First a Black Hood, Then 81 Captive Days for Artist in China
The policeman yanked the black hood over Ai Weiwei’s head. It was suffocating. Written in white across the outside was a cryptic phrase: “Suspect 1.7.”
At the rear of a white van, one policeman sat on each side of Mr. Ai, China’s most famous artist and provocateur. They clutched his arms. Four more men sat in the front rows.
“Until that moment I still had spirit, because it didn’t look real,” Mr. Ai said. “It was more like a performance. Why was it so dramatic?”
On the morning of April 3, 2011, the policemen drove Mr. Ai, one of the most outspoken critics of the Communist Party, to a rural detention center from Beijing Capital International Airport, where Mr. Ai had planned to fly to Hong Kong and Taiwan on business. So began one of the most closely watched human rights dramas in China of the past year.
China’s treatment of social critics has been thrust back into the spotlight by the diplomatic sparring over Chen Guangcheng, the persecuted rights advocate who left here on May 19 for the United States. A blind, self-taught lawyer, Mr. Chen pulled off a daring nighttime escape from house arrest. Like that case, the tale of Mr. Ai’s 81 days of illegal detention, recalled during a series of conversations in recent months, reveals the ways in which the most stubborn dissidents joust with their tormentors and try to maintain resistance in the face of seemingly absolute power. No critic has so publicly taunted the Communist Party as Mr. Ai, even as security officers have employed a variety of tactics in a continuing campaign to cow him.