Ai Weiwei, who co-designed the ‘Bird's Nest' Olympic stadium, is deemed as China's most famous artists.
In the last couple of months, dozens of activists have ended up in custody or house arrest. None of these activists however, are as open in their criticism as Mr Weiwei, who enjoys a huge following on social networks such as Twitter; often ridiculing the Chinese Government on issues such as human rights, and Tibet's sovereignty. Ai greatly angered authorities by listing the names of children who died in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, when schools collapsed killing thousands. Officials censored discussion of the subject after public anger developed over shoddy construction.
The news that he is being investigated for economic crimes may signal that China's authorities will seek to characterise him as a common criminal, rather than a political prisoner, BBC correspondents argue.
The Global Times, a Chinese state run newspaper, described him as a ‘maverick' who took part in legally ambiguous activities. Foreign governments however, have called for his immediate release. The US Ambassador Jon Huntsman, mentioned in a speech in Shanghai that the artist in among other activists who "challenge the Chinese government to serve the public in all cases and at all times".
Chinese Police visited his studio 3 times prior to his arrest. Police later seized computers and money at his home and his wife, Lu Qing, told reporters the raid involved more than 40 policemen . She says she has heard nothing since.
"I am waiting for news" his mother said. "I so far have no information from the authorities about the fate of Ai Weiwei. "He felt a premonition that he would be detained," she added.
She is also added her concerned for his health, saying the 53-year old artist takes medication for a range of illnesses.
Human rights groups say China's current crackdown on dissent is a response to protests in the Middle East and North Africa. However, Wei has been vocal on social networks not to begin the ‘Jasmine Revolution' at present, highlighting the enormous use of the internet for the people of China who want change at present.
Human Rights Watch said up to 25 lawyers, activists and bloggers had been either detained, arrested or had disappeared. Dozens more had been subjected to harassment, it said. Concern is also growing for Wei Wei's friend Wen Tao, 38, who has also been unreachable since his reported detention on the same day.
He widely regarded as China's best-known modern artist, also famous for his installation of 100 million porcelain sunflower seeds at London's Tate Modern, and also helped design the bird's nest stadium for the Beijing Olympics.