BEIJING - Police handed Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei his passport on Wednesday four years after it was confiscated, he told AFP, hailing the move with a smiley emoticon. Ai is China's best known contemporary artist abroad, but authorities have denied him a passport since 2011 in an apparent attempt to limit his international influence. The bearded conceptualist was detained for 81 days in 2011 amid a nationwide crackdown on dissent, with authorities continuing to hold the travel document after he was released.

But Ai on Wednesday published a photograph of himself clutching a red Chinese passport online, with the words: "Today, I received a passport."

Confirming to AFP that the photograph showed his own document, he responded to inquiries with a text message consisting of a smiley emoticon.