Why is Hong Kong fighting with China

Protest movement in Hong Kong : "Hong Kong fights for the freedom of China"

The artist Badiucao, born in Shanghai in 1986, has lived in exile in Australia since 2009. He draws political cartoons, for example on the death of Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo during the protest movement in Hong Kong or on the situation of the Australian Aborigines. Before he was exposed in 2018, he appeared in public only with a brightly colored hat over his head. Occasionally he works in Ai Weiwei's studio in Berlin. He is also visiting Berlin this week, on Saturday, November 23rd, he is putting up some of his Hong Kong cartoons in large format on the bank of the Eastside Gallery. "Vernissage" is at 1 pm.

Badiucao, on your Twitter account you are an “Australian-Chinese artist who is hated by the government in Beijing”. Why this self-description?
Because I am now an Australian citizen, but still Chinese. I went to Adelaide as a student in 2009, and when I applied for a visa to go back home, the Chinese embassy asked for my old ID. They cut off a corner and stamped "Invalid" on it. It feels brutal: you know what your roots are and they treat you like their property to get rid of. I made an installation for it, with my things from China, chopsticks, postage stamps, table tennis bats: I cut off a corner of each item and stamped it.

And why does the government hate you?
I never wanted to be an activist or a critic of the regime. None of my work is a provocation, it is just the result of my experiences. All over the world there are political cartoons and satire that make fun of the powerful, it's something completely normal. Only China does not think it is normal, and that is why I am considered a leading protest artist. No, that's not me.

You draw a lot of cartoons about the protest movement in Hong Kong. Have you been there?
I went there for the first time in 2014, on the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre. Every year on June 4th, people gather in Hong Kong's Victoria Park to commemorate the victims of Tiananmen. In 2014 over 200,000 people came. I was very moved to experience this atmosphere of protest and the will to be free. The umbrella revolution started in the same year. Since then, I've been in close contact with the people there, I want to know how they are and I hear about people who have been beaten, arbitrarily arrested or mistreated on a daily basis.

Her cartoons draw parallels to Tiananmen. For example, they take up the famous picture of the student standing alone in front of a tank.
Any memory of Tiananmen is forbidden in China. I try to keep it up. In a cartoon I put a lot of young people on the tank, they are partying. I wanted to show how young the protesters are, back then in Beijing as now in Hong Kong, and that there is also romance in the movement.

What can art achieve?
Very much. Inwardly, it can strengthen, encourage and comfort the cohesion. And, as I said, it's about the memory that the Chinese Communist Party would like to erase. Art puts the present in its historical context. I want people on the street to know that what they are doing is not being forgotten, which can be very encouraging. On request, my cartoons can be downloaded free of charge, posted in public places, and copied on the Internet. I renounce my copyright, just to make it quick: people are dying in Hong Kong.

And what can you do to the outside world?
At the moment the media is only interested in violence. As if there hadn't been peaceful protests for five years. How many militant activists are there? The vast majority of students are peaceful. I don't want to make a blanket scolding against the media, but in the long run it is obviously boring to only show large, peacefully demonstrating crowds. Molotov cocktails are more exciting, they are an eye-catcher. Art is also an eye-catcher, it can be a corrective.

You draw a lot on a red background, hijacking Chinese propaganda red, an aggressive color.
An intense color, I call it my anti-propaganda red. It is also inspired by Käthe Kollwitz, she shaped me, her woodcut work, the expressionist gesture, the commitment to the workers and the common people. You have to know that Kollwitz influenced the artistic left in China in the early 20th century. Later, the official statecraft took over its style. I take that away from it, so to speak, and refer to Kollwitz in my own way. Culture is specifically used by the KP as soft power. That is why I am now also hijacking traditional Chinese painting techniques and making ink drawings.

You drew in ink Simon Cheng, the British Embassy employee who was tortured for days in Hong Kong. Little is reported about this in the local media.
In the past few days, the Chinese authorities promptly tried to morally disavow him by claiming that he had been to prostitutes. They released a forced confession in which he said he did not inform his family of his arrest because he was ashamed of the brothel. If they don't maintain complete silence, they create false narratives. Like the narrative that the West hates the Chinese, so everyone should stick together.

Because of Tiananmen, even the June 4th date is censored in China. As a young person, what did you know about the massacre?
Nothing. The family did not talk about it, it was too dangerous. Before I went to Adelaide, I studied law in China. I watched a movie every Saturday with my fellow students in the dormitory. Most of the time we downloaded them from the internet, not quite legally, and wondered why one Saturday the download was five hours long. We started the feature film anyway, after half an hour something completely different suddenly started: the three-hour Tiananmen documentary "The Gate of Heavenly Peace".

Was it hidden in another file?
So that young people like me can find out about it. Then when I saw so many people in Hong Kong who remember Tiananmen, it was almost magical. Since then, the city has been more than a financial center for me, more than neon lights at night, pop songs and Bruce Lee films, which are very popular with my parents' generation. I grew up with it. Today, for me, Hong Kong is the city that fights for freedom from China.

How did you become a cartoonist?
I knew early on that I wanted to be an artist. And that it's dangerous. My grandparents were filmmakers; they were persecuted and murdered as members of the Hundred Flower Movement in the 1950s. My parents always talked about it with pride and fear. My father said, better become a hairdresser or a cook. Whatever the political situation, hair always grows and people need something to eat. But I could not be dissuaded from my wish and we agreed that I had better leave the country. In Australia I studied pedagogy and worked as a teacher. And when I got my permanent visa, I started drawing. My first cartoon was about the 2011 Wenzhou railway accident.

Two high-speed trains collided, 40 people died.
China wanted to sell the new technology around the world, so the government tried to cover up the misfortune. But the internet wasn't that tightly controlled yet, it was full of comments. I drew the trains, but instead of an explosion on impact, there is a nice fireworks display. To gloss over tragedies is the Chinese method. I then started sending my work to Ai Weiwei, he became my mentor. He was strict, did not find a lot of things good, said that I first need life experience. I am very grateful to him, he has always supported me. Most recently I was able to work for him as a graphic designer here in Berlin.

Her name, Badiucao, is a pseudonym. They were exposed shortly before their first solo exhibition in Hong Kong in 2018. What happened?
The online newspaper Hong Kong Free Press wanted to show my cartoons on their premises. Many wanted to come, the Hong Kong activist Joshua Wong, Pussy Riot, well-known artists, it was a real hype. But then the police came to visit my family in China. They took one of my relatives to the police station and was interrogated for hours. My relatives don't know anything about my work, if only so that I don't endanger them. If we don't cancel, it was said that the secret police would show up at the opening, and everyone would get into problems. We had to cancel the show three days before the opening.

Do you know who exposed you?
Not exactly. When I was working in Ai Weiwei's studio in Berlin last year, there was a dispute over Donald Trump between Ai Weiwei and the Chinese poet Liao Yiwu, both dissidents in exile in Berlin. I responded critically to a tweet in which Liao Yiwu praised Trump's trade war as a contribution to the way that Liu Xia, the widow of Nobel Prize winner Liu Xiaobo, who died in custody, could leave the country. He tweeted back that he knew who I am, that I was at Ai Weiwei's in Berlin, so I would attack him. I'm afraid it was then easy for the Chinese authorities to find out my identity. You keep a close eye on what dissidents write on social networks. It was very frustrating.

What's next in Hong Kong?
The elections in Taiwan in January play an important role. The regime wants its “one country, two systems” strategy to stand a chance. Until then, they are unlikely to brutally end the protests in Hong Kong with tanks. The other determining factor is the West.

What can the west do?
It only works with economic sanctions. Anyone doing business with China must insist on human rights, not just because of Hong Kong, but also because of the Uyghurs and Tibet. For the good of the Chinese and for the good of all. Otherwise the monster will be fed and there will be a new Cold War, a block confrontation. It is not enough to be concerned, it must be acted, and quickly. I hope more than the USA in Germany, as the leading nation in the free world.

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