'Spiritually Japanese' Artist Held in China's Anhui Over Pig-Head Cartoons

china-zhangdongning2-080119.jpg Satirical artist Zhang Dongning is shown with one of her cartoons in undated photos.
Minsheng Observation Website / Zhang Dongning Weibo Pictures

Authorities in the eastern Chinese province of Anhui have detained a young cartoonist who penned a series of more than 300 comic books depicting mainland Chinese people—often those with ties to the ruling Chinese Communist Party—with the heads of pigs.

Zhang Dongning, 22, was taken away from her home in Anhui's Huainan city recently, according to lawyer Qi Qiyu, who has offered to represent her free of charge, but who hasn't yet been instructed to act for her.

"I haven't been instructed yet, so I haven't seen any documents, and I can't reach her parents," Qi told RFA on Thursday.

Qi said Zhang is being held under criminal detention, rather than the usual few days of administrative punishment meted out by police to people accused of minor offenses.

"It would be fine just to give her an administrative punishment: she is so young, still a college student of 22 years old," Qi said. "If she is sentenced, this will have a negative affect for the rest of her life."

Zhang's detention comes amid a nationwide crackdown on a recent phenomenon in China celebrating Japanese culture and right-wing militarism that has seen the detention of its followers, some of whom had posted photos of themselves wearing World War II-era Japanese uniforms, in Liaoning, Anhui, Hubei, and Jiangsu.

Spiritually Japanese

Documents issued by the Huainan police department in Zhang's home district of Tianjiatun accuse Zhang of collaborating with the online "Spiritually Japanese" movement to carry out "illegal activities."

Some members of the movement have shared speeches from figures on the Japanese right wing, while others have defended the Japanese invasion of China, or made denigrating comments about Chinese people.

"There are some young people in China who feel that Japan is good at everything," U.S.-based political commentator Li Hongkuan said. "They love Japanese culture. Some of them take it too far, though."

Zhang had just returned from Japan when she was detained.

She had produced more than 300 pig-head comic books based on current events of recent years in China, which police said had brought shame on the Chinese nation, "distorted historical facts, trampled national dignity, and hurt the feelings of the Chinese people."

An officer who answered the phone at the Tianjiatun police department declined to comment when contacted by RFA on Thursday.

"I really don't know because I'm not part of the unit handling the case," the officer said.

National image, stability maintenance

Wang Peng, an artist from Beijing's Songzhuang Artists' village who has been following Zhang's case, said her detention could be linked to forthcoming National Day celebrations on Oct. 1, which will mark the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China.

"Stability maintenance is at an intense level now lasting from Aug. 1 to Oct. 1," he said in a reference to the nationwide system used to police dissidents and neutralise potential activists.

"I'm an artist too, so I am surrounded by friends who are under pressure."

"The authorities ... can't have us destroying their image of national unity and the image of the country," he said.

Reported by Wong Lok-to for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Shi Shan for the Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.


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