China Elected New Leader but fails to address human rights abuse


Xi Jinping has been confirmed as China’s new leader after appearing on a stage in Beijing’s Great Hall of the People along with the other six men who will now lead the world’s second largest economy.


“On behalf of the members of the newly elected central leadership, I wish to express our heartfelt thanks to all other members of the party for the great trust they have placed in us. We will strive to be worthy of their trust and fulfil our mission,” the 59-year-old told the gathered media.

Mr Xi is now the general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party and will become Chinese president in March. Li Kequang will become the country’s premier at the same time.

The moment the appointment of the two men was confirmed came when they and the five other members of the Communist Party’s Politburo Standing Committee appeared on a stage in the Great Hall.

The new leaders were almost an hour late in appearing, providing an unusual moment of suspense for Chinese politics which is normally highly choreographed and predictable.

As he took to the podium to address the waiting media, Mr Xi apologised for the delay and outlined his challenges ahead.

“We are not complacent, and we will never rest on our laurels,” he said.

“Our party faces many severe challenges, and there are also many pressing problems within the party that need to be resolved, particularly corruption, being divorced from the people, going through formalities and bureaucratism caused by some party officials,” Mr Xi said.

“We must make every effort to solve these problems. The whole party must stay on full alert.”

Mr Xi was also named head of the Communist Party’s Central Military Commission, according to Chinese state news agency Xinhua. Until now, there had been suggestions that outgoing President Hu Jintao would remain head of the military.

The size of the Standing Committee has been reduced from nine to seven. The other members are Zhang Dejiang, Yu Zhengsheng, Liu Yunshan, Wang Qishan and Zhang Gaoli.

Surprisingly, Guangdong Province’s reform-minded party boss Wang Yang did not make it onto the top body.

Five of the seven men are seen as being modernisers. Some have suggested that they are cautious reformers.

However, both Liu Yunshan and Zhang Dejiang are said to be far more conservative minded. Mr Liu has been director of the party’s propaganda bureau since 2002 and has kept the domestic media on a tight leash.

Jean-Pierre Cabestan, a professor of political science at Hong Kong’s Baptist University is cautious about whether reform will come under the new leadership.

“The leadership is divided … I see a lot of political paralysis in terms of changing the political system … I don’t see them rocking the boat unless Xi Jinping demonstrates leadership and charisma and imposes his views on the rest of the leadership.”

China is the world’s second largest economy, but it is slowing. Western leaders have long called for wholesale political and further economic reform in China.

Mr Xi takes the reins at a time when corruption is rife, the gap between rich and poor is massive and growing and environmental problems are huge.

“To address these problems, we must first of all conduct ourselves honourably,” Mr Xi said.

“Our responsibility is to work with all the comrades in the party to uphold the principle that the party should supervise its own conduct and run itself with strict discipline, effectively solve major problems in the party, improve our conduct, and maintain close ties with the people.

“Our people have an ardent love for life. They wish to have better education, more stable jobs, more income, greater social security, better medical and health care, improved housing conditions, and a better environment.”

The 1.3 billion people in China do not have a say in who leads them or who sits on this top body. The Communist Party makes up just 6%of the population. Its appointment process works like a pyramid: at each level fewer and fewer people have a say who rises above them.

Mr Xi concluded his first speech as China’s new leader with a message for the international community.

“Friends from the press,” Xi said, “Just as China needs to learn more about the world, so does the world need to learn more about China.

“I hope you will continue your efforts to deepen mutual understanding between China and the world,” he added.

As much as I am happy for the Chinese Communist Party electing it’s leader some how I still think that the talk of China reform should go further by addressing the Human Rights Abuse and the illegal detaining of political activists for speaking out against China’s Human Rights abuses.

Let us not forget the unfair treatment of our Chinese students which led to mass demostrations in Tiananmen Square

The Tiananmen Square protests of 1989, also known as the June Fourth Incident in Chinese,[1] were a series of popular demonstrations in and near Tiananmen Square in Beijing beginning on 15 April 1989. The protests ended with military suppression on 4 June, an event initially labeled and still widely known as the Tiananmen Square Massacre or Tiananmen Massacre. However, secret US Embassy cables obtained by Wikileaks and reported on by the Daily Telegraph “partly confirm the Chinese government’s account of the early hours of June 4, 1989, which has always insisted that soldiers did not massacre demonstrators inside Tiananmen Square. Instead, the cables show that Chinese soldiers opened fire on protesters outside the centre of Beijing, as they fought their way towards the square from the west of the city.”[2]

In the late 1970s, the Chinese leadership of Deng Xiaoping abandoned Maoist-style planned collectivist economics, and embraced market-oriented reforms.[3] Due to the rapid pace of change, by the late 1980s, grievances over inflation, limited career prospects for students, and corruption of the party elite were growing rapidly. Communist governments were also losing legitimacy around the world, particularly in Eastern Europe. In April 1989, triggered by the death of deposed Communist Party General Secretary Hu Yaobang, a liberal reformer, mass gatherings and protests took place in and around Tiananmen Square.[4] At its height, some half a million protesters assembled there. The demonstrations, consisting of local working residents as well as students,[5] called for government accountability, freedom of the press, freedom of speech, and the restoration of workers’ control over industry.[6] Peaceful protests also occurred in other cities, such as Shanghai and Wuhan, while looting and rioting broke out in Xi’an and Changsha.[7]

The movement lasted for about seven weeks. The government initially attempted to appease the protesters through concessions, but a student-led hunger strike galvanized support for the demonstrators around the country. Ultimately, Deng Xiaoping and other party elders resolved to use force to suppress the movement.[8] Party authorities declared martial law on 20 May. Military convoys entered Beijing on the evening of 3–4 June. Under strict orders to clear the Square by dawn, the People’s Liberation Army pushed through makeshift blockades set up by demonstrators in western Beijing on their way to Tiananmen Square. The PLA used live fire to clear their path of protesters. The exact number of civilian deaths is not known, and the majority of estimates range from several hundred to thousands.[9]

Internationally, the Chinese government was widely condemned for the use of force against the protesters. Western governments imposed economic sanctions and arms embargoes. Following 4 June, the government conducted widespread arrests of protesters and their supporters, cracked down on other protests around China, expelled foreign journalists and strictly controlled coverage of the events in the domestic press. Officials deemed sympathetic to the protests were demoted or purged.[10] General Secretary Zhao Ziyang, who was considered too sympathetic to the movement, was ousted in a party leadership reshuffle. The aftermath of the protests strengthened the power of orthodox Communist hardliners, and delayed further market reforms until Deng Xiaoping’s 1992 southern tour.[11] To this day, the government of the People’s Republic of China continues to suppress public mention or discussion about the protests.

n the Chinese language, the incident is most commonly known as the June Fourth Incident.[1] Colloquially, often a simple June Fourth (Chinese: 六四; pinyin: Liù-Sì) is used. The nomenclature of the former is consistent with the customary names of the other two great protests that occurred in Tiananmen Square: the May Fourth Movement of 1919, and the April Fifth Movement of 1976. “June Fourth” refers to the day on which the People’s Liberation Army cleared Tiananmen Square of protesters, although actual operations began on the evening of 3 June. Some use the “June Fourth” designation solely to refer to the killings carried out by the Army, while others use it to refer to the entire movement. Names such as June Fourth Movement (Chinese: 六四运动; pinyin: Liù-Sì Yùndòng) and 89 Democracy Movement (Chinese: 八九民运; pinyin: Bā-Jiǔ Mínyùn) are used to describe the event in its entirety.

In Chinese dissident circles and among people of the movement, it is commonly referred to as June Fourth Massacre (Chinese: 六四屠杀; pinyin: Liù-Sì Túshā) and June Fourth Crackdown (Chinese: 六四镇压; pinyin: Liù-Sì Zhènyā). To bypass internet censorship in China, which uniformly considers all the above-mentioned names too ‘sensitive’ for search engines and public forums, alternative names have sprung up to describe the events on the internet, such as May 35th, VIIV (Roman numerals for 6 and 4) and “Eight Squared” (i.e. 82 = 64).[12]

The government of the People’s Republic of China have used numerous names for the event since 1989, gradually reducing the intensity of terminology applied.[13] As the events were unfolding, it was labelled a “Counterrevolutionary Riot”, which was later changed to simply “Riot”, followed by “Political Storm”, and finally the leadership settled on the more neutralized phrase “Political Storm between Spring and Summer of 1989,” which it uses to this day.[13][14]

In English, the terms Tiananmen Square Protests or Tiananmen Square Crackdown are often used to describe the series of events. The term Tiananmen Square Massacre was also commonly used by the media, but journalistic use has waned in recent years.[8] This is because much of the violence did not actually happen in Tiananmen, but outside the square in the city of Beijing near the Muxidi area.[8] The term also gives a misleading impression that demonstrations only happened in Beijing, when in fact they occurred in many cities throughout China.[8]

Challenges with reform

At the Third Plenum of the Eleventh Communist Party Congress in 1978, the Chinese leadership initiated a series of economic and political reforms, which led to the gradual implementation of a market economy and some political liberalization that relaxed the system set up by Mao Zedong. These reforms were generally successful in the early years and well received by the public.[3] However, the pace of political reform was slow, as corruption and nepotism pervaded the shift toward a free-market economy.[15]

The state-mandated pricing system, in place since the 1950s, had long kept prices stable at low levels that reduced incentives to increase production. The initial reforms created a two-tier system where some prices were fixed while others were allowed to fluctuate. In a market with chronic shortages, this allowed people with powerful connections to buy goods at low prices and sell at market prices.[16] In addition, the money supply had expanded too fast. At least a third of factories were unprofitable. The government tightened the money supply in 1988, leaving much of the economy without loans.[16]

Following the 1988 Beidaihe meeting, the party leadership under Deng Xiaoping agreed to a transition to a market-based price system.[17][18] News of the relaxation of price controls triggered waves of cash withdrawals, buying and hoarding all over China.[19] The government panicked and rescinded the price reforms in less than two weeks, but its impact was pronounced for a much longer period of time. Inflation soared. Official indices report a Consumer Price Index increase of 30% in Beijing between 1987–88, leading to panic among salaried workers that they could no longer afford staple goods.[20] Moreover, in the new market economy, unprofitable state-owned enterprises were pressured to cut costs. The “iron rice bowl“, i.e., job security and a host of social benefits that come with it, ranging from medical care to subsidized housing, were at risk for a vast segment of the population.[20][21]

Social disenfranchisement and legitimacy crisis

Reformist leaders envisioned in 1978 that intellectuals would play a leading role in guiding the country through reforms, but this did not happen as planned.[22] Despite the opening of new universities and increased enrollment,[23] the state-directed education system did not adequately prepare for increasing market demand in the areas of agriculture, light industry, services, and foreign investment.[24] The job market was especially limited for students specializing in social sciences and the humanities.[25] Moreover, private companies no longer needed to accept students assigned to them by the state, and many high-paying jobs were offered on the basis of nepotism and favoritism.[26] Gaining a good state-assigned placement meant navigating a highly inefficient bureaucracy that gave power to officials who had little expertise in their area of jurisdiction.[20] Facing a dismal job market and limited chances of going abroad, intellectuals and students had a greater vested interest in political issues. Small-scale study groups, such as the “Democracy Salon” and the “Caodi Salon”, began appearing on Beijing university campuses.[27] These organizations motivated the students to get involved politically.[17]

At the same time, the party’s nominally socialist ideology faced a legitimacy crisis as it gradually adopted capitalist practices.[28] Private enterprise gave rise to profiteers who took advantage of lax regulations, and who often flaunted their wealth in front of the ‘have-nots’ of society.[20] Popular discontent was brewing over the lack of fairness in wealth distribution. Greed, not skill, appeared to be the most crucial success factor. There was widespread public disillusionment over the country’s future. People wanted change, yet the power to define ‘the correct path’ continued to rest solely in the hands of the state.[29]

Devising an appropriate response to the problems created by reforms opened a rift in the Chinese leadership. The reformers (“the right”, led by Hu Yaobang) favoured political liberalization and a plurality of ideas as a channel to voice popular discontent, and supported further reforms. The conservatives (“the left”, led by Chen Yun) said that the reforms had gone too far, and advocated for a return to greater state control to ensure social stability and to better align with the party’s socialist ideology. Both sides needed the backing of paramount leader Deng Xiaoping to carry out important policy decisions.[30]

1986 student demonstrations

In the summer of 1986, astrophysics professor Fang Lizhi, who had returned from a tenure at Princeton University, began a personal tour around universities in China, speaking about liberty, human rights, and separation of powers. He became immensely popular and his recorded speeches were widely circulated among students.[31] In response, Deng Xiaoping warned that Fang was worshipping Western lifestyles, capitalism, and multi-party systems, while undermining China’s socialist ideology, traditional values, and the party’s leadership.[31]

Inspired by Fang and other ‘people-power’ movements around the world, in December 1986, student demonstrators staged protests against the slow pace of reform. The issues were wide-ranging, and included demands for economic liberalization, democracy, and rule of law.[32] While the protests were initially contained in Hefei, where Fang lived, it quickly spread to Beijing and other major cities. The central leadership was alarmed by the protests, and accused the students of fomenting Cultural Revolution-style turmoil.

General Secretary Hu Yaobang was blamed for taking a soft attitude and mishandling the protests, thus undermining social stability. He was denounced thoroughly by conservatives. Hu was forced to resign as General Secretary on 16 January 1987. Following his resignation, the party began the “Anti Bourgeois Liberalization Campaign”, taking aim at Hu, political liberalization, and Western-inspired ideas in general.[33] The Campaign put a stop to student protests and tightened the political environment, but Hu remained popular with progressives within the party, intellectuals, and students.[34

When Hu Yaobang suddenly died of a heart attack on 15 April 1989, students reacted strongly. Hu’s death provided the initial impetus for students to gather in large numbers.[35] In university campuses, many posters appeared eulogizing Hu, calling for a reversal of Hu’s legacy. Within days, most posters were writing about broader political issues, such as freedom of the press, democracy, and corruption.[36]

Small spontaneous gatherings to mourn Hu began on 15 April around Monument to the People’s Heroes at Tiananmen Square. On the same day, many students at Peking University (PKU) and Tsinghua University erected shrines, and joined the gathering in Tiananmen Square in a piecemeal fashion. Organized student gatherings also began on a small scale in Xi’an and Shanghai on 16 April. On 17 April, students at the China University of Political Science and Law (CUPL) made a large wreath to commemorate Hu Yaobang. Its laying-party was on 17 April and a larger-than-expected crowd assembled.[37] At five p.m., 500 CUPL students reached the eastern gate of the Great Hall of the People, near Tiananmen Square, to mourn Hu. The gathering featured speakers from various backgrounds giving public orations commemorating Hu and discussing social problems. However, it was soon deemed obstructive to the operation of the Great Hall, so police intervened and attempted to disperse the students by persuasion.

Starting on the night of 17 April, three thousand PKU students marched from the campus towards Tiananmen Square, and soon nearly a thousand students from Tsinghua joined. Upon arrival, they soon joined forces with those already gathered at the Square. As its size grew, the gathering gradually evolved into a protest, as students began to draft a list of pleas and suggestions (Seven Demands) for the government:

  1. Affirm as correct Hu Yaobang’s views on democracy and freedom;
  2. Admit that the campaigns against spiritual pollution and bourgeois liberalization had been wrong;
  3. Publish information on the income of state leaders and their family members;
  4. End the ban on privately run newspapers and stop press censorship;
  5. Increase funding for education and raise intellectuals’ pay;
  6. End restrictions on demonstrations in Beijing
  7. Provide objective coverage of students in official media.[38][39]

On the morning of 18 April, students remained in the Square. Some gathered around the Monument to the People’s Heroes singing patriotic songs and listening to impromptu speeches by student organizers, others gathered at the Great Hall. Meanwhile, a few thousand students gathered at Xinhua Gate, the entrance to Zhongnanhai, the seat of the party leadership, where they demanded dialogue with the leadership. Police restrained the students from entering the compound. Students then staged a sit-in.

On 20 April, most students had been persuaded to leave Xinhua Gate. To disperse about 200 students that remained, police employed batons; minor clashes were reported. Many students felt they were abused by the Police, and rumours about police brutality spread quickly. The Xinhua Gate incident angered students on campus, where those who were not hitherto politically active decided to join the protests.[40] Also on this date, a group of workers calling themselves the “Beijing Workers’ Autonomous Federation” issued two handbills challenging the central leadership.[41]

Hu’s state funeral took place on 22 April. On the evening of 21 April, some 100,000 students marched on Tiananmen Square, ignoring orders from Beijing municipal authorities that the Square was to be closed off for the funeral. The funeral, which took place inside the Great Hall and attended by the leadership, was broadcast live to the students. General Secretary Zhao Ziyang delivered the eulogy. The funeral seemed rushed, and only lasted 40 minutes, as emotions ran high in the Square. Students wept.[30][42][43]

Security cordoned off the east entrance to the Great Hall, but several students pressed forward. Three of these students knelt on the steps of the Great Hall to present a petition and demanded to see Premier Li Peng.[44] However, no leaders emerged from the Great Hall, leaving the students disappointed and angry; some called for a class boycott.[44]

From 21 to 23 April, students began organizing under the banners of formal organizations. On 23 April, the “Beijing Autonomous University Students Union” (“the Union”) was formed. It elected CUPL student Zhou Yongjun as chair; Wang Dan and Wu’erkaixi also emerged as leaders. From this vantage point, the Union called for a general class boycott at all Beijing universities. Such an independent organization operating outside of party jurisdiction alarmed the leadership.[45]

On 22 April, near dusk, serious rioting broke out in Changsha and Xi’an. In Xi’an, arson from rioters destroyed cars and houses, and looting occurred in shops near the city’s Xihua Gate. In Changsha, 38 stores were ransacked by looters. Over 350 people were arrested in both cities. In Wuhan, university students organized protests against the provincial government. As the situation became more volatile nationally, Zhao Ziyang called numerous meetings of the Politburo Standing Committee (PSC). Zhao stressed three points: discourage students from further protests and ask them to go back to class, use all measures necessary to combat rioting, and open forms of dialogue with students at different levels of government.[46] Premier Li Peng called upon Zhao to condemn protestors and recognize the need to take more serious action. Zhao dismissed Li’s views. Despite calls for him to remain in Beijing, Zhao left for a scheduled state visit to North Korea on 23 April.[47]

Zhao’s departure to North Korea left Li Peng as the acting executive authority in Beijing. On 24 April, Li Peng and the PSC met with Beijing Party Secretary Li Ximing and mayor Chen Xitong to gauge the situation at the Square. The municipal officials wanted a quick resolution to the crisis, and framed the protests as a conspiracy to overthrow China’s political system and major party leaders, including Deng Xiaoping. In Zhao’s absence, the PSC agreed that firm action against protesters must be taken.[47] On the morning of 25 April, President Yang Shangkun and Premier Li Peng met with Deng at the latter’s residence. Deng endorsed a hardline stance and said an appropriate ‘warning’ must be disseminated via mass media to curb further demonstrations.[48] The meeting firmly established the first official evaluation of the protests from the leadership, and highlighted Deng’s having ‘final say’ on important issues. Li Peng subsequently ordered Deng’s views to be drafted as a communique and issued to all high-level Communist Party officials in an effort to mobilize the party apparatus against protesters.

On 26 April, the party’s official newspaper People’s Daily issued a front-page editorial titled “It is necessary to take a clear-cut stand against disturbances.” It accused “extremely small segments of opportunists” of plotting to overthrow the Communist Party and the political system.[49] The statement enraged students, who interpreted it as a direct indictment on the protests and its cause. The editorial backfired. Instead of scaring students into submission, it antagonized the students against the state.[50] The editorial proved to be a major sticking point for the remainder of the protests.[48] It evoked memories of the 1976 Tiananmen Incident: an event that was initially branded an anti-government conspiracy with much the same language as the 26 April Editorial but was later rehabilitated as “patriotic” under Deng’s leadership.[30]

Organized by the Union, on 27 April some 50,000-100,000 students from all Beijing universities marched through the streets of the capital to Tiananmen Square, breaking through lines set up by police, and receiving widespread public support along the way, particularly from factory workers.[30] The student leaders, eager to show the patriotic nature of the movement, also toned down anti-Communist slogans, choosing to present a message of “anti-corruption, anti-cronyism” but “pro-party”.[50] In a twist of irony, student factions who genuinely called for the overthrow of the Communist Party gained traction as a result of the 26 April Editorial.[50]

The stunning success of the March forced the government into making concessions and meeting with student representatives. On 29 April, State Council spokesman Yuan Mu met with appointed representatives of government-sanctioned student associations. While the talks discussed a wide range of issues, including the editorial, the Xinhua Gate incident, and freedom of the press, they achieved few substantive results. Independent student leaders such as Wuer Kaixi refused to attend.[51]

The government’s tone grew increasingly conciliatory as Zhao Ziyang returned from Pyongyang on 30 April and resumed his executive authority. In Zhao’s view, the hardliner approach had proven to be useless, and concession was the only alternative.[52] Zhao asked that the press be opened to report the movement positively, and delivered two sympathetic speeches on 3–4 May. In the speeches, Zhao said that the student’s concerns about corruption were legitimate, and that the student movement was patriotic in nature.[53] The speeches essentially negated the message presented by 26 April Editorial. While some 100,000 students marched on the streets of Beijing on 4 May to commemorate the May Fourth Movement and repeat demands from earlier marches, many students were satisfied with the government’s concessions.[54] On 4 May, all Beijing universities except PKU and BNU announced the end of the class boycott. Subsequently, the majority of students began to lose interest in the movement.[54]

More recent detainees were Ai Weiwei (born 18 May 1957) is a Chinese contemporary artist, active in sculpture, installation, architecture, curating, photography, film, and social, political and cultural criticism.[1][2] Ai collaborated with Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron as the artistic consultant on the Beijing National Stadium for the 2008 Olympics.[3] As a political activist, he has been highly and openly critical of the Chinese Government‘s stance on democracy and human rights. He has investigated government corruption and cover-ups, in particular the Sichuan schools corruption scandal following the collapse of so-called “tofu-skin schools” in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake.[4] In 2011, following his arrest at Beijing airport on 3 April, he was held for over two months without any official charges being filed; officials alluded to their allegations of “economic crimes” (tax evasion). In October 2011 ArtReview magazine named Ai number one in their annual Power 100 list. The decision was criticised by the Chinese authorities. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin responded, “China has many artists who have sufficient ability. We feel that a selection that is based purely on a political bias and perspective has violated the objectives of the magazine”.[5]

Ai Weiwei’s father was Chinese poet Ai Qing,[6] who was denounced during the Anti-Rightist Movement and in 1958 sent to a labour camp in Xinjiang with his wife, Gao Ying.[7] Ai Weiwei was one year old at the time and lived in Shihezi for 16 years. In 1975 the family returned to Beijing.[8] Ai Weiwei is married to artist Lu Qing.[7] Ai Weiwei has a son from an extramarital relationship.[9]

In 1978, Ai enrolled in the Beijing Film Academy and attended school with Chinese directors Chen Kaige and Zhang Yimou.[10] In 1978, he was one of the founders of the early avant garde art group the “Stars”, together with Ma Desheng, Wang Keping, Huang Rui, Li Shuang, Zhong Acheng and Qu Leilei. The group disbanded in 1983,[11] yet Ai participated in regular Stars group shows, The Stars: Ten Years, 1989 (Hanart Gallery, Hong-Hong and Taipei), and a retrospective exhibition in Beijing in 2007:Origin Point (Today Art Museum, Beijing).

From 1981 to 1993, he lived in the United States, mostly in New York, creating conceptual art by altering readymade objects.[11] He studied at Parsons School of Design[12] and at the Art Students League of New York.[13] At the same time, Ai became fascinated by blackjack card games and frequented Atlantic City casinos. He is still regarded in gambling circles as a top tier professional blackjack player according to an article published on[14][15][16]

In 1993, Ai returned to China after his father became ill.[17] He helped establish the experimental artists’ Beijing East Village and published a series of three books about this new generation of artists: Black Cover Book (1994), White Cover Book (1995), and Gray Cover Book (1997).[18]

Ai Weiwei is the Artistic Director of China Art Archives & Warehouse (CAAW), which he co-founded in 1997. This contemporary art archive and experimental gallery in Beijing concentrates on experimental art from the People’s Republic of China, initiates and facilitates exhibitions and other forms of introductions inside and outside China.[19] The building which houses it was designed by Ai in 2000.[20]

In 1998, Ai moved to Caochangdi, in the northeast of Beijing, and built a studio house – his first architectural project. Due to his interest in architecture, he founded the architecture studio FAKE Design, in 2003.[21] In 2000, he co-curated the art exhibition Fuck Off with curator Feng Boyi in Shanghai, China.[22] In 2002, he was the curator of the project Jinhua Architecture Park.

In 2005, Ai was invited to start blogging by Sina Weibo, the biggest internet platform in China. The same year he co-curated the exhibition Mahjong: Contemporary Chinese Art from the Sigg Collection, exhibited in Switzerland, Germany, Austria and the USA.

In 2006, Ai and HHF Architects designed a private residence in upstate New York for collectors Christopher Tsai and André Stockamp.[23] According to the New York Times, the Tsai Residence is divided into four modules and the details are “extraordinarily refined”.[23][24] The same year Ai was a speaker at the World Economic Forum‘s annual meeting, which in 2006 was titled, Innovation and Design Strategy. In 2009, the Chicago Athenaeum Museum of Architecture and Design selected the home for its International Architecture Awards, one of the world’s most prestigious global awards for new architecture, landscape architecture, interiors and urban planning.[25] In 2010, Wallpaper magazine nominated the Tsai Residence for its Wallpaper Design Awards category: Best New Private House.[26] A detached guesthouse to the Tsai Residence, also designed by Ai and HHF Architects, was completed after the main house and, according to New York Magazine, looks like a “floating boomerang of rusty Cor-Ten steel.”[27]

Ai Weiwei’s Fountain of Light (2007) is a 7m high tower of steel and crystals, reinterpreting Vladimir Tatlin‘s Monument to the Third International.[28]

On 15 March 2010, Ai took part in Digital Activism in China, a discussion hosted by The Paley Media Center in New York with Jack Dorsey (founder of Twitter) and Richard MacManus.[29] Also in 2010 he served as jury member for Future Generation Art Prize, Kiev, Ukraine; contributed design for Comme de Garcons Aoyama Store, Tokyo, Japan; and participated in a talk with Nobel Prize winner Herta Müller at the International Culture festival Litcologne in Cologne, Germany.

In 2011, Ai served as co-director and curator of the 2011 Gwangju Design Biennale, and co-curator of the exhibition Shanshui at The Museum of Art Lucerne.[30] Also in 2011, Ai spoke at TED (conference), served as one of the jury for A Logo for Human Rights, was a guest lecturer at Oslo School of Architecture and Design, and named an honorary member at Berlin University of the Arts.

On 24 October 2012, Ai went live with a cover of Gangnam Style, the famous K-pop phenomenon by South Korean rapper PSY, through the posting of a four-minute long parody video on youtube. The video was an attempt to criticize the Chinese government’s attempt to silence his activism and was quickly blocked by national authorities.

Exhibitions and installations

Ai’s artwork has been exhibited in Australia, Europe, North and South America. Solo exhibitions include Museum DKM, Duisburg (2010); Museum of Contemporary Craft, Portland (2010); Arcadia University Gallery, Glenside (2010); Mori Art Museum, Tokyo (2009); Haus der Kunst, Munich (2009); Three Shadows Photography Art Center, Beijing (2009); Sherman Contemporary Art Foundation, Cambelltown Arts Center, Sydney (2008); Groninger Museum, Groningen (2008).[31]

Ai’s work was included in the 48th Venice Biennale in Italy (1999), 1st Guangzhou Triennale in China (2002), 1st Montpellier Biennial of Chinese Contemporary Art in France (2005), The 2nd Guangzhou Triennial (2005), Busan Biennial in Korea (2006), The 5th Asia-Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art in Australia (2006), Documenta 12 in Germany (2007), Liverpool Biennial International 08 in the United Kingdom (2008), 2010 Venice Architecture Biennale and the 29th Sao Paulo Biennial in Brazil (2010).

Then there are Chinese Human rights Layers who are arrested and they have disappeared yet the Chinese government has a novel solution to the growing problem of illegal enforced disappearances.

“Legalize” them.

On Aug. 24, Chinese state media announced a proposed change in the Criminal Procedure Law which would allow police to legally detain individuals and hold them incommunicado in secret detention for up to six months without contact with either their families or legal counsel.

The Chinese government is pitching the proposed change as merely an extension of the conditions of the existing practice of residential surveillance, or “soft arrest,” to suspects in state security, terrorism or major corruption cases. “Soft arrest” allows police to confine criminal suspects to their homes for up to six months without trial or due legal process.

But Chinese lawyers, legal scholars and human rights activists warn that the proposal is a cynical fig leaf of legal justification for a wave of enforced disappearances which violate both domestic and international law.

The numbers of victims highlight the sharp deterioration in rule of law in China over the past eight months. Since mid-February, Chinese security forces have forcibly disappeared at least 26 writers, artists, bloggers and human rights defenders, according to the nongovernmental organization Chinese Human Rights Defenders [3].

While the majority of those abductees have been subsequently released, the whereabouts of at least three remain unknown: Lan Ruoyu, a Chongqing-based graduate student missing since Feb. 27; Tan Yanhua, a Guangzhou City-based human rights activist missing since Feb. 25; and Zhang Haiboa, a Shanghai-based blogger abducted by police on Feb. 20.

Victims are often violently abducted, denied their right to due legal process and contact with loved ones or lawyers, and are at high risk of torture while in custody. The majority of those ultimately released after they have spent lengthy periods “disappeared,” such as the once-outspoken human rights lawyer Teng Biao, have been intimidated — or worse — into uncharacteristic silence and seclusion.

Those intimidation tactics were illuminated in recent Twitter posts by Liu Shihui [5], a Guangzhou-based human rights lawyer snatched at his home on Feb. 25 and held in unacknowledged detention by security forces for 108 days, until June 12.

Liu described a regimen of forced sleep deprivation, interrogations and “abusive threats,” which have had a profound impact on his health. “Now I have all sorts of illnesses,” Liu tweeted on Aug. 21. “I can only sleep four or five hours a day, and I can’t get back to sleep after waking at two or three in the morning.”

Enforced disappearances are nothing new in China. For years, government officials, security forces and their agents have used enforced disappearances in the ethnic minority regions of Tibet and Xinjiang as well as to purge China’s city streets of petitioners — rural residents seeking legal redress for local abuses of power.

Every year in Beijing alone, thousands of petitioners are abducted, detained and subjected to appalling abuses in a network of secret, illegal detention facilities known as “black jails.” [6]

Despite several state media reports of black jail abuses, the government has never admitted they exist and in the vast majority of cases has neither abolished them nor punished the abusers.

Gao Zhisheng, a lawyer who took on some of China’s most controversial causes, including defending miners denied their labor safety rights, and religious minorities like the Falun Gong and underground Christians, is a case in point. His enforced disappearance in February 2009 highlights the Chinese government’s flagrantly thuggish willingness to disappear high-profile dissidents despite unrelenting foreign and domestic criticism.

Gao re-emerged in his Beijing apartment in early April 2010 but vanished again days later, apparently back into official custody. His location, health, and circumstances remain unknown.

An even more sinister development has been the willingness of some foreign governments to facilitate the Chinese government’s moves to disappear citizens who seek refuge overseas.

International law forbids governments from returning people to situations where they are at risk of persecution or torture. China’s record of torture, enforced disappearance, and arbitrary detention of Uighurs, a predominantly Muslim ethnic minority who have long suffered state discrimination and other abuses, puts them at particular risk.

Nevertheless, on Dec. 19, 2009, the Cambodian government forced 20 Uighurs onto a Chinese government plane in Phnom Penh. The Uighurs were flown back to China and disappeared into official — if unacknowledged — custody. Since then, the only whisper of the fate of the deported Uighurs — who included two infants — was an unconfirmed report in mid-January 2010 that some of them had been sentenced by a Xinjiang court to verdicts that included the death penalty.

On Aug. 6, Thai officials in Bangkok surrendered Nur Muhammed, an ethnic Uighur arrested on charges of violating Thailand’s Immigration Act, to Chinese government officials in violation of Thai law. On Aug. 18, Malaysian police surrendered at least 11 Uighurs, who media reports indicate had been accused of human trafficking and passport fraud, to Chinese government officials in Kuala Lumpur, in clear violation of Malaysian law.

Foreign governments should resist efforts by the Chinese authorities to leverage its growing economic power and diplomatic heft to broker foreign complicity in abusing the rights of its citizens.

And they should be mindful that the Chinese government’s efforts today to tinker with its legal system to undermine its domestic and international legal obligations raises serious doubts about its reliability as a partner for long-term, mutually beneficial economic, security and diplomatic relations tomorrow.

Phelim Kine is a senior Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch.



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