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In China, a Return to a 'Fearful Climate' for Artists




Graffiti is displayed on a wall asking for the release of famed mainland Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, in Hong Kong on April 19, 2011. (Mike Clarke/AFP/Getty Images)

Graffiti is displayed on a wall asking for the release of famed mainland Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, in Hong Kong on April 19, 2011. (Mike Clarke/AFP/Getty Images)

CNN.com ran an op-ed from Asia Society Museum Director Melissa Chiu today about Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei and what his detention means about the prospects for freedom of expression in China. Here's a taste:

A set of his sculptures is planned for display in New York in May, and later in London, Los Angeles, Houston, Pittsburgh and Washington. They are based on the zodiac heads that were looted from the Summer Palace when it was sacked by British and French forces in 1860. The Chinese government called for the cancellation of the auction of two of these original heads when they went on sale two years ago.

Ai Weiwei has the image of being a "political artist." But his art is rarely political. Instead, it's his blogs and tweets that have triggered the ire of authorities.

Censorship and the threat of arrest have long been part of being an artist in China. However, Ai Weiwei's detention signals an escalation of control of those who speak up and a return to the fearful climate that existed for artists and others two decades ago.

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