Ai Weiwei Pokes Fun at Gov’t Surveillance — with Webcams

April 3, 2012

Today marks the one-year anniversary of Ai Weiwei’s arrest for “economic” crimes — and China’s most famous dissident artist continues to provoke the authorities.

Today Ai launched, a website that streams images from four webcams around his Beijing home. They include scenes from his courtyard, computer space, studio, and even his bedroom. If you’re so inclined, you can now watch Ai Weiwei while he sleeps.

In part, Ai says the cameras are a way to let his family and friends know that he’s safe, telling The Guardian:

It is the exact day, one year ago, that I went missing for 81 days. All my family and friends and everyone who cared were wondering where this guy was. So on the anniversary I think people may have worries. It’s a gift to them: I’m here and you can see me.

But the cameras also draw attention to the constant surveillance Ai says he’s been subjected to.

“This is also a gift to public security because they follow me, tap my phone and do what is necessary to get ‘secrets’ from me. I don’t have secrets,” he said. “They want to watch me day and night. We have four cameras inside so they can see clearly what I am doing and make sure they are happy with it.”

Filmmaker Alison Klayman, who spent more than two years following him and who produced the FRONTLINE report Who’s Afraid of Ai Weiwei?, tweeted that Ai has “reappropriated surveillance.”


In the clip below, watch how Ai found a clever way to outsmart Chengdu city police who were filming a dinner he had with some fans at a restaurant.

“Weiwei has a little hooligan inside him, so he knows how to deal with other hooligans, because the Communist Party are just hooligans, really,” Chinese artist Chen Danqing said in the film at the time. “So you have to turn yourself into a hooligan, as well.”

**UPDATE** April 4, 2012: Ai Weiwei has shut off the four webcams in his home. Ai told the BBC the authorities called to demand that he turn them off earlier today, but added that he didn’t know their reason for doing so. “I don’t even have a reason for why they put me away for 81 days,” he said. “There’s never clear, rational discussion.” Following the closure, he tweeted, “byebye to all the voyeurs.”



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