Despite Ai Weiwei’s house arrest last Friday and AFP reports that yesterday’s Crab Fest was canceled, I decided it might be worth checking out anyway. Turns out plenty of others felt the same way. Hundreds gathered at Ai Weiwei’s soon-to-be-demolished studio in Jiading yesterday to eat crab, jam it out on guitars, admire the architecture, and get some super special party favors.
The trip out took a little over an hour, via line 11 and a black taxi or two (normal taxis were apparently instructed not to bring anybody to that area of Jiading.) The police (affectionately dubbed hei mao, or ‘black hats’, by most) were conspicuously absent as we wove our way through the grape farms surrounding the studio.
In an interview with the Guardian, Ai had this to say about yesterdays event, his supporters and the police:
“Many had been warned by local police not to come, but they still made the effort and enjoyed music and wine and crabs. It is really amazing. Hopefully [the police] will learn from this that they cannot just use this old way to deal with new conditions. I think with the internet you don’t need to be there to communicate so well. I have spent all day talking to people there.”
He added: “I never encouraged them to go because I didn’t want them to get hurt. But they felt that was their responsibility. It was very touching to see such solidarity. I’m also surprised police didn’t do anything … [I think] they didn’t want another incident because this is already bad enough for them. They regret they have had such bad press.”
The mood of the place was mellow but festive. Old and young were gathered around a long banquet table in the inner courtyard. Collapsible cots had been set out to accommodate those visiting from outside Shanghai. Hundreds of plates, bowls, and cups were stacked and left idle, a sad tribute to the party it could have been.
The serving of the crab was the most exciting point of the evening, symbolizing for many their stubborn protest of Chinese censorship and support for political activism (River Crab in Chinese is a homonym for harmony – 河蟹 v. 和谐, and a popular euphemism for censorship in China.)
Even more exciting for a few was the handing out of ceramic kui huazi (sunflower seeds) from Ai Weiwei’s exhibit currently at London’s Tate Modern. These ‘Seeds of Freedom’ were handed out to anybody with a Twitter account, a demonstration in support of the Chinese Twitterati who provide a network of support for Chinese activists everywhere.
This morning, according to Voice of America News, the artist was released from house arrest.