Verifying reports of Ai Weiwei's surgery

Ai Weiwei in Chengdu (Wen Yunchao via EZ)

Ethan Zuckerman reads a Twitter update claiming that Ai Weiwei has been hospitalized for cranial surgery related to a scuffle with police in Chengdu a month ago, which leads him to muse on newsgathering in an Internet era:

My friend Michael Anti posted a tweet earlier today about Chinese artist and political activist, Ai Weiwei:

Ai Weiwei to undergo cranial surgery in Germany within hours, a month after beaten by Chengdu police. Let’s pray for him.

The post caught my eye because Xiao Qiang, founder of China Digital Times, spoke about Ai’s increasingly vocal protests in talking about the Internet’s transformation of activism in China at the Cloud Intelligence symposium in Linz, Austria.
For me, there’s another level of fascination, which has to do with contemporary newsgathering and newsreading. I hadn’t planned to write about Chinese activism and free speech today – and there are a few editors to whom I owe drafts who likely wish I hadn’t just spent two hours reading about Ai Weiwei and his situation. But one feature of digital media is that it can make you vulnerable to ephemeral obsessions, topics that pique your interest and demand a deep dive, if only to understand the facts of the story.

On reading Michael Anti’s tweet, I wanted to know two things: was it true (i.e., was Ai Weiwei undergoing cranial surgery in Germany, and was the surgery related to injuries he’d suffered while in police custody?) and whether the story was going to get any amplification in English-language media. I’m very poorly placed to answer the first question – I speak neither Chinese or German. But part of the joy (and perhaps the problem) of these ephemeral obsessions is that the Internet makes it possible either to research these questions, or to feel like you’re researching these questions. My hope was that, if I could find a definitive answer to the first question, I could use what tools I have at hand to amplify the story, perhaps in the hopes of getting broader mainstream media attention to the situation.

Activist lawyer Liu Xiaoyuan has more information about Ai's condition:

On the night of September 13, I gave Ai Weiwei a phone call to ask him to write a foreword to a collection of poetry by a Suzhou-based poet. Ai told me that he was away in Germany on business and would not be back for a month. If the poet was in a hurry, he was afraid that he did not have the time. I told the poet what Ai said, and the poet said that he'd be more than willing to delay publication if Ai would write him a foreword.

Tonight at half past nine, I got a call from Ai's assistant Xiao Xu, who said that Ai had been suffering from a headache ever since the violent encounter with the Chengdu police a month ago. It had gotten serious all of a sudden today, and a medical checkup in German had determined that "trauma-induced hemorrhage between the brain and skull" (重挫造成的外颅与脑体间大面积出血, epidural hematoma, perhaps), and the doctors told him to have surgery immediately. Xiao Xu asked me what to do. I said, health is the primary concern. Save documentation of the treatment, and after it's over, you can have it authenticated by the Chinese embassy in Germany and bring it back to China as evidence.

After I hung up, I sent a text message to Ai. He replied, "I'm outside the operating room waiting for surgery to be arranged. Don't worry!"

I sent him another message after reading his, but he didn't reply. He probably was already in surgery.

Since the negotiations in Chengdu, Ai Weiwei has spoken a number of times about legal procedures. I think that even if we are to complain to police supervisors and the letters and petitions office, it's better to let them make their own investigation first and see what answers they come up with. If there is no reasonable solution, then it's not too late to start legal proceedings. I reminded him that there may be no resolution through the legal process. Ai said that regardless of the outcome, he would seek an answer according to the law.

Using the pretense of a routine inspection, the police harassed defense witnesses in the dead of night, leveled trumped up charges against Hong Kong journalists, and used violence without taking responsibility for it: do rights and the laws even exist in their eyes?

Ai Weiwei has been complaining for a month, but to date the Chengdu PSB has made no response (two months are allowed, but checking up on the matter would require only a couple of days, so they're obviously delaying). We've decided to wait until after the 60th Anniversary has passed, and if the police have not taken the initiative to contact us, we will seek them out.

May things go peacefully and smoothly for Ai Weiwei!

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There are currently 7 Comments for Verifying reports of Ai Weiwei's surgery.

Comments on Verifying reports of Ai Weiwei's surgery

hi, i couldn't find anything in the german media so far, but this might take a while until they finally get to it. ai weiwei is famous in germany and so it can be expected that there will be news coverage, if true.

Well, he's definitely in Germany, but the German press and blogosphere seems not yet to have pick up on the above news, which is unusual. This is an important story and I'll endeavor to update as more information comes out of Munich, which is likely the city where he is.


Here you go: link
He says the operation was a success. He had to have some blood drained from his skull to reduce pressure to the brain.
The most likely reason it hasn't emerged in the press yet is that no one seems to have made an official statement. There are probably worries about privacy issues, seeing as this is medical.

hi, found some articles in german newspapers: link is the original one, which the other newspapers copied (not very accurately though).

according to the süddeutsche he was operated on monday the 14th at 10 p.m. at the hospital großhadern in munich. the operation went well, he had an effusion of blood.

you can see some unspectacular pictures of his condition made by himself. for the rest, nothing that danwei hadn't reported yet.

he is not sure whether or not he is going to be at the opening of his exposition.

See German Press: link link link

English translation of most of the "exclusive post-op interview" with Suddeutscher Zeitung is here: link

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