Who's Afraid of Ai Weiwei?

Online Maestro: "Teacher Ai"

After Chinese censors shut down his popular blog, Ai Weiwei turned to a Twitter feed, which he describes as "like a diary," sometimes posting more than 100 tweets a day. His tweets and photos intermingling his daily life, artwork, social activism and general humor have drawn more than 70,000 loyal followers. Many of them fondly refer to him as "Teacher Ai." [English translations courtesy of The Bird's Nest Tumblr.]


Ai's Earthquake Campaign

Ai Weiwei launched a "Citizens' Investigation" into the May 2008 Sichuan quake that killed 70,000, including more than 5,000 children. His team of volunteers were given cameras, and they found out and published victims' names, including almost all the children's names. Ai tweets the names of the victims on their birthdays, using the hashtag #512birthday:

五月二十六日。张瑶,女,2000年5月26日,映秀小学二年级一班,8岁。#512Birthday May 26. Zhang Yao. Girl. 05/26/00. Yingxiu Elementary School. Second grade, first class. 8 years old. #512birthday less than a minute ago via TwiTalker
aiww艾未未 Ai Weiwei
五月二十八日。今天是5个遇难学生的生日,他们是:柏龙虎,罗宇航,王金龙,杨坤,刘丹。#512Birthday May 28. Today is the birthday of 5 students who died. They are Bai Longhu, Luo Yuhang, Wang Jinlong, Yang Kun, Liu Dan. #512birthday less than a minute ago via TwiTalker
aiww艾未未 Ai Weiwei

Ai took this now-famous photo of himself in an elevator shortly after he was hit in the head by local police in Chengdu, where he had come to support a local earthquake activist who'd been jailed by the government:

When Ai opened an exhibit at the Haus der Kunst museum in Munich, he covered the building's exterior with children's backpacks, much like the ones he'd seen in Sichuan. They spelled out what the mother of one earthquake victim told him: "She lived happily on this earth for seven years." Using TwitPic, Weiwei tweeted photos of the installation to his followers:

Shortly before the opening in Munich, Weiwei was hospitalized, and doctors found bleeding in his brain, which he said was from the earlier beating by Chengdu police. He tweeted photos from the hospital, like the one below, to his followers:

You can see more of Ai's photos of earthquake damage on his blog.

A "TweetUp" in Chengdu

When Ai returned to Chengdu in April 2010, he tweeted about his dinner plans at a laoma tihua restaurant, a Chengdu specialty. Some of his followers showed up to join him -- an unprecedented meet-up between his supporters.

"Then it was this really weird sensation where everybody knew that by simply eating dinner there, it was an act of defiance. They were taking photographs of each other and posting the photographs to Twitter," recalls The New Yorker's Evan Osnos, who was at the dinner that night.

成都乱了,来了太多朋友。疯。 Chengdu is crazy. Too many friends coming. It's chaos. less than a minute ago via Zuosa
aiww艾未未 Ai Weiwei
已经开饭了,好多成都网友,高兴好吃啊! Already begun eating. So many Chengdu Internet friends. Happy it's so delicious! less than a minute ago via Zuosa
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Taking a Stand

Ai also uses his Twitter feed to recommend readings and videos, and to call attention to censorship and crackdowns, including his brief house arrest in November 2010 and the demolition of his studio in January 2011.

推荐《天安门》,珍贵的真实记录,在人们努力忘却和篡改历史时期的稀有纪录。为了谨慎起见,我又刚看了一遍。I recommend "Tiananmen", a precious true record, a rare documentation in a time when people make efforts to forget and to falsify history. In order to be cautious, I just watched through this again. less than a minute ago via web
aiww艾未未 Ai Weiwei
关于广场的最坚实可信的报道来自朋友罗宾 ROBIN MUNRO 发表在《The Nation》的6.4 笔记“Who died in beijing,and Why",详实客观严谨,他是亚洲观察的资深研究员。The most solid and trustworthy report regarding the public square [Tiananmen] comes from my friend Robin Munro. He published an article in The Nation, "Who Died in Beijing, and Why". It's reliable, objective and rigorous. He is a highly qualified researcher looking at Asia. less than a minute ago via web
aiww艾未未 Ai Weiwei
软禁、限制出行、监视、停机、断网,我们还能做的是再次问候疯了的祖国。 House arrest, travel restrictions, surveillance, stopping phone service, cutting internet connection, what we can still do is to greet the crazy motherland once again. less than a minute ago via 艾未未
aiww艾未未 Ai Weiwei
今天中国的作为实在是腐朽没落的范儿,为了避免我在未来两天接受采访,限制出行还不说,居然会会悄悄的掐断网络和电话,我要说的早就都说完了,这下又添了新的话题。The actions of China today has arrived in a state of decay, to prevent me from accepting interviews in the next two days, not only did they prevent me from travelling, surprisingly they cut off my internet connection and phone line without notice, I have finished what I needed to say much earlier on, now with this they added a new topic. less than a minute ago via Zuosa
aiww艾未未 Ai Weiwei

Ai's Extracurriculars

Spend time perusing Ai's photos and it doesn't take long to discover his penchant for giving haircuts. Below, American art assistant Lucas Lai, an unidentified friend and Twitter follower @wentommy model their new 'dos. Behind them are the names of earthquake victims collected through the "Citizens' Investigation."

You'll also find photos of Ai's many cats. Here, he poses playfully with one of them.

And, occasionally, he bids his loyal followers 'good night.'

伟大的推,晚安。The Great Twitterverse, good night. less than a minute ago via web
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Posted March 29, 2011

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