Venue Axes Hong Kong Literary Event Featuring Dissident Chinese Author

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Poster for a Nov. 3 event in Hong Kong that was cancelled under Chinese pressure that featured cartoonist Badiucao, Russian punk band Pussy Riot, and student protest leader Joshua Wong.
Poster for a Nov. 3 event in Hong Kong that was cancelled under Chinese pressure that featured cartoonist Badiucao, Russian punk band Pussy Riot, and student protest leader Joshua Wong.
Joshua Wong

A Hong Kong arts center has canceled a planned event with dissident U.K.-based author Ma Jian, saying it can't allow itself to be used as a political platform, the latest in a string of blows to freedom of expression under the ruling Chinese Communist Party.

"We do not want Tai Kwun to become a platform to promote the political interests of any individual," a spokesman for Hong Kong's Tai Kwun Arts and Heritage Centre said in response to press inquiries.

The Hong Kong International Literary Festival, which organized the event, said it had found a new venue for Ma's discussion of his latest book, a biting satire of President Xi Jinping's concept of the China Dream, after Tai Kwun canceled.

"The Hong Kong International Literary Festival stands by the principles of free speech and cultural expression in Hong Kong and has today announced a switch of venues for our upcoming events 'Hong Kong Through the Lens of Literature' and 'Ma Jian: China Dream'," the festival's organizers said via its official Twitter account.

"Both [events] will be held on Saturday 10 November, following Tai Kwun’s decision not to stage the events as planned," it said.

Ma, who is described in the festival's promotional material as "China's answer to Orwell, Swift and Solzhenitsyn," had earlier tweeted that he had no political agenda other than freedom of speech.

"I wouldn't use Tai Kwun as a platform to promote my 'political interests'," the author wrote. "I'm a novelist, not an activist, and am attending the Festival to discuss my new novel, China Dream."

"My 'politics' are simple: I believe in free thought and free speech. Without them, life has no meaning," he said.

However, Ma as described his latest novel as his answer to President Xi's use of the slogan "China Dream" to call for the nation's rise to greatness on the world stage.

"Blending reality and fantasy, Ma’s tale of a guilt-ridden provincial leader depicts a nation dealing with materialism and a violent history," the event description reads.

Financial Times reporter denied entry

Meanwhile, a senior editor for the London-based Financial Times newspaper was denied entry to Hong Kong on Thursday, just weeks after the city's government declined his work visa renewal application after he hosted an event featuring pro-independence politician Andy Chan in August.

The FT's Asia news editor Victor Mallet, who had been acting chairman of Hong Kong's Foreign Correspondents' Club when Chan spoke at a lunch debate there, tried to enter the city as a visa-free visitor--a program allowing U.K. nationals up to 180 days in the city--but was turned away at the border after several hours of questioning by immigration officers, the paper said.

"We have not received an explanation for the recent rejection of Victor Mallet’s work visa and have appealed against the decision," the FT said.

The cancellation of Ma's event and the denial of entry to Mallet came just days after the cancellation of a planned Hong Kong exhibition by dissident Chinese cartoonist Badiucao.

The cartoonist's work highlights rights violations and abuse of power under Chinese Communist Party rule and he often satirizes President Xi Jinping, something that Chinese activists have been jailed for in recent years.

The exhibition, titled “Gongle,” had been scheduled for Nov. 3, and was canceled one day before the opening.


Organizers Hong Kong Free Press, Amnesty International and Reporters Without Borders said the decision had come after "threats made by the Chinese authorities relating to the artist."

"Whilst the organizers value freedom of expression, the safety of our partners remains a major concern," they said.

Badiucao had been due to appear on a panel alongside Russian anti-Kremlin punk band Pussy Riot, as well as Hong Kong student protest leader Joshua Wong.

The Hong Kong Journalists' Association (HKJA) said it was "deeply concerned" about the cancellation of both events.

"HKJA worries that the two cases of cancellation of art events will further undermine freedom of speech and expression in Hong Kong," it said in a statement on its website.

"We oppose any threats from any persons, organizations and governments against freedom of speech and expression."

Democratic Party lawmaker Ted Hui said Tai Kwun is clearly engaging in political self-censorship.

"For an arts and cultural group to say that an event criticizing the Chinese Communist Party can't go ahead ... is an extremely regressive development," Hui said.

Joshua Wong said the cancellations clearly demonstrate Beijing's success in extending its political controls into Hong Kong, in spite of promising the maintenance of the city's traditional freedoms for 50 years after the 1997 handover.

"The artist was merely trying to exercise his freedom of expression and his freedom to create," Wong told RFA. "I think what led to this suppression is the fact that [Badiucao's] work represents a challenge and a criticism of the Xi Jinping administration."

Beijing-based dissident artist Yan Zhengxue said he wasn't surprised by the censorship of Badiucao, however.

"We have to be able to accept this sort of thing, because our work touches on some very sensitive topics," Yan said. "There are safety and security concerns in China that you wouldn't have overseas."

"Nonetheless, we ought to be able to exhibit in Hong Kong," he said.

Reported by Lee Wang-yam for RFA's Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.





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