November 8, 2011
Ai Weiwei and Chinese philanthropy
There's been a great story developing for the past few days about everyone's favorite dissident Chinese artist, Ai Weiwei, who was detained for three months earlier this year for "tax evasion", and now isn't allowed to leave Beijing.
Now 20,000 of his supporters in China have been sending him money. A lot of money: over $900,000 so far. The cover story is that people want to help Ai pay his $2.4 million tax bill, but since everyone knows the reason the Chinese government is watching him has nothing to do with taxes, and since he claims he has plenty of money and doesn't need the donations, it's really a big spontaneous diss to the government.
The state of philanthropy in China is weird. The country has plenty of rich people, and increasingly a lot of charitable rich people, but there's historically been a lot of suspicion about giving money to nonprofit organizations that are essentially controlled by the government, and could be shut down if they take a critical stance. Or setting up a foundation that might be private in name, but is ultimately controlled by the government. And I'm pretty sure there aren't tax benefits for donating money in China.
Which is why I love that so many people are going straight to Ai Weiwei's house and literally wrapping money around pieces of fruit, or folding it into paper airplanes, and throwing it into his yard. They're also wiring him cash. One donor said he sent money because it's "a rare opportunity to support what I believe. I will keep my receipt of the postal order forever, because it is my first real vote."
Here's a bit about the government response to the public outpouring of support for him:
"Illegal fundraising"?! Regular Chinese people are throwing their money at this man's house. Ai hasn't decided if he'll pay his tax bill or not, because it would imply his arrest was justified.
But regardless of whether he sucks it up and pays the bill or not, people are using their money and philanthropy to make themselves heard. Ai says, "The government hates this the most."
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