China Tears Down Ai Weiwei's Studio

Chinese artist Ai Weiwei in the courtyard of his home in Beijing, where he remains under house arrest, on Nov. 7, 2010. (Peter Parks/AFP/Getty Images)

Is China raising the stakes against its domestic critics?

The New York Times reports that authorities have torn down the Shanghai studio of Ai Weiwei, an internationally celebrated artist known for his harsh assessment of the government.

Human rights groups and others concerned about artistic freedom are watching developments closely.

"Ai Weiwei has become a symbol of artistic freedom in China—less for the content of his work and more for his outspoken criticism of the government on issues such as the Sichuan earthquake," says Asia Society Museum Director Melissa Chiu.

"With the destruction of his Shanghai studio, the authorities are upping the ante. But, this is unlikely to impact his activities greatly as his main studio is in Beijing.

"Nonetheless, it signals a noticeable clampdown on intellectuals in recent months."

She warns that while the economy is booming in China and some areas of thought and expression have opened up, many limits remain.

The act against Ai Weiwei comes just weeks after the Chinese government condemned the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to jailed dissident Liu Xiaobo.

Watch Melissa Chiu's comments about Ai Weiwei:

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Geoff Spencer oversees Asia Society's online, public relations, and marketing departments. He has over 25 years of experience as an Asia-based journalist.