Chinese People Paying Ai Weiwei’s Tax Bill

November 7, 2011 Updated: November 9, 2011
Outspoken Chinese artist Ai Weiwei waves to reporters outside his studio in Beijing on June 23. (Peter Parks/AFP/Getty Images)

The Chinese regime has put the squeeze on dissident artist Ai Weiwei by sending a tax bill from the Beijing Taxation Bureau for 15.22 million yuan (US$2.4 million) on Nov. 1, but the Chinese people are rising to his defense. As of Nov. 7, Ai had been lent a little over one-third of the tax bill by individuals from around China.

Ai’s tax problems are urgent. The payment is due in 15 days, with a fine of approximately 200,000 yuan (US$31,546) to be charged for each day payment is late.

The tax bill includes 5.3 million yuan (US$835,174) in back taxes, 6.8 million yuan (US$1.07 million) in fines, and about 3 million yuan (US$472,470) in late payment fees.

To help Ai out, Shanghai human rights lawyer Li Tiantian immediately posted a call for donations for Ai Weiwei on the Internet.

On Nov. 3, Ai Xiaoming (no relation to Ai Weiwei), a professor at the Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou, said on Twitter that if Ai Weiwei has 6,000 fans, each of whom donates 1,000 yuan, then Ai can quickly pay the most urgent part of the bill, which is 6.8 million yuan (US$1.07 million) in fines.

Ai Weiwei immediately tweeted back, “Lend me some money. Win or lose, I will pay you back.”

Ai also posted four different ways to contribute electronically or through the post office. He said, “Please make sure to leave me your phone number or email address. I will pay every penny back to you.”

Over 20,000 Chinese quickly responded and money started pouring in. Some people have taken to simply throwing cash over the wall of Ai’s courtyard home.

By 10 p.m. on Nov. 7, Ai Weiwei had received 5.62 million yuan (US$884,733) from 20,103 people, according to a twitter posting by a volunteer (@duyanpili) of Ai Weiwei Studio.

According to Voice of America (VOA), Chinese human rights activist Hu Jia and his wife remitted 1,000 yuan to Ai Weiwei on Nov.3, and called on others on Twitter to “reach out a helping hand to Ai Weiwei.”

On Nov. 4, Ai’s mother Gao Ying told New Tang Dynasty TV that she wanted to use her home as collateral of 8.45 million yuan (US$1.33 million) in order to apply for administrative reconsideration of the tax bill. The house is the last residence of Ai Weiwei’s late father, renowned writer Ai Qing.

She stated she had talked to a lawyer about the situation, but the taxation bureau has not allowed enough time for her to sell her home. “We need to come up with approximately 7 to 8 million yuan first—something like that. We are working hard on it,” she said.

She also said the authorities were just “looking for trouble, and trying to push Ai Weiwei into a corner.”

She was encouraged by the netizen’s donations, and said, “I believe with so many people’s support, Ai Weiwei will make it.”

One blogger commented that raising money for Ai is “behavioral art,” another said it’s “a campaign to protect citizens’ rights,” and yet another called it “political entertainment.”

“Steve Jobs was able to achieve perfect integration of technology and art, and now Weiwei has achieved perfect integration of politics and art.”

“This is for real. It’s ransom for kidnapping.”

“For one dollar you can become a celebrity’s creditor. Come and join in. It’s once in a lifetime.”

Professor Ai Xiaoming told VOA that she did not expect donating money to Ai would be that attractive to people and yet many are participating.

She also said she was inspired, because people can handle this in a “creative” way and by participating will feel less “helpless.”

Every creditor might receive a surprise gift personally designed by Ai Weiwei. According to twitter posting @wentommy by Weiwei’s assistant, to show his appreciation Ai is designing borrowing contracts for his creditors. The preliminary design included different artistic elements such as vertical layout, traditional Chinese, Xuan paper (a special Chinese painting and writing paper), framing design, and so on.

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