Artist Ai Weiwei. Photo / AP
China has returned the passport of Ai Weiwei, the dissident artist
barred from leaving the country for the past four years, enabling him to
visit London for the opening of his retrospective at the Royal Academy.
Ai was detained without charge for 81 days in 2011 and held mainly in solitary confinement, sparking an international outcry.
He was later released but faced a 1.5 million ($3.5 million) fine for alleged tax evasion.
Although he was allowed to travel within China, more than a dozen surveillance cameras were trained on his Beijing studio.
artist’s Royal Academy show is to run from September 19 to December 13,
coinciding with a state visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping in
October. Ai’s non-attendance at the exhibition would have generated
unwanted headlines during the trip, when Xi will be a guest at
The conceptualist published a photograph of himself clutching a
red Chinese passport on his Instagram account yesterday, with the
words: “Today, I received a passport.”
The 57-year-old added:
“When I got it back I felt my heart was at peace.” He added: “I think
they should have given it back some time ago – and maybe after so many
years they understand me better.”
He could not say what had
prompted the authorities to take the decision, but “now that they’ve let
me go abroad, I believe they will let me return home”. His first
foreign trip will be to see his son, who lives in Berlin.
designed the Bird’s Nest stadium for the 2008 Beijing Olympics and
filled Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall with ceramic sunflower seeds for an
A staunch critic of China’s human rights records,
works that will feature in his Royal Academy show include Remains
(2015), consisting of porcelain replicas of bones discovered during an
archaeological dig in Xinjiang province thought to be those of an
unknown individual who died in a labour camp. Ai’s father, a celebrated
poet, was sent to one such camp with his family in the 1950s.
Marlow, the artistic director of the RA, welcomed Beijing’s decision.
The academy recently launched a crowdfunding campaign to raise 100,000
towards the installation of Ai’s tree sculpture in the courtyard outside
His outspoken criticism of China’s ruling Communist party has seen his work censored domestically.
last month authorities allowed his first solo exhibition in the country
to open in Beijing. It consisted of a reconstructed 400-year-old wooden
The return of Ai’s passport comes nearly two
weeks after Beijing launched one of its most comprehensive crackdowns on
civil society in decade.
At least 238 people were detained or questioned, according to the Hong Kong-based China Human Rights Lawyer Concern Group.
than 20 are believed to be still under some form of detention,
including the human rights lawyers Sui Muqing and Xie Yang, who are
facing charges of “inciting subversion”, which could see them jailed for
up to 15 years.