Ai Weiwei also found a novel way to lay bare their support online for the anti-government critic. The artist recently said he is also facing charges of pornography, because of artistic nude pictures of Ai and four women that appeared online last year. Ai’s videographer, Zhao Zhao, was questioned last week by police about the photos.
China’s online supporters of Ai, who helped him pay the first-half installment of the tax bill with donations, have now started a growing new protest campaign, posting nude photos of themselves online here. The blog spot, called “Ai Wei Fans’ Nudity,” announces: “Listen Chinese Government; Nudity is not Pornography.
The Netizens, men and women, pose naked while holding cellphones, iPads and other props, including one holding what appears to be a rifle to discreetly cover private parts. One man is standing naked in front of Tiananmen Square, some are on the beach, a few strike the pose of the famous Rodin statue “The Thinker,” and there are several photos of naked babies.
On a separate pro-Ai Twitter account, someone even Photoshopped a picture of Chinese President Hu Jintao’s head over the body of a nude man smoking a cigarette.
Some have posted nakedly critical anti-government messages with their photos. “Support Ai Weiwei and fight against dictatorship,” writes one. Another poster, rolling in mud, writes, “In this mud, I still love my body and my freedom.”
On Facebook, fans of the artists had to censor the paintings called into question, as the site does not allow nudity. A fan covered the offending parts of the body with the Facebook logo. A caption reads, “Facebook’s community standards, not so different from CCP,” referring to the Chinese Communist Party.
Ai was detained by police for 81 days this year, and held virtually incommunicado, sparking an international outcry against Beijing’s ruling Communist authorities. At the time, state-run newspapers reported that he was being investigated for tax evasion as well as pornography. Ai was released in June, shortly before Premier Wen Jiabao made an official visit to London. Ai has said the international pressure probably contributed to his release.