January 13, 2016 / 10:00 AM / 5 years ago

China's Ai Weiwei bedecks beard with Lego bricks after firm backs down

COPENHAGEN (Reuters) - Dissident Chinese artist Ai Weiwei published photos of himself with Lego hanging off his moustache and beard on Wednesday, celebrating the toymaker’s decision to back down on rules that blocked his bulk order of bricks.

Chinese artist Ai Weiwei addresses journalists during a news conference about his visit to the Greek island of Lesbos where about 500,000 refugees and migrants arrived last year, in Athens, January 1, 2016. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis

Lego said on Tuesday it had dropped restrictions on large orders after facing a storm of criticism for declining his request for pieces for a large public work in Australia in October.

Ai, known for his criticism of China’s rights record, had accused the Danish toymaker of censorship and set up collection points for people to send him bricks.

Lego said at the time it had a long-running policy of not fulfilling bulk orders or donating bricks if they knew they would be used as part of a “political agenda”.

But it said in a statement on Tuesday it would stop asking people why they wanted its products.

It did not refer directly to Ai’s order, but acknowledged that the rules “could result in misunderstandings or be perceived as inconsistent”.

Customers wanting to build public displays out of Lego bricks would now only have to make it clear that the company did not endorse the project, it added.

The free speech campaigner published photos of himself with Lego bricks hanging off his hair, moustache and beard on his Instagram and Facebook accounts. The Instagram post included a grinning emoji symbol, but no further comment.

“So sweet, congratulations,” wrote one supporter on Facebook.

It was not immediately clear if Ai would now repeat his order and press on with his Lego project. He has used the multi-colored building blocks before to build portraits of other dissidents, including Nelson Mandela.

Chinese authorities confiscated Ai’s passport in 2011 and detained him for 81 days, only returning the document in July last year.

Owned by the founding family Lego is the world’s largest toymaker by sales having recently overtaken U.S. Barbie-maker Mattel and Monopoly-board maker Hasbro.

Reporting by Ole Mikkelsen; Editing by Andrew Heavens and Raissa Kasolowsky

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