Ai Weiwei's voice on the phone was tired, cautious at first, then friendly. So how is he after three months' detention? "I'm OK, I'm very happy to be home, to be free after such a difficult time. Now I'm on bail I'm not supposed to talk about anything," he said.
The Chinese artist said little more yesterday on his first full day of freedom other than recounting how he gave himself a haircut – a sign of the authorities' success in keeping him quiet after his release.
Ai is now basically on probation for a year. "I think it's like a vacation for one year. It's not anything you can choose. You either stay out or you go back, and I want to stay out," he said from his Beijing studio. "Thank you for all your support over there during this time." he said effusively, before we hang up.
His parole requires him to report to police when asked and bar him from leaving Beijing without permission for one year.
He is famous abroad for exhibitions at places like the Tate Modern. Here in China he is best known for his work on the Olympic stadium. And for his iconoclasm. The biggest catch in the recent dragnet of activists and, lawyers and dissidents in China looked thinner but well as he returned after nearly three months in detention.
Police have also freed Ai Weiwei's cousin, a 43-year-old known to friends as Xiao Pang, who travelled and worked closely with Ai. Three other associates who went missing shortly after Ai remain unaccounted for.
Officials said Ai had confessed to tax evasion but that he was released "because of his good attitude in confessing his crimes" and a chronic illness, Xinhua news agency reported.