Posted by: mulrickillion | November 9, 2011

EDITORIAL – In China, putting a price on democracy

Washington Post, Nov 7, 2011 —

CHINESE AUTHORITIES must have thought they had cornered the dissident artist Ai Weiwei, who is renowned for his avant-garde productions and for his willingness to speak up for human rights. A week ago they presented him with an enormous tax bill — 15 million yuan, or about $2.4 million — and ordered him to pay it within 15 days. Should he fail to do so, his lawyer said, he could be returned to prison — where he suffered 81 days of harsh and unjustified confinement earlier this year. This time, authorities could claim that the artist was being legally punished.

Imagine the surprise of the security apparatchiks, then, at what has since happened: Thousands upon thousands of Chinese — 18,829 by Monday afternoon, according to one report — have voluntarily and spontaneously contributed money to help pay Mr. Ai’s fine. Funds have flooded in by mail order and the Chinese version of Paypal. After the artist’s microblog account was shut down Sunday, people began traveling to his studio in Beijing, where they have been throwing contributions over the walls, sometimes attached to fruit or folded into paper airplanes.

By late Monday, Mr. Ai told the Agence France-Press news organization, he had collected 5.29 million yuan, or $830,000, more than a third of what he owes. It’s not clear that he needs the money; the artist has sold many works abroad. But Mr. Ai rightly is choosing to accept the payments as loans — and as a remarkable demonstration of solidarity. “This shows that a group of people who want to express their views are using their money to cast their votes,” he told the Associated Press. “It shows that in the Internet age, society will have its own judgment and its own values.”

That is just what Chinese authorities are worried about. Panicked by the popular uprisings for democracy in the Arab world this year, they have been trying to silence anyone who might inspire a “jasmine revolution” in China, starting with Mr. Ai. After arresting him in April, they held him incommunicado for nearly three months and subjected him to what he called “mental” tortures — such as being forced to stand for hours with guards inches away from him. When he was released in June, Mr. Ai was warned to stop speaking out in public.

The blatantly trumped-up tax case has caused the artist to return, courageously, to giving interviews and sending out tweets. “Speaking out is golden, and silence is death,” one posting said. He may yet be sanctioned for his behavior; that will be the first instinct of Beijing’s political cops. Already an editorial in a state-run newspaper has suggested he may be investigated for “illegal fundraising.”

Communist authorities would be wise, however, to take a lesson from the popular reaction to Mr. Ai’s persecution. Perhaps the time isn’t yet ripe for the pro-democracy revolution the regime fears so much. But if the party would like to tempt fate, putting Mr. Ai back in jail would be an excellent way to do it.

In China, putting a price on democracy – The Washington Post


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