Czech Hall pushes back against China’s pressure to cancel Badiucao cartoons — Radio Free Asia
Organizers of an exhibition by dissident cartoonist Badiucao in the Czech Republic have refused to cancel the event despite pressure from the Chinese Embassy, which said his work ‘slanders Chinese leaders and hurts the feelings of the Chinese people’ .
Badiucao’s exhibition, which is touring the world under the title “MADe IN CHINA”, opened as scheduled on Thusday at the DOX Contemporary Art Center in Prague
It includes works referencing the 1989 Tiananmen Massacre, the 2019 protest movement in Hong Kong, Chinese support for the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) genocidal policies targeting Uyghurs and to the ongoing COVID-19 lockdowns under CCP leader Xi. Jinping’s zero COVID policy.
One artwork merges faces of Xi and outgoing Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam to express Hong Kong’s erosion of freedoms under the CCP, while another merges Xi’s face with that of Russian President Vladimir Putin , the first work that visitors see entering the exhibition.
The works clearly ruffled Beijing.
The afternoon of May 11DOX Contemporary Art Center project director Michaela Šilpochová suddenly received a call from Hao Hong, an official of the Chinese Embassy’s Department of Cultural Affairs, on her private cell phone.
Hao Hong said they were appealing to the order of the Chinese Embassy and accused Badiucao’s work of “tarnishing the image of Chinese leaders” and “hurting the feelings of Chinese people” and warned that the exposure “would destroy the relationship between the two of the countries.”
Šilpochová responded that the center would not cancel the show, with DOX Contemporary Art Center head Leoš Válka saying the Chinese embassy had tried to pressure him in the past and his lack of cooperation was likely the why they hadn’t called him. again. He said the DOX Art Center refused to tolerate “intimidation and threats.”
Hao Hong confirmed that she made the call when contacted by RFA.
“I expressed serious concerns about this exhibition on behalf of the embassy and told Šilpochová that they should not organize an exhibition that hurts the feelings of the Chinese people,” Hao said. “I heard that this exhibition had already taken place in Italy, so we knew the content of this exhibition.”
“So we only had to express our opposition,” she said, accusing Badiucao of using politics to draw attention to him.
“Should artists express their political opinions and become famous by hurting this country and its leaders? I think it may be to attract the attention of people who are less friendly towards China, and use art to achieve a political goal,” Hao told RFA.
Badiucao said he was no stranger to Beijing’s anger.
“The Chinese government regards all criticism as slander,” he told RFA. “But all this stuff about hurt feelings and defamation is just an excuse for them to avoid criticism and oversights.”
“My exhibit criticizes the Chinese government and also praises the resilience of the Chinese people in the face of political dilemmas,” he said, quoting the late medical whistleblower Li Wenliang and the late Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo.
“I am Chinese myself and have never discriminated against Chinese people or wanted to hurt Chinese people’s feelings,” he said. “But this government does not represent the people and does not speak for them, because it is not democratically elected.”
He said politics and art blend well.
“Art must intervene in politics,” he said. “I prefer a society where art interferes with politics than a society where politics interferes with art.”
He denounced the CCP’s attempts to silence him overseas.
“Stifling expression, censorship and threats against artists are ridiculous in a democratic country,” Badiucao said. “Czechs also once lived in an authoritarian society, and the memory of being censored is very strong for them. In doing so, the Chinese government is reactivating painful memories of their history,” he added.
He said the exhibition is more likely to encourage more people to understand contemporary China and build empathy for the Chinese people than to smear China.
Zhou Fengsuo, president of Humanitarian China, was present during the phone call between Hao and Šilpochová.
“The Chinese Embassy in the Czech Republic had a firm response, saying it would endanger relations between China and the Czech Republic,” he said. “I heard the same thing when a statue of Liu Xiaobo was erected here three years ago.”
“On the one hand it’s ridiculous, on the other it’s hateful. The CCP is afraid of Badiucao’s work and is trying to silence opposition all over the world…but the Czech Republic has a tradition of support free speech and oppose rule authority.”
Known as the “Chinese Banksy”, Badiucao, 36, emigrated to Australia in 2009, where he continued to produce political cartoons targeting the CCP’s human rights record.
Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.