There is now a drastic twist to the tax evasion case of Ai Weiwei. Ai revealed to the media recently that China's judicial institutions have asked him to pay for his tax evasion actions which total 15 million yuan ($2.3 million). On Weibo, Ai openly asked to "borrow"money from the public.
Ai said he would repay everyone several times the amount borrowed after he won the case. He claimed that more than 10,000 people quickly responded. This event has been interpreted by some foreign media as the Chinese people donating to Ai's cause. The action has also been regarded as a special protest by the artist.
Some experts have pointed out this could be an example of illegal fund-raising. Since he's borrowing from the public, it at least looks like illegal fund-raising. Meanwhile, as Western media reported, Ai purchased an upscale apartment in Berlin last year, and had planned to buy a 4,800-square-meter studio this year also in Berlin. Does he need to borrow money to pay off his tax evasion? However, as we are neither legal or tax professionals, these are not the key points we have tried to make.
It might be true that a few people in China would like to give him some money. Some donators said they view the donation as an act of voting. But the thing here is, Ai's borrowing and the subsequent donations will not make any substantive change to Ai's case. First, it will not alter the matter of Ai's tax evasion, something his followers don't even question. But many hold the view that tax evasion is rampant in China. This time, it is an excuse Chinese authorities have used to punish the dissident.
The donations will not change the public's attitude toward Ai's case, either. 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. Ai's political preference along with his supporters' cannot stand for the mainstream public, which is opposed to radical and confrontational political stances.
China has more than a few artists who have made headlines because of tax evasion. One is actress Liu Xiaoqing who went to prison for over 400 days. But unlike Ai, Liu's case aroused almost zero attention in terms of unfairness from this small group of people, while Ai was only detained for around 40 days.
Ai probably will spend more time in politics than in art in the future. In China, more people are imitating Ai's approach than ever before. It is probably because the overall risk of doing so is not as great as it once was but the financial gain is obvious.