“81天”之十一：艺术收藏家弗兰克妻子的讲述 on my way
/ 弗兰克 和 帕斯卡尔
从2009年10月到2010年1月，艾未未在德国慕尼黑美术馆 (haus der Kunst) 展出作品“记住”。这幅装置作品展示了9000个孩子的书包，以此表达要求政府道歉并反省的诉求。
写于 2011年4月18日 16点
On my way
Our house is very much like the person who conceived it.
Upon approaching it, some people are taken aback by its apparent sturdiness. From the outside, you only get to see a huge grey brick wall with hardly any windows. But once you close the front door behind you, it is bound to inspire you. Its large, open spaces give it a quality of lightness, while the materialsbrick and concrete, give it a feeling of quality and strength. It is sober but breathes refined simplicity.
We have enjoyed living there for some ten years now and we have and will always consider its builder, Ai Weiwei, as a person of very high integrity, be it artistically or on a personal level.
Our house is part of a dead-end alley, which was designed by Ai Weiwei in 2000. First in the row is the house now owned by Rongrong and Inri; then comes Liu Zhengang's house; followed by Weiwei's studio; then the exhibition space 'China Art Archives and Warehouse' which we set up together with Ai Weiwei; and finally, our house.
After moving into the house, we all continued on our own paths. We, as lovers of creativity, energy and renewal, felt lucky to be in China and to be able to see from close by what was happening in the city, in the country and on the art scene.
Weiwei, did his thing. He imagined, conceived and created, always sticking to his high standards of concept, craftsmanship, and quality. Weiwei is as outspoken as his works. He questions reality, social reality, concepts and therefore truth, justice and politics. There is no obscure agenda, there are no false promises or hidden faults. What you see is what you get.
Early 2000, Ai Weiwei participated, with the Swiss company Herzog and De Meuron, in the design of the 'Bird nest'; the 2008 Olympic Games landmark.
In its September 30 edition of 2009, celebrating China's 60th anniversary, China Daily came out with a special edition, entitled “China Daily’s 60 People, 60 Stories”.
Ai Weiwei pictured on the front page. The propaganda and/or censure department of the Chinese government surely OK-ed this publication and we may assume that the idea was to show people of high morality with uplifting stories.
That’s how history is constantly being re-written in China and how it is only realistic to fear that authorities plan to re-write Ai Weiwei’s reality today.
During those years, Caochangdi Village, a bit dusty, forgotten and forlorn on the outskirts of the city, just outside the fifth ring road, realized the potential of working with Ai Weiwei and they asked him to build sets of artist's studios, which he did. They sold out, as fast as the proverbial hot noodle (no hot dogs in Caochangdi) and on the spur of this, Caochangdi quickly became a must in every tourist destination. Many of the better Beijing galleries chose to set up shop in this village, turned art community.
We all know where it went from there. Ai Weiwei's social criticism became more and more outspoken and direct and he started to use the Internet to reach out to people all over the country, promoting ideas such as basic rights and freedom of speech.
His quests are as straightforward, open and frank as every one of his undertakings.
When an earthquake in Sichuan province made thousands of victims, of which a majority were children under collapsed school buildings (while buildings around were still standing), their parents were forbidden to publicize their outrage with the authorities that failed to provide a safe environment for their children. Some parents were arrested and/or threatened. Ai Weiwei was justly outraged and took it upon him to be the voice of those children and of those parents. Painstakingly, with a team of assistants, he gathered the names, birthdates, and names of schools etc. of about 5000 children that died in the quake.
From October 2009 to January 2010, Ai Weiwei showed his installation ‘Remembering’ at haus der Kunst in Munich, Germany. The installation showed 9000 children’s backpacks. An outcry for apology and recognition.
Other incidents followed and the opposition of Chinese authorities to this openness and frankness became more and more nervous, retrograde and, at times, aggressive.
Recently, we have been reading in the international press that over one hundred dissidents or opponents or people who spoke out against government policies or actions, have been arrested or have simply 'disappeared'. Therefore, what is happening to Ai Weiwei now did not come as a real surprise.
Weiwei is the son of Ai Qing ,one of China's most famous poets of the period of the establishment of the People's Republic of China. During the Cultural Revolution, Ai Qing was purged and sent in exile to Xinjiang, a remote province in the north west of China. He was put to the job of cleaning latrines in army barracks for many years and he and his family (of which Ai Weiwei from age 1 to 16 ) suffered hardship. After the Cultural Revolution, Ai Qing was rehabilitated and after he died, the current leaders Wen Jiabao and Hu Jintao were among those to formally apologize to his widow, Gao Ying.
Ai Weiwei's rise as social activist and critic must without any doubt, have been a real embarrassment to authorities after their own regime first purged his father and later reestablished his good name. And who could blame Ai Weiwei for holding a healthy portion of cynicism against those authorities?
On April 3, 2011, Weiwei was about to board a plane to Hong Kong, when he was led away, to an undisclosed place by security forces.
Upon learning this, we immediately drove to his house in Caochangdi Village, only to discover that police cordoned off the road. We could not get close and could only see that there was a lot of activity around the front gate.
From mutual friends, we learned that his wife, Lu Qing, and his staff, Chinese and foreigners, had been led away. Consecutive phone calls and later the press, learned us that the foreigners had not really been questioned but had been released after a few hours and had been told to stay away from Ai Weiwei's place. The next morning, we learned that Lu Qing had been placed under house arrest the previous evening.
We managed to reach a common friend by phone. He had been in touch with several of the above persons. He told us that police had shown them a list with names of persons they were still 'searching'. Both our names were on that list.
On the morning of April 5, we drove to Ai Weiwei and Lu Qing's home. Police had left and the cordon had been removed. We rang the doorbell but no one ever answered the door.
Within seconds a car with tainted windows and several men inside pulled up on the opposite side of the road and just sat there, observing us. When we drove off, the car turned around, followed us for some ten meters and suddenly stopped again. We sent an sms message to Lu Qing but didn't get an answer. The next day we learned that she had switched to a new number a while ago and after we sent her a new sms, offering our sympathy and help wherever possible, she later answered with a 'thank you'.
On Tuesday, April 5th, the Immigration Office of the People’s Republic of China called Frank’s assistant in his company. We were both instructed to come to the offices of the Immigration Office of the PR China, opposite the Indian Embassy. We were told to bring our passports and to make sure to be there before 12:00 noon. It was to be a routine check of the validity of our visas.
A certain M. Zhao, who introduced himself as being an Immigration Officer, received us. We were led into a conference room. We were told that, as a standard matter, our conversation would be registered and filmed and with some effort, a small camera was balanced on a box of paper tissues. Attached to it was a screening device. M. Zhao asked us if the conversation could be held in Chinese or whether we required an interpreter. We confirmed our need for an interpreter. M. Zhao conducted the questioning in English and took notes in Chinese. He told us that this was a random check of validity of visa. That when people staid so long in the PR China, the authorities liked to check the visa because 'some people use false pretexts to apply for visas'. We had decided to try to just listen what they wanted from us and we had also decided that Frank would speak for the both of us, in order to not contradict each other. M. Zhao was quick to conclude that Pascale was 'just a housewife' and she was not addressed after that, but was left to observe the withering plants, the badly hung curtains and the indispensable messy cabinet with tea accessories.
M. Zhao had brought a number of papers with him. One of them was an A4 printout of a picture of a young woman. M. Zhao never showed them to us, but he did move them around in front of us and the picture was in view several times. Two colleagues of him came into the room several times, tossing about these papers each time. Among the papers were the copies of our visa. If there was any order in these papers, it was thoroughly mixed up because of all this tossing about, which certainly gave this activity a very sloppy character.
M. Zhao asked us where Ai Weiwei's wife lived and repeatedly referred to her as Ai Qing (as is the name of Ai Weiwei's father) instead of Lu Qing. The questioning was more or less equally divided over the subject of Frank's work activities in China and over the subject of the financial arrangements of the building and management of our house. The questions led us to feel that they didn't know anything about the house, its layout or its use. They asked us what part of the buildings we live in; who else lives there; who pays the rent of the land to the village, what had been the agreement with Ai Weiwei about us living there; who paid what for the building etc. It very quickly became clear to us that the questioning zoomed in on Ai Weiwei's financial situation and they tried to steer us into telling them that Ai Weiwei made money on the transaction of building it or on having us live there. Frank responded a bit surprised, telling them to check the size of the constructed area with the village authorities and that they could find out what payments we did from the bank, and that he didn't know the amounts by hart. At a certain moment, Frank asked why he kept asking about Weiwei and M. Zhao said that he was not able to answer some questions.
When asking us questions about the general layout and use of the house, M. Zhao told us that he used to be an officer in the Caochangdi Police station which used to be in the small street leading to our alley prior to 2006. He must have seen us drive or walk by dozens of times then, because there were hardly any foreigners around in our neighborhood in those days and people certainly noticed us. When we suggested that he must have seen us in those days, he only smiled.
Upon finishing, M. Zhao orally translated his notes back to English and asked Frank to sign the statement. Frank asked a copy but was told that that was impossible; that he or the Embassy would be allowed to come and consult it in their offices but that no one would be allowed to receive a copy. We left the building at around 14:00 with the clear feeling that they would not be satisfied with this interview and that we would be back before short.
On Thursday, April 7, at 13:00, Frank was called back to the same Immigration Office. This time, an officer called Wang Hui received him. Frank had been asked to bring along the registration papers of the company he is working for. The main subject of the conversation however again was the financial settlement of the house and, this time, also Ai Weiwei's artistic production. 'Did you buy his work?', 'How expensive was it?', 'Do you know friends who bought works of him?', 'if so, how much did they pay?', 'Where did you buy his works? In his studio?',... Frank got the strong impression that they did not know anything about Ai Weiwei's work; not what exactly he makes, nor at what prices he sold, nor to whom. At one point, they told him that his works went at high prices; that a picture of Lu Qing was actually sold for 10,000 rmb (if only we had known; we would have bought the entire series !).
They interviewed Frank for about 2 hours again and he once more left with the distinct feeling that they would call him back.
By now, we started to feel like figures in an obscure second rank série noire.
Calling friends to openly discuss the matter was no longer an option. Nor was using e-mail.
Later that day, we could read in the newspapers (Reuters April 7) that China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei stated, at a news conference that Ai Weiwei was being investigated for ‘economic crimes’. Our feelings, that authorities were going to try to pin him down on something entirely different as what was really bothering them, was now confirmed. Finding ‘economic crimes’ such as not paying taxes will be easy for about any Chinese national Ai Weiwei’s age, because clear and adequate regulations have not been in use for many years. From the perspective of Chinese authorities, to nail a person for an ‘economic crime’, rather than admit that you are violating his basic rights, supposedly will quiet down the international opinion
The next day, Friday August 8, they once more re-called Frank. This time, they wanted to see him at 16:00 at the police station of Caochangdi, the village where Ai Weiwei and we live. Frank was received by officer Wang Hui and by someone who was introduced to him as a 'superior' called Li. They wanted to come straight to our house to conduct the interview there and to see the works we own from Ai Weiwei. But Frank refused, telling them he did not want them to violate our privacy. The interview was therefore conducted in the police office. They told Frank that he was enjoying a nice life in China, with a good job, in a nice house. If he told the truth, all would go well, but in case he 'lied', he would be in trouble.
The questions focused on Ai Weiwei's artistic production, on the number of Ai Weiwei's works we own; when we bought them, how much we paid them and how we paid them. Frank told them we own about 10 or 11 works from Weiwei, that part of those are in Belgium and that we didn't buy anything after the year 2000. He also told them that we only bought a few and that some of them had been gifts by Weiwei or had been bought from a 3rd party. Around 18:00 -18:30, they insisted to come to our home to make pictures of the works. Frank told them we had guests and he didn't want to disturb our guests or to have them walk in with a show of force. They then decided to change into civilian clothes. In a last resort, Frank told them that they could make picture of the objects in the garden, which they agreed to. They both came over and we brought out a vase, made by Ai Weiwei; a fake Yuan dynasty vase, of which only half looks like a real Yuan dynasty vase while the opposite half is plain white. Next, we brought his 'Beijing brick'; a grey brick as used in many buildings (as our own) in Beijing, encased in a beautifully made wooden box. We also brought out a gold plated 'coal hive'. Finally, we showed them the work 'Rebirth of Yangshao'; a vase of the series in which Ai Weiwei repainted ancient pottery. The two officers made pictures in the garden and seemed at loss over what they saw. They seemed to expect paintings perhaps, but not objects of which they obviously could not grasp the sense. 'It's just a brick!' (about the Beijing brick); 'Ai Weiwei could not have made this himself' (about the fake Yuan vase); 'What is it? A piece of coal? Is it golden? No!' (about the coal hive). Still standing in the garden, they kept pushing Frank to say how much each object had cost. Frank repeated that some had been gifts. They became more and more upset with the whole situation and suddenly, angry, said that Frank had been lying all along and they left back to their car. Frank didn't want to leave it at that, so he followed them and said that if they wrote down that he said that we bought 10 works, then they wrote down an error because he never said that. They checked his declaration and saw that Frank was right. They asked Frank to get back into the car but Frank refused and they started changing the declaration. Upon their request, we sent them a list by e-mail of works we own and that were made by Ai Weiwei.
While still in the police station, before coming to our house, Frank told the officers that this was the last time he would come over by himself to be interviewed; that from now on he would bring along someone from the Belgian Embassy and a lawyer. He also informed them that we would be going to Kyrgyzstan from April 9 to 13.
Our overall feeling after this third session was a very strange one. We were puzzled. For them, we are probably just only one small lead in a large operation, but we felt that they were concentrating on such small matters and on petty cash matters and that they were totally missing the fact that they are dealing with one of the larger names on the international modern art scene. To us, here and then, it certainly felt like they were grasping in the dark.
By Saturday, April 9, the name 'Ai Weiwei' was censured on the Chinese Internet. Googling it gave a blank, although articles would open from inside another website, such as a news agencies. By the time we came back from Kyrgyzstan on Apri 13, this censorship had been lifted and we could google his name as before.
From a friend (R ) and from the newspapers, we learned that authorities had gone back to Ai Weiwei's home, to take the accounting papers, which they previously seemed to have 'forgotten'. After our own experience, such improbable and laughable performance and sloppiness fitted our picture of their operation.
We left to Kyrgyzstan, happy for the break but not without a gnawing feeling of apprehension about what could go wrong. For one, we were not sure that authorities would not dare to pull a stunt in showing up at the airport to ask some more questions. But nothing of the sort happened and, again, we wondered whether we were just being silly to look over our shoulder like that or whether we had good reason for it.
Once outside of China, Frank took the opportunity to make some telephone calls and mails to find out what we could do. (Paul D).
On Tuesday, April 12, we learned from a news article that Lu Qing had been taken in again to be interviewed on tax matters and that Xiao Pang, their driver had been arrested again, as well as the accountant.
On April 12, The Guardian brought the news of the release of a certain Liu Anjun, a protester. According to the article he declared that he had been held for 45 days and that he had understood from the investigations that authorities were trying to make the case for a conspiracy theory against the Communist Party.
A friend of ours (R ), close to Weiwei and his collaborators, had told us earlier that just a short time ago, Ai Weiwei was offered a position in the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC). We saw this information repeated in an article of the Guardian of April 13.
Our friend (R) informed us that our neighbor –some 20 meters down from our front door-, Liu Zhengang, who has been working with Ai Weiwei to supervise his architectural projects for many years, had been taken into custody on Saturday, April 9, for questioning. Our housekeeper later confirmed this to us. He had still not been released by April 14.
Rongrong and Inri, owners of the first house in our alley and also of the Three Shadows photography Center, just down the block from our houses, were also questioned. They are a Chinese-Japanese couple of photographers, at the forefront of the photography art scene in China.
On April 14, the international press brought the news that Chinese authorities are accusing Ai Weiwei of bigamy and spreading pornography. Both allegations are ridiculous and well below acceptable moral standards for a nation to hold. Ai Weiwei never made a secret of fathering a child and it would be interesting to see what the larger public would think of the alleged ‘pornographic’ works.
On Friday, April 15 we went back to Weiwei’s home, hoping to see Lu Qing. After a while, Xiao Wei and his wife opened the door, saying that Lu Qing had gone out. We then saw Zhz in the garden and Xiao Wei’s wife let us in. we briefly talked with zhz, while another Chinese man filmed all of us. We felt that they continued in the spirit of what they had been doing in the past; to document everything that is happening and that felt really ok. Zhz gave us yet another new number of Lu Qing and we sent her an sms asking whether she would be home next morning and whether it would be ok for us to drop by to see her.
She confirmed she would be there.
The next morning, Saturday 16, we went to their house at around 10:00 in the morning: Lu Qing told her she thought is was ok to talk in the garden. She said she thought their house was being tapped as well as her phone, which she left inside too. We put our phones at a distance and sat down in the garden. We discussed what had happened. She said that they had never expected the police to come down in this way and with such a show of force. She looked worried and tense. She confirmed that she had no news whatsoever of Weiwei. She had met with his mother and sister too. She also had no news of Xiao Pang or of their accountant. She told us what we more or less knew; that she had been questioned, mainly on the economics of their ventures. She told us that she’s the legal person behind Fake so that in fact, that responsibility lay with her… she had told investigators that she knew nothing. As for the practice side of her situation, she told us that she had never asked but seemingly was free to go out. She didn’t venture out too far because she didn’t know how far this freedom would stretch. We reassured outselves that she had access to a computer and internet; that she had enough cash to buy whatever she needed and that she had friends visiting her. We told her she could call on us whenever she needed. We were pleasantly surprised to see a few of Weiwei’s collaborators still walking in and out of the garden and working spaces. We don’t know what they were doing, but at least, there was some sense of normality to them being there and Lu Qing was not alone.
April 18, 2011 – 16:00
（From Pascale, wife of Frank - account of experience on April 3, 2011 when Weiwei was detained.）