Tens of Thousands Donate to Help Ai Weiwei Pay Tax Bill

November 7, 2011

In this Nov. 17, 2010 file photo, artist Ai Weiwei arrives at the Wenyuhe court to support fellow artist Wu Yuren during his trial in Beijing. The outspoken artist said Tuesday that Chinese authorities are now seeking $2.4 million in back taxes and fines from him, a sign that the government is not easing pressure on the dissident who was detained for nearly three months this year. (AP Photo/Andy Wong, File)

Last week, we told you about dissident artist Ai Weiwei’s fight against a $2 million tax bill levied on him by Chinese authorities. Officials demanded payment of the bill within 15 days.

Now The New York Times is reporting that at least 20,000 people have donated more than $840,000 towards the bill.  Most of the donations have arrived electronically, but dozens of supporters have folded renmibi currency notes into paper airplanes, which they’ve tossed over the walls of Ai’s compound outside Beijing. Ai told the paper he considers the funds as loans that he will repay.

“Over the past three years, during all the efforts I’ve made, sometimes I felt like I was crying alone in a dark tunnel,” Ai told the Times. “But now people have a way to express their true feelings. This is a really, really beautiful event.”

But The Wall Street Journal warns that the donations could lead to a stand-off with authorities, noting an article in a state-run paper that described the donations as “illegal” and tried to cast doubt on the campaign’s popularity:

“It is absolutely normal for a certain number of people to show their support for him with donations. But these people are an extremely small number when compared with China’s total population,” it said. “Ai’s political preference along with his supporters’ cannot stand for the mainstream public, which is opposed to radical and confrontational political stances.”

For more on how the provocative artist is using his fame to push the boundaries of freedom in China, watch our March profile: Who’s Afraid of Ai Weiwei?

Update [Nov. 14, 2011]: Ai Weiwei’s wife said Thursday that the artist plans on using the money raised to appeal his tax evasion charge. Today, however, a lawyer for Ai’s design company made the claim that the Chinese government is impeding his client’s ability to make this appeal, which requires Ai to put down a financial guarantee of 8.5 million yuan — $1.3 million — by Wednesday. In most cases, a deposit certificate is enough collateral for an appeal. The tax bureau is insisting that Ai deposit money directly into their account, which his lawyer argues could come across as an acceptance of the tax evasion allegation.

Update [Nov. 15, 2011]: Ai Weiwei handed over the $1.3 million to tax authorities. According to his lawyer, Ai now has two months to file his appeal.

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