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In response to the government's lack of transparency in revealing names of students who perished in the earthquake due to substandard school campus constructions, Ai recruited volunteers online and launched a "Citizens' Investigation" to compile names and information of the student victims.On 20 March 2009, he posted a blog titled "Citizens' Investigation" and wrote: "To remember the departed, to show concern for life, to take responsibility, and for the potential happiness of the survivors, we are initiating a "Citizens' Investigation." We will seek out the names of each departed child, and we will remember them." Ai suffered headaches and claimed he had difficulty concentrating on his work since returning from Chengdu in August 2009, where he was beaten by the police for trying to testify for Tan Zuoren, a fellow investigator of the shoddy construction and student casualties in the earthquake.He wrote almost exclusively in Chinese using the account @aiww.Ten days after the 8.0-magnitude earthquake in Sichuan province on , Ai led a team to survey and film the post-quake conditions in various disaster zones.Ginsberg had travelled to China and met with Ai's father, the noted poet Ai Qing, and consequently Ginsberg and Ai became friends.When he was living in the East Village (from 1983 to 1993), Ai carried a camera with him all the time and would take pictures of his surroundings wherever he was.In 1999, Ai moved to Caochangdi, in the northeast of Beijing, and built a studio house – his first architectural project.Due to his interest in architecture, he founded the architecture studio FAKE Design, in 2003.
South China Morning Post reports that Ai received at least two visits from the police, the last being on 31 March – three days before his detention – apparently with offers of membership to the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference.As a political activist, he has been highly and openly critical of the Chinese Government's stance on democracy and human rights.He has investigated government corruption and cover-ups, in particular the Sichuan schools corruption scandal following the collapse of so-called "tofu-dreg schools" in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake.In 2005, Ai was invited to start blogging by Sina Weibo, the biggest internet platform in China. For four years, he "turned out a steady stream of scathing social commentary, criticism of government policy, thoughts on art and architecture, and autobiographical writings." The blog was shut down by Sina on .Ai then turned to Twitter and wrote prolifically on the platform, claiming at least eight hours online every day.
A police contingent of approximately 50 officers came to his studio, threw a cordon around it and searched the premises.