NEW YORK—The return of his passport is good news for Ai Weiwei and for other persecuted artists in China, but leaves serious questions about Beijing’s plans for Ai’s future relationship with his home country, PEN American Center said in a statement today.

After more than four years, the Chinese government returned Ai’s passport to him this morning with little fanfare or explanation.

Ai Weiwei was detained on April 3, 2011, while preparing to board a flight to Hong Kong, where he had been due to participate in an artistic exchange. He was held in secret detention without charge for three months before facing accusations of tax evasion and a fine of $2.4 million. Following his release in June 2011, Ai was put under tight surveillance and his passport was confiscated, barring international travel to exhibitions of his work, including a 2014 retrospective at the Brooklyn Museum where PEN staged a literary protest and brought the artist to visitors via streaming video projected on the building’s façade.

“Holding Ai Weiwei’s passport was a way for the Chinese government to exert leverage over one of the country’s most potent independent voices,” said PEN Executive Director Suzanne Nossel, who met with the artist at his Beijing home in January 2015. “The key now is that, once he travels overseas, Ai Weiwei be allowed back home into China and be left alone to pursue his art and express his views.”

The Chinese government maintains a “blacklist” of citizens, including writer-activist Hu Ping and journalist Cheng Kai, to be arrested or denied entry upon attempt to re-enter their home country. 


Founded in 1922, PEN American Center is an association of more than 4,000 U.S. writers working to bring down barriers to free expression worldwide.


Suzanne Nossel, Executive Director:, (646) 779-4811
Sarah Edkins, Communications Manager:, (646) 779-4830