Malu Town authorities demolish Ai Weiwei‘s studio

Shanghai, China


Zhaoqi Chen and Fanyi Pan



Zhou Zola, photography
November 16, 2010
500*281 pixels

In the fall of 2010, Chinese artist Ai Weiwei’s studio in Shanghai was demolished by the city official because the building was claimed to be illegal. However, it was the local authorities who invited Ai to design and construct his studio in their town. There were many speculations appeared about the intention of the demolition.Ai weiwei, a contemporary artist, is also a political activist who has been openly criticized the Chinese government for their corruption and cover-up. The investigation of government corruption has drawn the attention of the public as well as the authorities. It has been reported that Ai has been surveillance and beaten by local police while investigating the Sichuan schools corruption scandal. Even though Ai was under threat, he did not stop his investigation and became influential throughout the world. Ai’s increasing influence and his oversea background make Ai a real threat of the political stability.

There was a voice declaring that the demolition was a political ploy aims at preventing Ai from propagandizing against government. There are few details showing the demolition is not simply about the land right issue. Firstly, Malu town where Ai’s studio is located at is a small village but normally the central government would not be aware of such small construction and determined to tear down. Secondly, among those 20 artists who was invited to set up their studio in Malu town, the only two buildings were informed to be demolished are both design by Ai weiwei. The artist who owns the other studio, Dingyi, was one of Ai’s best friend and was recommended by Ai to set up a new studio at Malu town. Thirdly, the invitation of artist setting up their studio is the program which aims at attracting visitors so that leads the growth of local economics. Such program would never start until the local government get the permission from upper authorities, which contradicts the excuse given by the local government. Although nobody can prove whether the assumption is true or not, but we can tell from the evidences that illegally use of land is not the true reason of the demolition. Other factors such as the political status of the architect and the function of the building are also involved.

For the Chinese authorities, events may threaten their political status are banned in order to stabilize the society and avoid big rebellion from happening. The one-party dictatorship of the Chinese Communist party makes the authorities enjoying too much right. Although the political leader was trying to solve problems inside the party and bring a steady development to the society, corruption still happened in local governments. Therefore, small amount of instability happens on the bottom of the Chinese society, but none of those events would threaten the status of the leadership of the Chinese government until Ai weiwei appears. Although the authorities state that the building must be demolished due to the illegal land using, they cannot explain why the local government invited Ai coming and set up his studio at the first time.

From Ai wewei’s perspective, he could not accept the explanation provided by the authorities since the other artists’ studio in Malu town did not involve the problems of illegal using of land. Therefore, he recorded every detail of the demolition such as they were asked to vacuum the studio till the studio was demolished. After that, he published the video and declared that the demolishing of his studio would become his biggest artwork ever. The reason why Ai stood against the authorities is that he cannot tolerate the inhumanity and the injustice of the Chinese government. He has said that: “he Law system in every country is not perfect, but the corruption happens in China is due to the lax enforcement and weak penalties.” He risked his life revealing the corruption and cover-ups was aimed to awake the public and form the social supervision against the authorities.

Cara Cina
Shanghai, intorno allo studio di Ai Weiwei
Novembre 7, 2010
640*480 pixels

The courage and wit have attracted more and more supporters and they even organized a party in Ai’s studio before the demolition happens in order to express their dissatisfaction. For people who support Ai, Ai is their spiritual leader who firstly stood out criticizing the authority. For people live on the bottom of the society, Ai is one of the only few who are willing to help them to uphold justice. As a result, Ai’s supporters set the authorities as the opposite and join up to help Ai weiwei.

After the demolition, Ai stood at the site for a few hours looking at the ruins. We can imagine how depressed he was. This action by the government was truly successful. It gave Ai a big shock. Overall, the architecture, after it was built, it is no longer the concrete or steel itself. It has become a piece of beautiful standing artwork that reveals the contribution of the architect and the construction workers. And now, it becomes chunks of cold dead concrete; it becomes the victim of the political revenge. The building itself is innocent. It is the biggest sufferer in this event. The architecture has been given a nature of reactionary because the owner’s nature. This event left us much to think—it seems like almost in all the cases, architectures are no more on behalf of their own, instead, they were given political significance or cultural significance.


Luo Sicheng, photography
Triumphal Arch
December 15,2012
3000*400 pixels

Firstly, architecture is sometimes endowed with a political significance. In the past, new rulers would like to use magnificent architecture to display their power. For example, the triumphal arch, one of the most important monuments in Paris, was commissioned after the victory at Austerlitz by Napoleon; the epang palace, known as the first palace complex in China, was commissioned by Qin Shihuang, emperor of China and the Great Pyramid of Giza, the largest pyramids in the Giza, was commissioned by Pharaoh Khufu. When rulerslose their power, those magnificent buildings they built may face two totally different consequences, demolished or well-protected as historical relics. Epang palace, not as lucky as the other two, has been demolished by the new dominator, Xiangyu. The demolition happens mainly for two purposes, one is acting as a political weapon like the demolition of Ai Weiwei’s studio and the other one is for city development such as     demolishing the remaining buildings in Paris after war in order to reconstruct the city. In those cases I mentioned above, the meaning of those buildings can be seen as monuments rather than shelters prevent people from raining and cold wind.

Yin Pigo
The Forbidden City
February 4, 2011
2896*1944 pixels

Secondly, architecture is usually given a cultural significance with the development of the society. Architecture styles vary from region to region. At the very first beginning, the existence of architecture was purely for sheltering from bad weather so that different weather conditions became the main reason for the variation of architecture styles. As time passed, every building style evolves into a more mature system and was treated as products of culture. The Forbidden City as a representative of Chinese architecture shows the unique construction technique and the central axis planning system. Furthermore, after the modernization of architecture, the cultural significance of architecture has being gradually decreased, instead, architecture become a platform for architects to displace themselves. There is no one single style for those newly designed building, so we generalized them as “modern architecture”. Rem Koohaas, Zaha Hadid, and Le corbusier has their “signature” on their design so that we can easily tell which building belongs to who as architects have built their own system and logic of design. Therefore, architecture is given personal significance as well.

In conclusion, architectures are not existing independently, instead, they sometimes have political, cultural and personal significant. The demolition of Ai weiwei’s studio in Malu town proved that architectures are no more dead constructions and their destinies are affected by multiple factors. Since architecture has been carrying more significant, in the next step, we want to investigate whether the multiple meanings of architecture would benefit the architecture or accelerates its death.







“China artist Ai Weiwei’s Shanghai studio demolished” last modified January 12, 2011, Accessed September 15, 2013,


Chinese government has torn down Ai Weiwei’s Shanghai studio. Ai claims that this movement is against his political activism while Government claims that the demolition is cause by unauthorized construction. Ai says the event is ridiculous due to the fact that it was Malu town’s government who first invited Ai to set up studio at their place.


Hu Jianlong and Zhang Jialong, “艾未未工作室被拆迁记” 财经23 (2010): 45-46.


The demolish notice send by the government wrote, Ai weiwei’s shanghai studio was unauthorized. It violated the first stipulate under NO.43 item of land management law: Any unit or individual construction that needs to use land, must apply to the use of state-owned land,except Township communal facilities and peasant collectively owned land.


Ai Weiwei,August 28, 2013 (12:02 am), bloomberg, “Ai Weiwei on China’s Trial of the Century”


In this article written by Ai Weiwei, he question several existing  problems in Chinese society, Including censorship, security and other political problem in china. He described the action of Chinese government as a twisted drama. He claims that the community party stood above politics and laws. Also, Chinese people have no security.




Encyclopedia Entries


Wikipedia. “强制拆迁” accessed September 15, 2013,


Under the existing legal system of China, the urban lands are owned by the state, the rural lands are owned by collectives. Government use demolition as a way to cover its fiscal gap or achieve its political aim. The demolition in China is similar to the European enclosure movement, which also aims at gathering wealth.


Encyclopædia Britannica Online, s. v. “Ai Weiwei,” accessed September 15, 2013,


Ai Weiwei, a Chinese artist and activist who was born in Beijing, China on may 18, 1957. He created many creative work including, sculptures, photographs, architecture projects, etc. His father Ai qing is one of the most famous poets in china. Ai qing was accused by government due to rightist and his family was exile to Xingjiang. Ai weiwei spent his early years in Xinjiang. In 1978, Ai enrolled in Beijing Film Academy. He moved to U.S in 1981 to escape the restriction of Chinese society.

Ai promoted Chinese avant-garde art by creating art work and published books in his later years.

In 2011, Ai was accused by government due to “economic crimes”.


Scholarly Articles

Sudjic, Deyan.  The edifice complex : how the rich and powerful shape the world (New York: Penguin, 2005), 99–100.

Architecure cannot separate itself from authority. Architecture, especially the huge scale public buildings are all control and distribute of the society resources and human resources. This kinds of architecture represents a country, a nation, a culture and a era. In the same time, it represents the authority’s judgment of politic.


Ai, Weiwei “Don’t Harbor illusions on me ,” in Ai Weiwei’s blog: Writings, Intervies and digital rants 2006-2009(Massachusetts: Massachusetts University of Technology press, 2010), 228.


In this article, Ai Weiwei express his resentment of the loss of his rights as a human. The government delected Ai Weiwei’s blog and also monitor his action everyday. Ai claim that he felt he need to uphold his right. He said government’s procedure should be clear and avoids to be passive. Also he criticize the law-executer abuse power and this damage the image of party.


Orthographic Documentation

diandian . fansmaker, “艾未未上海马陆工作室,” Last modified 5 3, 2010, Accessed September 15, 2013,



Duyanpili. ” 2010.11.7 艾未未上海工作室拆除河蟹盛宴,” duyanpili (blog), November 3, 2010, (accessed September 15, 2013).



Video and Audio

Ai, Weiwei. “The Crab House 《河蟹房子》 English Subtitles” Posted on November 6, 2012, Web,

The documentary reveals that the demolition of Ai weiwei’s studio is aims purely for political issue.  The authorities trying to punish Ai for investigated government corruption. The authorities cannot provides a legitimate reason of demolishing. Further, Ai and his fellows has been under house arrest, police surveillance and prevented from leaving China for no reason.


Twitpica.“Who’s Afraid of Ai Weiwei? ”, Posted on November 14, 2011, web,]


Ai Weiwei’s every action is under monitoring of government. The video said that Chinese government is afraid of Ai because of his under-control actions and speeches, which is against the community party. He was arrest by police for several time and be treated in violence


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