Ai Weiwei comes to defence of Bo Xilai

By Leslie Hook in Beijing (financial times)

Artist Ai Weiwei

Bo Xilai, the former highflying Chinese politburo member who was purged in April, is getting support from an unlikely place: Ai Weiwei, the dissident Chinese artist.

In a rare interview at his Beijing home, Mr Ai said the Chinese party-led legal system posed a threat not only to people like him, but also to senior officials.

“It isn’t just my case,” said Mr Ai. “The clearest examples are Wang Lijun and Bo Xilai. Both of them are very important high party officials and very representative of the party in this era. But today they are being treated just like me.”

 Mr Wang, the former Chongqing police boss, has not been seen since he sparked the downfall of Mr Bo by entering a US consulate in February with evidence that Mr Bo’s wife, Gu Kailai, was implicated in the murder of a UK businessman.

While Mr Ai does not condone the draconian governing style Mr Bo employed in Chongqing, he believes the fate of the flamboyant politician – who has not been seen since his detention in early April – is a warning sign to all of China.

“He is a very stereotypical politician with huge selfish ambitions. Whether he is ‘singing red’, or ‘fighting crime’, he used terrible measures in an attempt to steer the country toward a more dangerous situation,” Mr Ai says of Mr Bo, who launched an infamous campaign to get Chongqing citizens to sing Mao-era Communist songs.

“But his disposal itself was done is such a way that is unacceptable. Even if he is a criminal, there should still be an open process, a legal process, to handle it. But even today there is really no one who knows what has happened to Bo Xilai.”

The artist who is currently exhibiting at London’s Serpentine Gallery has skyrocketed to international prominence over the past two years. But at home he has been paying an increasingly high price for his political critiques and art.

Mr Ai’s studio is embroiled in a Rmb15m ($2.4m) tax lawsuit which the artist says is retribution for his outspoken views. A verdict is expected on Friday.

Last April, he was detained for 81 days without charge. After being released, he was put under house arrest for almost a year. While Mr Ai is no longer confined to his home – his bail was lifted last month – he is barred from travelling abroad.

“I am still under very strict control,” he said from the leafy compound where he lives and works. “They say I am free, but I’m followed wherever I go, my phone is tapped and my friends get interrogated all the time.”

The artist says his treatment is representative of the brutality that marks China’s authoritarian system. His art often mocks the intrusive arm of the Chinese state, such as when he installed video cameras inside his house and streamed the feeds live online, mimicking the cameras installed by state security agents in his home.

Mr Ai said he was concerned about being less-known in China where censors have scrubbed his name from the Internet. His Twitter feed and blog can only be accessed if people use virtual private networks to evade the censorship apparatus.

“My name is not allowed to be brought up within China. Even [with] such a big tax case, no newspapers cover it. No websites can say, that Ai Weiwei, he is a bad person, he cheated on his taxes, there is no one who is even allowed to raise that.”

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