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Badiucao, Chinese dissident

Sep 2, 2019 • 17m54s

Months before the latest protests in Hong Kong, the Chinese government shut down an art exhibition by Chinese-Australian dissident Badiucao. This is his story.

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Badiucao, Chinese dissident

70 • Sep 2, 2019

Badiucao, Chinese dissident

[Theme music starts]

ELIZABETH:

From Schwartz Media, I’m Elizabeth Kulas, This is 7am.

Months before the latest mass protests began in Hong Kong, the Chinese government shut down an art exhibition in the city. The work was by Badiucao, a Chinese-Australian artist living in Melbourne. He has since been harassed and intimidated in Australia, and his work has become a key part of the pro-democracy protests.

[Theme music ends]

ELIZABETH:

I'm wondering Badiucao if we can start with an average day in your life... what's it like when you get up?

BADIUCAO:

I mean I don't agree with Trump a lot [LAUGHS] but we might have a similar pattern on Twitter, because basically my daily life when I wake up, the first thing is grab my mobile to check in to Twitter to see if there's any news from Hong Kong and China or Australia.

ELIZABETH:

Badiucao is a visual artist and political cartoonist based in Melbourne.

BADIUCAO:

Then I get up, have a coffee and sit behind my drawing desk, started thinking the first cartoon that I will do for the day. And it's very much repeating as: checking the news, do more drawing and checking the news. If I have the chance, have some sleep. Then back to the work.

ELIZABETH:

Tell me about this studio that you work in, you work out of a shipping container is that right?

BADIUCAO:

Okay. Well, this is actually a very hard question because my life here is full of danger and risk. I mean, it sounds absurd. I'm an Australian citizen but I was born in China. It seems like the Chinese government do not really care about the nationality that you have. As long as you have a Chinese face, they hunt you down even when you’re a thousand miles away. So that is why I being very carefully choosing my working space. Some of audience might already see some of a photo which is a shipping container but that is just a mocking space. To be honest that is not my real studio.

ELIZABETH:

So day to day, how would you describe what that surveillance and that scrutiny by the Chinese government means for you?

BADIUCAO:

I mean it comes with different levels. The mildest one is a death threat that I received online.

ELIZABETH:

That’s the mildest?

BADIUCAO:

Yeah that is the mildest. Well let's say because that's just lip work, it hasn't physically touched my life but I've received threats to saying if I ever step into the line of China they will used ISIS style to execute me. The more concerning things is actually physically harassment that I have experienced in Australia which including following. And at one time I was on a bus and suddenly I found myself surrounded by four Asian male, all with similar age, similar looks, all equipped by a Bluetooth earplug. I mean, this is something you just cannot neglect and definitely it rings a bell in my mind. So I jump off the bus before my destination because I want to see if those guys would follow me. And I was right, unfortunately, two of the guys got off the bus with me and actually they're following me. So, I took out my mobile and I start taking videos of them. Right after I did that, those two guys turn around and walk away, suspicious enough I think, OK now I want to follow you. I want to see where you go and what are you up to. I followed them into a supermarket. And one of the follower go to the fruit counter and directly grab a banana. And after that, he went to the self checkout machines straightly.

ELIZABETH:

Starts ringing up this banana…?

BADIUCAO:

Yeah yeah, he’s like ‘that’s what I want’. And they have difficulty on operating the self serve checking out machine, as if they have never used that. It took such a long time and I was just hiding behind a shelf and take videos of them. They couldn't figure it out until a staff from Woolies came and help them out eventually. I mean, it sounds like a funny encounter but at the time I was really nervous. I have to stay in that supermarket for another half hour to make sure nobody is around me anymore before I left.

ELIZABETH:

But there was a time before that where you were concealing your identity, you wore masks in interviews, you distorted your voice...

BADIUCAO:

Yes, actually a lot. I would never really show my face and definitely I don't post any of my own photos or information like names or address or working place online to make sure that my identity will not be known by the Chinese police. But three days before my first international solo exhibition in Hong Kong, my family in China got reached by the police in Shanghai and apparently if the police already know who are my family in Shanghai they pretty much have a very good understanding of who I am and that is how I know that my identity is compromised.

ELIZABETH:

And when you say that Chinese authorities came to your family's home in Shanghai. What is that that they said or did to them?

BADIUCAO:

Well the message is pretty clear, that they know the existence of the coming exhibition in Hong Kong and what they want is also very simple - they want the show to be cancelled. Otherwise what they say in Chinese is [SPEAKING IN CHINESE], which means there'll be no mercy or no kind to you or to your family anymore.

ELIZABETH:

So that exhibition is cancelled.

BADIUCAO:

It is yes.

ELIZABETH:

This was last year?

BADIUCAO:

This was last year. And, well, it was really a group decision made between me and all the organizers in Hong Kong. Because, besides the threatened to me and to my family directly, the police also said they're going to send two police officers to Hong Kong, which definitely posting a threat to anyone who is helping me on the site in Hong Kong as well.

ELIZABETH:

And what was the exhibition going to be showing, the one in Hong Kong?

BADIUCAO:

I've been known as political cartoonist for a very long time. But, this show is more about several body of work that is actually installations and a sculpture made by me, via the experience of the free speech violation in China. So, there is this work very interesting and a very heavy as well: it's a torture chair directly ordered from Chinese e-commerce platform, Taobao, from a factory actually sending the torture chair to the Chinese police force and courts directly. You can buy this horrible equipment directly from China and mail it from China to Hong Kong. The whole process itself is a metaphor to showing that China is exporting its operation and the threat all over the world and Hong Kong definitely is just the first stop of it.

ELIZABETH:

And the closure of that exhibition has since been described by a US government report as a key moment in the beginning of a deterioration of democracy in Hong Kong...

[MUSIC STARTS]

BADIUCAO:

Exactly. There's a Chinese poem, it says, “when the spring comes it is the ducks in the river to feel it first.” And I feel artists are pretty much the duck in the river of society. And if the winter or the springs come, we're the ones who experience it first because we are the front line of this free speech. We are the test grounds of a state of healthy of society. And when an political art show or any art show is censored due to the content, it is already ringing the bell of some serious problem is going on in the society. And like what we see now, Hong Kong has been turned into this city of protest for almost 80 days now. And this is saying anything and everything.

ELIZABETH:

We'll be right back.

[MUSIC ENDS]

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ELIZABETH:

So Badiucao, the mass protests in Hong Kong have been running for three months now. These started about six months after the exhibition that you had planned there was canceled as a result of threats made against you and warnings from the Chinese government. You've been watching the protests closely. What have you observed about the changing character of these protests?

BADIUCAO:

My observation on the protests is actually I feel the atmosphere is getting heavier and darker. For the Hong Kong situation, if we look back a little bit early in 2014 when the first Umbrella Movement break out. That was a movement asking for a fair election in Hong Kong.

[Sounds of Umbrella movement protests]

BADIUCAO:

And at that time the scene colour or the movement is yellow. It is because a lot of people are using yellow umbrella to block themselves or shield themselves from the attack of the police when they released tear gas and pepper spray. And I feel yellow is kind of a warning colour. In the beginning of this new movement the anti-extradition of Bill movement, the color is red and for me this redness is something more intense than the yellow that we've seen four years ago. It probably also symbolising the situation there has been escalated. And now, I think the whole movement has turned into the new color which is black as a response to the government's silence but is also reflecting the extreme violence and brutality from the police force when they are cracking down on the protests.

ELIZABETH:

Do you stay in touch with anybody in Hong Kong, are you in contact with protesters who are engaging with the movement?

BADIUCAO:

Yes. Actually a lot. What makes me very surprised and honoured is alongside all my cartoons being created since the beginning of the movement, they are being recognised and are used by a lot of Hong Kongers actually in the city. I saw a lot of my work being printed out and actually carry out in the real protest. And one night, a young kids text me on Instagram saying: I've watched your documentary from Hong Kong now and I think you're really brave. Tomorrow we're going to have another massive protest but I'm really scared because I want to go but I also know the risk of me being beaten by the police badly or I can be arrested and charged for 10 year sentence under the name of riot. What should I do? Can you give me some suggestion and can you tell me the secret of being brave. I mean, I just don't know what to say because I can't just encourage him to say, you know, you should go for your freedom without addressing all the possible risk. But in the end of the world I know this movement could possibly be the last fight back from Hong Kong to the oppress from Beijing. And that's the real status of the young protesters in Hong Kong. They're worried. They're desperate. But they know it seems like there's no choice left but fight back.

ELIZABETH:

What do you think is the fear in a way that hangs over these protests in Hong Kong?

BADIUCAO:

I mean, a lot of people has already viewing the juxtaposition between the Hong Kong protest and 1989 student movement. They're showing the similarities because it's a massive movement from grassroots people initiated by the young people.

ELIZABETH:

You’re talking about Tiananmen Square.

BADIUCAO:

Yes. And logically, the thing that we are going to worry is how would this end. Because we know in 1989 it ended tragically with a blood massacre. Slaughter all the students who are in Beijing and actually around China to advocate for the freedom, democracy and rights.
And could this happen to the Hong Kong young protest? This is definitely the concern in everybody's mind.

ELIZABETH:

You’ve also said that the Australian Chinese community is a focus for Beijing. What makes that community a community that Beijing wants to speak to directly?

BADIUCAO:

China call it United Front which means they want a united any of overseas Chinese population and the way to do it is they always accuse any criticism on the Chinese government as racism and they want to create this fear of racism within overseas Chinese community especially in Australia. Because make no mistake, Australia is a very racist country and that's contributing to the Chinese narrative that they can unite the Chinese in Australia and saying look because this is a racist country. So the only way to help you is you have a strong motherland back here and you have to defend this motherland in order to be protected from this racist problem.

ELIZABETH:

Do you think there's hope that the Hong Kong protests might be met with some compromise by the Chinese government?

BADIUCAO:

I think everything is possible but everything is so uncertain. But the only certain thing that I see is the determination from the Hong Kong protesters - there's no sign they're going to back down. In order to achieve a better outcome from this marathon-like protest, I think the international society, countries like Australia should definitely join in the group with the Pro Hong Kong movement and helping the people there to reclaim the line back to have Hong Kong continuing their autonomy.

ELIZABETH:

What do you think Beijing's aspiration is in the world?

BADIUCAO:

I think Beijing is trying to expand its influence globally. Beijing is definitely not satisfied within its own territory and the way they do it is by reclaiming its territory kilometres by kilometres. I think the ultimate goal of Beijing is probably introduce its own way of politics and lifestyle to the rest of the world.

ELIZABETH:

Do you think the average person in Australia is aware of the level of Chinese government influence that exists in Australia right now.

BADIUCAO:

No… I think people here are over romanticising what China has become. We might be blinded by this fancy looking economic development but a lot of people hasn't see the ongoing human rights abuse in China and the price that China has paid for its economic miracle which are environmental crisis which are the basic safety of the food and social order. However, it would take time for Australia to truly aware of the true face of China. And I hope my art could accelerate this process a little bit.

ELIZABETH:

Thank you so much for speaking with us.

BADIUCAO:

Sure thing. It’s a pleasure.

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[Theme music]

ELIZABETH:

And in an update to this story, violence in Hong Kong has escalated since the weekend, wiith police firing tear gas on protesters and beating them with batons. Footage shows protesters burning a barricade and later being beaten and arrested in an underground train station. Water canons of blue dye were also used to assist in arresting the protesters later. Earlier on Saturday, a peaceful march of families and older people had been conducted in the city. Reporters say Beijing has told Hong Kong’s leader, Carrie Lam, not to concede to any of the protester’s request. And she has indicated publicly that she may enact emergency laws that would facilitate a more draconian crackdown.

This is 7am. I’m Elizabeth Kulas. See you Tuesday.

[Theme ends]

Months before the latest mass protests began in Hong Kong, the Chinese government shut down an art exhibition in the city. The work was by Badiucao, a Chinese-Australian artist living in Melbourne. He has since been harassed and intimidated in Australia, and his work has become a key part of the pro-democracy protests.

Guest: Chinese-Australia visual artist and political cartoonist Badiucao.

Background reading:

Hong Kong's fight for freedom in The Saturday Paper
The Saturday Paper
The Monthly

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7am is hosted by Elizabeth Kulas. The show is produced by Emile Klein, Ruby Schwartz and Atticus Bastow. Our editor is Erik Jensen. Our theme music is by Ned Beckley and Josh Hogan of Envelope Audio.

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#china hongkong prodemocracy badiucao art protest




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70: Badiucao, Chinese dissident