Chinese associates of Ai Weiwei reported missing
The driver and accountant of detained artist Ai Weiwei have gone missing, according to assistants from his studio.
Friends of Zhang Jingsong, known to friends as Xiao Pang, and accountant Ms Hu—who worked for Ai’s art and architecture practice Fake Design, and whose full name is not known—have been unable to contact them since the weekend.
Officials said last week that police were investigating Ai in connection with suspected “economic crimes”, but the artist’s family say they have yet to be notified of his detention.
Zhang (53) has been out of contact since he was stopped by officials at Beijing airport more than a week ago.
His friend Wen Tao (38) has also been missing since police reportedly detained him on the same day. They did not respond to faxed queries about the four individuals.
They visited Ai’s studio three times in the week before his detention, and removed scores of items afterwards. They also questioned numerous staff and volunteers.
The detentions come amid a broadening crackdown in China, which has seen dozens of activists, dissidents and high-profile human rights lawyers criminally detained or go missing.
On Sunday, police rounded up about 160 Christians attempting to hold an open air church service in Beijing, having been evicted from their previous home. Most were released not long afterwards. Christians are supposed to attend state-approved churches but the authorities in the capital had appeared more tolerant of underground “house churches” in recent years.
Meanwhile, English language state media continued to attack Ai over the weekend, publishing a lengthy piece claiming that many in China regarded his work as “third rate”, and citing a variety of unverified allegations.
Although he is not a household name in China, he is the country’s best-known artist internationally and co-designed the Bird’s Nest National Stadium—the centrepiece of the Beijing Olympics.
The Xinhua article added: “Though police authorities have not disclosed details [of his alleged offences], various claims of accusations against Ai surfaced on the internet within hours of the investigation being announced.”
It said that none of the claims had been independently investigated, but went on to quote claims that his 2007 work Fairytale—for which he flew 1 001 Chinese citizens to an art show in Germany—was stolen from the idea of Professor Yue Luqing.
But Yue told the Guardian that he had “strong sympathy” for Ai and was worried about him following his detention, and questioned the relevance of the claims.
“I hope he is safe, no matter where he is now. I know that he has not been in good health. I have been paying attention to what he has been doing during the years, and I identify with him. These are completely different matters,” he said.
Yue said that in 2006 he had sent 1 001 people from Shanghai to Xi’an, as part of an arts project organised by the British Council.
But he added: “I would like to clarify that personally I have never said that Ai Weiwei plagiarised my work. I don’t think it is necessary to sue him and I don’t have that kind of plan either. In the art world sometimes there are what we call ‘collisions’ of ideas.”
Supporters of the artist dismissed the Xinhua piece as a crude smear. - guardian.co.uk