China Expert Lionel Jensen Addresses Disappearance of Activists

Author: Kate Garry

Lionel Jensen

The recent detention of Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei, along with several other government critics—including Ai’s accountant and driver—are signs that the Chinese government is becoming increasingly insecure, according to Lionel Jensen, associate professor of East Asian Languages and Cultures at the University of Notre Dame.

“Four days after Ai Weiwei’s sudden apprehension by China’s Public Security Bureau at the Beijing airport, the government began its tireless and terrifying custom of building a ‘case’ against the disappeared by alluding to the subject’s ‘crimes,’” says Jensen. “In this case, they reported that Ai was being investigated for ‘suspected economic crimes in accord with the law.’”

However, late Tuesday, the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson indicated a hardening of the government’s stance, calling Ai a “suspect criminal.”

“This is almost a 180-degree change from the weekend,” Jensen says. “I believe this reflects an erratic behavior consistent with inner party members being in a state of alarm.”

In addition to Ai, recently detained Chinese citizens include Wen Tao, Ai’s friend and former reporter for The Global Times; Ai Tengbiao and Gao Zhisheng, respected civil rights attorneys; Zhang Jingsong, Ai’s driver; and husband and wife attorneys Ni Yulan and Dong Jiqin.

“The current situation is as bad as it has been since Tiananmen,” according to Jensen. “The number of people disappearing, being detained, jailed, convicted, harassed, and threatened, is truly astounding.”

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