Ai Weiwei, the artist whose detention in China moved more than 30,000 of his shocked supporters to lend him over a million dollars the government was demanding in “unpaid taxes and fines”, has begun paying back the loans.

The donations began in in 2011 after he was released from what he told the UK’s Times newspaper was “a living hell of interrogation and isolation.” He had been detained and at one stage nobody knew where he was. His supporters had feared the worst.

On release, Mr Ai said that had been told that he owed the equivalent of almost $2 million but even though fighting the punishment through the courts, he would be forced to submit a cash bond to the tax authorities. Some of the donations were made through the internet but many were apparently simple bundles of cash thrown over the high brick wall of his studio compound in Beijing.

The repayments will be through wire transfers but many who ‘donated’ do not want the money back, according to reports.