First, Ai Weiwei. Now, Confucius

04/23/2011 03:26 pm ET | Updated Jun 23, 2011

On April 3, the Chinese authorities secretly nabbed the artist Ai Weiwei. Now, in the dark of night, they've taken away Confucius.

Last January, an imposing 31 foot-high statue of Confucius was erected with great fanfare right on Chang'an Avenue in the heart of Beijing. In a part of the capital where everything is highly symbolic, the statue stood right in front of the renovated National Museum (which used to be called The Museum of the Revolution) just across from Mao's portrait hanging over the gate to the Forbidden City and next to Mao's mausoleum.

On Friday, the statue was mysteriously seized and taken away, just like Ai Weiwei.

Protesting Ai Weiwei's kidnapping by the authorities, the "father" of China's democratic movement, Wei Jingsheng, wrote this last week:

Since this happened to one of China's most well-known cultural figures, it has prompted many to remember the opening shots of the Cultural Revolution, when the Maoist regime removed ideologically inconvenient artists, writers and intellectuals from the scene at will without even any pretense to legal procedures.

After the long march toward the rule of law China has been tentatively treading since the end of the Mao era, this return to outright lawlessness is shocking even to a hardened dissident like me. If the authorities can detain a figure of such stature arbitrarily and hold him incommunicado as long as they want with no access to family or legal counsel, then no one in China is safe from the whims and anxieties of those in power.

He is right. Not even Confucius is safe.

Perhaps Wei is right that a new cultural battle is under way in the run up to the change of the Communist Party leadership next year.

Yet, it is hard to figure out what the anti-authoritarian Ai Weiwei might have in common with the traditional authority associated with Confucius. What binds the two incidents is that they were both orchestrated by some hidden arbitrary authority beyond the rule of law or public debate.

Even those sympathetic to the mandarinate in Beijing who have competently lifted hundreds of millions of people out of poverty must shake their heads in wonder. First, they embarrassed the nation with their farcical "alternative' to the Nobel Prize awarded to Liu Xiaobo. Then, after promoting Ai Weiwei as part of the the renaissance of the Chinese art scene, they tear down his studio, send goons to beat him up and ultimately arrest him.

Now the insecure hardliners in the Party have really outdone themselves: (Like Mao in the Cultural Revolution) they've turned Confucius into a dissident.