Skip to main content

Chinese artist Ai Weiwei places himself under home surveillance

By Alexis Lai, for CNN
April 5, 2012 -- Updated 0044 GMT (0844 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Chinese artist Ai Weiwei installs live webcams at his own home
  • Mimicks 24-hour police surveillance since his arrest at Beijing airport last year
  • Government has accused Ai of tax evasion, seeking payment of fines
  • Ai is still facing tax evasion charges, brought by the government soon after his release

Hong Kong (CNN) -- Chinese dissident and artist Ai Weiwei has turned the cameras on himself.

On the first anniversary of his arrest at Beijing airport, the internationally-renowned artist and outspoken government critic has installed live web cameras at his home, a wink to the 24-hour police surveillance he has been under since his release.

"In my life, there is so much surveillance and monitoring -- my phone, my computer ... Our office has been searched, I have been searched, every day I am being followed, there are surveillance cameras in front of my house," he said, in quotes carried by Agence France-Presse.

"So I was wondering, why don't I put some (cameras) in there so people can see all my activities. I can do that and I hope the other party (authorities) can also show some transparency."

Four cameras, positioned over his computer, bed, and courtyard, broadcast a 24-hour live feed at weiweicam.com.

Ai Weiwei: Tax politically motivated
Ai Weiwei rises: Art and activism online

Ai, 54, was on his way to Hong Kong last April when he was taken into custody and detained for three months amid a crackdown on political dissidents, activists and religious groups across China. Ai's Beijing studio was raided, and his wife and eight assistants were taken into custody for questioning.

Activists attributed the campaign to government concerns about potential uprisings inspired by the Arab Spring.

More than a month after taking him into custody, Beijing police told the state-run Xinhua news agency that Ai evaded a "huge amount" of taxes and that his company, Fake Cultural Development Ltd., intentionally destroyed accounting documents.

The government then initiated a tax evasion case against Ai's company, demanding RMB 15 million (US$ 2.4 million) in fines, charges he denies and which critics argue are politically-motivated.

Read about the latest development in Ai Weiwei's tax evasion case

The provocative artist, blogger, documentary filmmaker, and architect has a complicated relationship with the authorities.

Following the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, he created art installations to question the government's silence over the 5,000 schoolchildren killed, deaths some have attributed to substandard construction of schools.

He said he was beaten in 2009 by police officers in his hotel room as he prepared to testify at the trial of a fellow earthquake activist. However, he was allowed to fly to Munich, Germany soon afterward to exhibit his installation.

Ai also helped designed the iconic Bird's Nest stadium for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, but later renounced his role after feeling the games had become too politicized.

In November last year, he was briefly placed under house arrest to prevent him from attending a goodbye party he organized for his million-dollar studio in Shanghai after police ordered it demolished. Ai said that studio was built following government demands in the first place to enhance the city's cultural standing.

Q&A: Is China afraid of Ai Weiwei?

Ai has also embedded his Twitter feed on weiweicam.com, displaying a constant flow of netizen praise for his latest work. User @sunrrr wrote: "Ai Weiwei is always able to come up with wonderful ways to do wonderful things", while @katrinazaat tweeted "It's comforting to see you on the webcam. I admire your courage and persistence as an artist."

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
September 22, 2014 -- Updated 0916 GMT (1716 HKT)
He's one of the fieriest political activists in Hong Kong — he's been called an "extremist" by China's state-run media — and he's not old enough to drive.
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 0929 GMT (1729 HKT)
Christians in eastern China keep watch in Wenzhou, where authorities have demolished churches and removed crosses.
September 10, 2014 -- Updated 0538 GMT (1338 HKT)
Home-grown hip-hop appeals to a younger generation but its popularity has not translated into record deals and profits for budding rap artists.
September 9, 2014 -- Updated 0545 GMT (1345 HKT)
Reforms to the grueling gaokao - the competitive college entrance examination - don't make the grade, says educator Jiang Xueqin.
September 5, 2014 -- Updated 1218 GMT (2018 HKT)
Beijing grapples with reports from Iraq that a Chinese national fighting for ISIS has been captured.
September 1, 2014 -- Updated 0200 GMT (1000 HKT)
CNN's David McKenzie has tasted everything from worms to grasshoppers while on the road; China's cockroaches are his latest culinary adventure.
September 5, 2014 -- Updated 0057 GMT (0857 HKT)
Beijing rules only candidates approved by a nominating committee can run for Hong Kong's chief executive.
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 1914 GMT (0314 HKT)
China warns the United States to end its military surveillance flights near Chinese territory.
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 0312 GMT (1112 HKT)
China has produced elite national athletes but some argue the emphasis on winning discourages children. CNN's Kristie Lu Stout reports
August 19, 2014 -- Updated 0513 GMT (1313 HKT)
Chinese are turning to overseas personal shoppers to get their hands on luxury goods at lower prices.
August 15, 2014 -- Updated 0908 GMT (1708 HKT)
Experts say rapidly rising numbers of Christians are making it harder for authorities to control the religion's spread.
August 11, 2014 -- Updated 0452 GMT (1252 HKT)
"I'm proud of their moral standing," says Harvey Humphrey. His parents are accused of corporate crimes in China.
August 6, 2014 -- Updated 1942 GMT (0342 HKT)
A TV confession detailing a life of illegal gambling and paid-for sex has capped the dramatic fall of one of China's most high-profile social media celebrities.
July 31, 2014 -- Updated 0410 GMT (1210 HKT)
President Xi Jinping's campaign to punish corrupt Chinese officials has snared its biggest target -- where can the campaign go from here?
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 0712 GMT (1512 HKT)
All you need to know about the tainted meat produce that affects fast food restaurants across China, Hong Kong, and Japan.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 0230 GMT (1030 HKT)
Some savvy individuals in China are claiming naming rights to valuable foreign brands. Here's how companies can combat them.
July 16, 2014 -- Updated 0911 GMT (1711 HKT)
Is the Chinese president a true reformist or merely a "dictator" in disguise? CNN's Beijing bureau chief Jaime FlorCruz dissects the leader's policies
July 8, 2014 -- Updated 0344 GMT (1144 HKT)
With a population of 1.3 billion, you'd think that there would be 11 people in China who are good enough to put up a fight on the football pitch.
ADVERTISEMENT