By Shayoni Sarkar
New allegations surround Chinese dissident artist, Ai Weiwei, who has been accused of “illegally fundraising” towards his tax bill by accepting donations amounting to 5 million yuan ($794,000).
Since being slapped with a 15 million yuan ($2.4 million) tax bill by the Chinese government, supporters of the outspoken artist have flooded his studio and home with donations via electronic, postal and even manual means – sometimes even folding bills into paper planes that have been flown into his home.
According to the English edition of the state-run Global Times: “Some experts have pointed out this could be an example of illegal fundraising. Since he’s borrowing from the public it at least looks like illegal fundraising.
“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.”
Ai, who was earlier held under house arrest for almost three months this year, aroused international outcry over the blatant violation of his human rights by the Chinese government. He was released without charge in June, only to be accused of tax evasion. His family and supporters are convinced that the detention was in response to the artist’s social and political activism, and Ai himself has expressed his belief that this recent tax bill was in retaliation to his activism.
The tax demand is in regard to late fees and fines for Beijing Fake Cultural Development, the company that handles the artist’s affairs but was registered to his wife. Reports claim that despite Ai being the ‘designer’ at the company, authorities have held him liable as the ‘actual controlling person’ of the firm.
However, the Chinese people are making a statement with their generous donations, with over 16,000 contributing towards theastronomical bill – with students even selling their books to raise money for the cause.
Speaking to the Guardian, the 54-year-old artist said: “It’s a beautiful thing. We don’t need the money, but we need attention for the public to understand what is going on.
“They really want to express an opinion … so we will temporarily hold their money for them and then return it.”
“This is just a voluntary action by citizens,” he told China Real Time (WSJ). “They’re telling me it’s a way to help me out and show solidarity. I don’t need the money, but I care about their support.”
Ai Weiwei has promised to repay all his supporters and has clarified the financial help as loans, not donations. The artist needs to make a payment of 8 million yuan in order to challenge the charge, which he feels is unjustified. However, it remains unclear how the artist would be legally able to challenge the tax bill as all the company’s documents have been confiscated by the police and no one has access to them.
Earlier, the artist had said that he would have to post his father’s house as bond in order to raise funds to pay the tax bill.