Ai Weiwei’s surprise television appearance embarrasses Chinese state broadcaster

PUBLISHED : Monday, 15 September, 2014, 5:25pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 16 September, 2014, 10:53am

Chinese censors have rushed to delete a video from the website of China Central Television after an embarrassing incident in which the state broadcaster accidentally aired a scene featuring prominent dissident artist Ai Weiwei on a late-night comedy show.

The 57-year-old Beijing-based artist has been widely silenced in China for his criticism of the Communist Party in recent years. His name, image and art are often promptly censored in Chinese cyberspace.

On September 7, Ai made a short appearance on Mr Bo Le’s Sketches Show, a comedy series aired on CCTV1 and CCTV2. The show features comedic sketches, many of which are submitted by viewers or found online.

In one of the sketches, a dozen people are asked to describe what "youth" means to them in one single word. While others chose words such as “trust”, “freedom”, and “happiness”, a bearded Ai appears for a mere two seconds, picking the word "sleepiness".

The show was first broadcast on the night of September 7. CCTV temporarily made the video archives of Mr Bo Le’s Sketches Show inaccessible on Monday. When it allowed access again, the episode featuring Ai was not in the archive.

Youku, China’s equivalent of YouTube, also took down its archived version of the show’s episode.

Independent filmmaker Zhang Neixian, who recorded the footage of Ai, said he had been contacted by an exasperated CCTV producer, demanding to know the circumstances of the video’s production. It was not clear who provided the footage to CCTV. 

The producer told Zhang that police had inquired about the origin of the footage featuring Ai, a “strictly supervised reactionary”.

The filmmaker had little sympathy for the agitated member of the state broadcaster’s staff. “If, from top to bottom, there is no one at CCTV who knows Ai Weiwei, how can they even be making television?” the producer said in a message sent to his friends on WeChat.

Zhang did not reply to emailed questions on Monday. The CCTV programme’s producers also did not reply to phone calls or an emailed request for comment.