Official clampdown on artist in China backfires

By confining prominent Chinese artist Ai Weiwei to his home in Beijing yesterday during a party at his Shanghai studio, authorities inadvertently took centre stage in the sort of performance art they had sought to block.

The host was absent, but more than 400 people turned up at the artist's million-dollar studio 600 miles away in suburban Shanghai to bid farewell to the structure that he was told by officials had been marked for demolition, purportedly for violating local land-use rules.

Undeterred that Ai was under house arrest in Beijing and unable to travel to his own party, the guests turned the event into a light-hearted parody of China's often ham-fisted application of bureaucratic order.

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Eating river crab - he xie - which in Chinese is a phonetic play on the government's campaign for social harmony, the guests laughed at the irony.

In a harmonious society, we eat river crabs," the guests chanted, as some posed for photos in front of banners and crowded into the two-storey structure's courtyard and expansive rooms.

The Tate Modern in London is currently hosting a solo exhibition of Ai's work at its Turbine Hall.