Chinese censors have removed pages of Newsweek magazine containing an essay by Ai Weiwei in which the country's most famous dissenting artist slams the repressive environment in Beijing and criticises the police and the legal system.
"Beijing is a nightmare. A constant nightmare," Mr Ai writes in the essay, that originally appeared on the Newsweek website and was then reprinted in the 5 September issue of the US magazine.
It has left many wondering what Mr Ai is planning to do now, as the article seems to fly in the face of his bail conditions, imposed on his release on 22 June after 81 days in custody for alleged tax evasion, and sets him on a collision course with the authorities.
He could not be reached for comment last night, but under the terms of his bail, he was required not to use social media, speak to foreign media or leave Beijing. Human rights activists believe the tax charges were trumped up to end to his online campaigns against the Communist Party.
The article, which is printed on the final page of the magazine and has been torn out of copies on newsstands in Beijing, has tough words about Beijing, which the Communist Party has completely reshaped into a modern business centre, a symbol of the commercial achievements of its policy of "socialism with Chinese characteristics," which to a lay person looks a lot like capitalism.
In Mr Ai's view, that development has been at the expense of the city's soul.
"Officials who wear a suit and tie like you, say we are the same and we can do business. But they deny us basic rights. You will see migrants' schools closed. You will see hospitals where they give patients stitches – and when they find the patients don't have any money, they pull the stitches out. It's a city of violence," he writes.
Although Mr Ai is known for his contribution to the Bird's Nest stadium, he dismisses the legacy of the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. "The Bird's Nest – I never think about it. After the Olympics, the common folks don't talk about it because the Olympics did not bring joy to the people."
The government keeps tight control on the domestic media, but struggles to muzzle overseas publications, which have a limited circulation in China, mostly to foreigners.
Copies of the South China Morning Post are strictly censored and do not reach readers in China until late in the day, even though it is printed in Hong Kong. The delay prompts some to refer to the paper as "the North China Evening Post". When controversial stories appear, they can be removed, or sometimes the whole newspaper does not arrive. Censors also keep a close eye on foreign television stations, which can only be accessed legally in diplomatic compounds, hotels and other places where foreigners congregate.
Mr Ai was arrested at the height of a campaign against dissidents that saw dozens of activists, bloggers and lawyers rounded up by the government, which was worried that the pro-democracy uprisings in North Africa and the Middle East could spread to China.
A commentary in the People's Daily said yesterday the party believed its grip on power was threatened by political enemies, who were getting more and more organised.Reuse content