Ai told reporters last week that in addition to the charges of tax evasion he faces, one of his assistants was being investigated in a pornography probe in connection with a nude photograph he took for one of Ai's artworks.
In defiance, Ai's supporters over the weekend started flooding the Internet with irreverent, shall we say cheeky photographs of themselves in the nude. In one, a supporter poses as Michelangelo's "David," in another as Rodin’s “Thinker.”
One photograph shows naked men and women covering their private parts with small photographs of Ai.
As of Monday evening, nearly 100 photographs, some of them of well-known bloggers and writers, had been posted on a Blogspot site under the banner "Listen, Chinese Government: Nudity is not Pornography." Others were posted on Twitter.
Notwithstanding a considerable middle-aged paunch, the 54-year-old Ai has produced several artworks that include nude self-portraits. The one that apparently irked Chinese authorities showed Ai and four naked women sitting on chairs in a white room and was entitled “One Tiger and Eight Breasts."
Zhao Zhao, a videographer who took the photograph for Ai, told reporters he was questioned about the photograph last Thursday by police and that he expected them to file pornography charges because the tax case might not stick.
Ai, who was detained for 81 days this year, is being sued by the Chinese government for $2.4 million in taxes. His supporters, believing the case to be politically motivated, have raised more than $1 million. Ever creative, they sent some of it in the form of bills folded into paper airplanes that sailed over the walls into Ai's compound in northeastern Beijing.
-- Barbara Demick
Photo: A volunteer collects contributions at the home of Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei in Beijing on Nov. 7. Credit: Ng Han Guan / Associated Press