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Economic Crimes
April 6, 2011 7:45 PM   Subscribe

Ai WeiWei, the dissident and artist, is under arrest for suspected economic crimes what the hell does that mean? what is it code for?
posted by PinkMoose to Law & Government (13 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
 
The really fast "what they told me on the first day of my Modern Chinese Politics class" answer is: that the powers that be, in China, have decided he's become troublesome. The "rule of law" thing the Romans taught western societies to appreciate simply does not mean the same thing outside of that context.

Presumably they have some kind of official explanation - not paying your tolls, tax evasion, etc. - but really, it doesn't matter. It's a pretext.
posted by SMPA at 8:36 PM on April 6, 2011


Ai has been openly questioning some of the school collapses in the Sichuan earthquake in 2008, he tried to leave China to attend the Nobel Price ceremony for Liu Xiaobo, and has been in general vocally anti-Communist Party and anti-Government. He was one of the most famous, but he was just one of many so-called dissidents who were rounded up in the most recent "jasmine revolution"-related crackdown.

"Suspected economic crimes" could be anything - maybe corruption, tax evasion, building code violations (his Shanghai studio was razed earlier this year), etc. It's a conveniently vague phrase that will probably at some point turn into more specific charges. Until those specific charges are levied, though, it's just speculation.
posted by gemmy at 9:46 PM on April 6, 2011


For those looking for some background.. Previously on the Blue
posted by j03 at 10:20 PM on April 6, 2011


The term in Chinese is 经济犯罪 and was coined in the modern sense in the 1983 NPC document《关于严惩严重破坏经济的罪犯的决定》 [Decision concerning the severe punishment of criminals who seriously damage the economy]. There are actually several laws defining what constitute such crimes but tbh I can't be arsed to list them all, as it basically means they won't be charging him with a murder or stick-up on the standard crime front nor spying or colluding with evil foreign forces etc. on the political, but something of the nature gemmy sets out above - key being obtaining money by nefarious means such a fraud or causing damage to the national economy by sabotage, corruption and so forth. I will speculate (based on very little and worth about the same) and guess it'll be a currency transfer or perhaps collecting money for charitable/relief purposes without a license. It would be fairly hard to find any adult in urban China you couldn't get on about ten different such charges were you of a mind, as the state most clearly is in Ai's case.
posted by Abiezer at 10:24 PM on April 6, 2011 [4 favorites]


i know his work quite well, but he has been working thru it for a decade.

two follow up questions
a) who is playing the long game here--i mean Wei Wei is so well known, so fucking famous, that China cannot really touch him, esp. with the beatings that were treated at documenta, or am i naive about that?
b) the economic card is what strikes me as strange here, can someone expand a little on that?

Thanks for the amazing answers so far
posted by PinkMoose at 11:02 PM on April 6, 2011


To take a crack at your b) with a totally uninformed (and hence probably worthless) speculation from someone who has little more experience with China than reading encyclopedia entries (although, actually, this includes reading an entire general 2006 encyclopedia devoted to China... which having on my shelf makes me look so smart) could the term Abiezer specifies describe something that is maybe a broad and amorphously-defined category that embraces both the fraud and other things mentioned above as well as political crimes^ deriving from ideology about permissible and impermissible money-making activities, a sort of thing tangentially related to usury laws?

And hence, possibly these would be charges related to WeiWei having made money in some specific manner that was condemned ideologically by twentieth-century Communist ideology and policy, which after Deng's 1992 southern tour^ is not prosecuted any longer, except when expedient as in this case.

That's just a passing notion I've had thinking about this and is really based more upon some things I read a couple of decades ago about how the legal system of the Soviet Union worked in general and around the New Economic Policy^, if some of those concepts transferred to China through Sino-Soviet exchanges.
posted by XMLicious at 11:30 PM on April 6, 2011


China is a communist dictatorship and, like all communist dictatorships, locks up anyone who questions its actions or legitimacy in any way, shape or form. If they let one person have freedom then everyone will want it and even the Chinese don't have quite enough bullets to shoot absolutely everyone in the back of the head although they gave it a good go during the cultural revolution.

He's no more guilty of 'economic crimes' than Soviet dissidents were really crazy when they were locked up in mental institutions. Words mean whatever the Chinese government want them to mean. They're spooked by the current wave of revolutions in the middle east and are jumping on anyone and everyone at the moment who even has a glass of 'jasmine' tea.

They were willing to run tanks over 2,000 students in full view of the world's media to stay in power two decades ago and they'd do the same again. They know how long communist governments which don't have the will or ability to kill large numbers of their citizens last - about fifteen seconds.

They bought off the Chinese people after Tiananmen Square, essentially abandoning the communist economics which had kept China mired in poverty since they took power and embracing capitalism, in return for maintaining their political grip. Thus it's economic crimes, whatever they are, which are used as the whip here, rather than political ones. The west won't raise a fuss because of the eternal illusion that massive export opportunities await just around the corner and when the authorities think the heat is off they'll release him.

Or not. Just to be on the safe side.
posted by joannemullen at 11:39 PM on April 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


It seems like "economic crimes" is exactly what's been described above -- a pretext. And I think it is exactly because of his fame that the government has found such a pretext.

If Ai Wei Wei is found guilty of fraudulent transfers or some such thing, French, US, German and UK governments cannot complain about his detention being a human rights issue. The Chinese government is following their rule of law.

In the government's Global Times yesterday, an incoherent article did not mention economics at all, but did mention him trying to get to Taiwan. I guess they didn't have the economic angle in place.
posted by bwonder2 at 11:45 PM on April 6, 2011


According to Richard MacGregor's book on the Chinese Communist Party, anyone can be arrested in China legally on the basis of the part of the Preamble of the Chinese Constitution which emphasizes the supreme leadership role of the Party. While academics and lawyers may disagree (but they have little power in Chinese society), the security services interpret this Preamble as meaning that the Party's decisions take legitimate/legal priority over the government's decision-making or the civil rights set out in the rest of the Constitution. According to MacGregor, Chinese security service officers will even publicly cite the Preamble as sufficient justification for an arrest. (MacGregor's whole book is about how the Party is sovereign in China, not the government -- which The Party controls but is distinct from.).

The announcement of "economic crimes" charges after WeiWei's arrest may have been done out of a clumsy awareness of international attention on the WeiWei case. It may mean that WeiWei may be put on a phony public trial and convicted of something (again as a lame sop to international opinion), rather than having him simply put under permanent secret house arrest or even "disappeared".

I think the main reason for arresting WeiWei is to cause a chilling effect on other dissidents or potential dissidents, especially those in more influential positions - the message being that if they can do this to someone so famous internationally, then they are going to go after anyone.
posted by Bwithh at 11:46 PM on April 6, 2011


Portraying him as an economic criminal immediately separates him from being a political activist. It is a clear delegitimising move.
posted by knapah at 4:25 AM on April 7, 2011


Human Rights Watch's take on it.
posted by R. Mutt at 3:32 PM on April 8, 2011


This is only tangentially connected to this thread and so perhaps worthy of deletion but it's a thought that I felt I had to write down somewhere: I don't think that China is a Communist dictatorship anymore. I think it might be a capitalist dictatorship now and we all have some kind of mental block (okay, probably not "we", probably just me) about openly stating that, because it means that they might be able to do capitalism better than us. Maybe. And it really sucks if a dictatorship can do capitalism better than a democracy... in a great part because the capitalist democracies will start copying what the dictatorship is doing.

On the other hand, maybe that's just dialectical synthesis on my part.
posted by XMLicious at 7:42 AM on April 15, 2011


Yeah, more or less since Deng Xiaoping, China has been communist in pretty much name only. Singapore is another example of successful authoritarianism.
posted by knapah at 8:49 AM on April 15, 2011


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