On Tuesday, dissident-artist Ai Weiwei (艾未未) who was freed not too long ago from an 81-day detention, was slapped with a RMB15 million fine for tax evasion, a princely sum he has been given 15 days to cough up. The very next day, his mother Ai Ying (高瑛) and brother Ai Dan (艾丹) announced that they were mortgaging the former residence of his father, the poet Ai Qing (艾青). Following calls on Twitter by Shanghai human rights lawyer Li Tiantian (李天天) and feminist scholar Ai Xiaoming (艾晓明, no relation) to send money, his supporters also swung into action, setting up Alipay and Paypal accounts to collect donations.
Within just twelve hours, 5,232 donors had wired Ai Weiwei a grand total of RMB1.1 million. The bulk of these donations came from 4,596 Alipay users who sent him RMB862,331, and the rest of the money came via Paypal, bank transfer and postal order, says @duyanpili, a trusted volunteer who is helping to manage the donations. If donations continue to come in at this rate, Ai should be able to raise his RMB15 million within just a week.
Supporters say they are not “donating” the money to Ai Weiwei, but loaning it to him. Ai himself has given his word on Twitter, that he would return every single cent of the money, whether he succeeds or fails in fighting the charges against him.
In an interview with the Chinese service of Deutsche Welle, professor Ai Xiaoming of Zhongshan University, one of China’s more liberal universities, said, “The response by netizens is not just their way of expressing their support for Ai Weiwei, but also a sign of protest against the injustice meted out by the powers that be. This is a serious message.”
Explaining why she had joined in the call for netizens to support Ai Weiwei, she said, “I was very touched myself when I heard that Ai’s mother and brother had mortgaged their house. This put Ai in a tough spot. As children, we don’t want our parents to have to take this step. Ai has done so much for society, so how can it be that when he runs into problems, it’s just his family that’s helping him. So much of what Ai has done is in the public sphere, and that’s precisely what has led to the attacks on him by the authorities. When I saw how much his mother had to bear on his behalf, I felt like my very humanity was challenged.”
Charles Custer of Penn Olson notes the quandary that online payments provider Alipay now finds itself in, along with its owner, Alibaba: “Like Paypal, Alipay allows users to easily send money to other users, but as Alipay operates in China, there’s no way it can afford to be seen as a channel through with dissidents can raise money.”
I’m going to go out on a limb to predict that this online donation drive is going to make international headlines before the end of the day, causing someone in Beijing to freak out, and Alibaba to eventually freeze Ai Weiwei’s Alipay account.
Don’t believe me? Just you watch.
Follow Shanghaiist’s coverage on Ai Weiwei here.
All artwork for this post by biantailajiao.com.
Ai Weiwei‘s Alipay/Paypal account is [email protected]