He is now angry at how the government is handling the aftermath of the
Shanghai fire last week that killed at least 58 people and injured
This past weekend in an unprecedented impromptu move, tens of
thousands of people carried chrysanthemums and white flowers to the
site of the fire to pay their respects to the dead.
Now the government is revealing some of the names of the victims, but
Ai doesn't think it is doing enough.
"We have decided to investigate the identities of all the people who
died in the fire," he said. "There are already volunteers on the
ground in Shanghai, collecting information."
On Tuesday the government claimed that one-third of the victims'
families did not want their names made public which fired up Ai.
"I was exceedingly angry when I saw that on the news this morning," he
said. "The government always says it needs to get the relatives'
permission to release the names of the victims, but this is just a
He believes this excuse just fuels speculation that the true number of
victims in last Monday's horrific fire could be higher than 58.
At a press conference Tuesday, the municipal government announced each
victim's family would receive 960,000RMB ($144,306). However, Shanghai
government spokesman Chen Qiwei said the authorities were not prepared
to release a full list of the dead.
"In order to publish a list of the victims' names, we need first to
get the victims' relatives' permission," he explained. "At the current
point of consultation, over one-third of the relatives are not willing
for a victims' name list to be published."
Ai says this is stock answer is not unusual; it is typically used in
"any kind of disaster" -- coal mining accidents, floods, fires or
"They never release the identities of those killed, so there is no way
of checking the figures," he said. "But the compensation will be paid
using public money. The people have a right to know who is receiving
Ai has a point here. And wouldn't the victims' families want others to
know their loved one died tragically? Don't they want to be accounted
"I believe it is part of the government's job to provide open access
to information," Ai continued. "I don't think it should be up to
certain people to decide how much to release."
Compiling lists is not new to Ai. After the May 12 Sichuan earthquake
in 2008, he and other volunteers created a list of the children killed
after officials refused to provide full statistics. Ai's list is
probably not complete.
And for his public-service actions, Ai was beaten by police in Chengdu
in August last year when he wanted to attend the trial of Tan Zuoren,
who was investigating the shoddily-built buildings. Ai had to undergo
emergency cranial surgery in Germany to ease the swelling in his
brain. It was a life-saving procedure.
Most recently Ai was under house arrest in Beijing when he had planned
a "river crab" party to celebrate the demolition of his newly-built
studio in Shanghai.
Despite this, Ai is undeterred about his latest project.
"I don't believe this will cause me any problems," he said. "They are
already demanding I demolish my studio, so there is nothing more they