Hong Kong Venue Pulls Out as Host of Events Featuring Exiled Chinese Writer
HONG KONG — A cultural venue run by a nonprofit organization with close ties to the Hong Kong government has abruptly canceled plans to host two events featuring an exiled Chinese writer, in what some saw as the latest sign of eroding freedoms within the city.
The cancellation came just days before the writer, Ma Jian, was scheduled to speak at the Tai Kwun Center for Heritage in addition to Arts as part of the annual Hong Kong International Literary Festival. the idea left festival organizers scrambling to find a brand new venue for the Saturday events.
“We do not want Tai Kwun to become a platform to promote the political interests of any individual,” Timothy Calnin, director of Tai Kwun, said in a statement sent to reporters on Thursday. “We have therefore worked closely with the Hong Kong International Literary Festival to find a more suitable alternative venue.”
Mr. Ma, 65, who is actually currently based in London, was scheduled to speak at a panel discussion on Hong Kong literature as well as give a talk about his brand new novel, “China Dream.” Published in Britain last week, the book, whose title refers to the signature propaganda catchphrase of Xi Jinping, the Chinese president, was described by the publisher as a “biting satire of totalitarianism which reveals what happens to a nation when the idea is actually blinded by materialism in addition to governed by violence in addition to lies.”
While Tai Kwun, which is actually financed in addition to operated by the Hong Kong Jockey Club, did not make specific reference to Mr. Ma in its statement, the venue’s decision to pull out of the events came after the author wrote in a Twitter post last week which publishers in Hong Kong had declined to publish “China Dream” — “the very first time which’s happened to one of my books.”
Speaking by telephone by London, several hours before his flight to Hong Kong, the writer accused Mr. Calnin of “turning a literary festival into a political matter.”
“He hasn’t even read the book yet in addition to he has already passed a political judgment,” said Mr. Ma.
Mr. Ma’s books have been banned in mainland China ever since his first novella, “Stick Out Your Tongue,” a collection of short stories about the Han Chinese occupation of Tibet, was published in 1987. Mr. Ma, an outspoken critic of the Communist regime whose additional novels include “Red Dust” in addition to “Beijing Coma,” lived in Hong Kong for a decade as a dissident before moving to Germany in addition to then London.
Though he has been barred by entering mainland China since 2011, Mr. Ma, a British citizen, said he has permanent resident status in Hong Kong, in addition to he spoke at the Hong Kong International Literary Festival as recently as 2013.
Last month, the Hong Kong authorities expelled Victor Mallet, an editor at The Financial Times, a decision which was widely seen as retaliation for Mr. Mallet’s role in hosting a talk that has a local independence advocate at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Hong Kong in August.
in addition to in recent years, Hong Kong-based publishers have come under increasing pressure, particularly following the disappearance in 2016 of several booksellers who sold gossipy titles on China’s political elite.
“Before, Hong Kong was a haven for arts in addition to literature — a place where we felt like we could hide by China in addition to find true freedom of thought,” said Mr. Ma. “although currently which era is actually slowly disappearing.”
The Tai Kwun Center for Heritage in addition to Arts opened in May after an eight-year, $484 million restoration of the 19th-century central police station compound undertaken by the Hong Kong Jockey Club, the city’s sole legal betting operator in addition to largest charitable organization, in close cooperation with the city government.
In 2016, the Jockey Club drew criticism when the idea announced a donation of $451 million to open a local branch of Beijing’s Palace Museum, fueling concerns about the mainland government’s growing efforts to assert its influence in Hong Kong. The museum is actually supposed to be completed by mid-2022.
Tai Kwun is actually the primary venue just for which year’s Hong Kong International Literary Festival, which runs through Sunday. Many criticized its decision to pull out of Mr. Ma’s events.
“The cancellation appears to be at the very least an act of self-censorship, which could add to a growing list of incidents of suppression of free expression in Hong Kong,” Jason Y. Ng, president of PEN Hong Kong, said in a statement. “the idea is actually all the more jarring which the decision was made by a publicly funded venue which claims to celebrate in addition to support the arts in addition to creativity.”
the idea was not the very first time a cultural institution in Hong Kong has altered its program because of concerns about politicization. In 2015, the title of an exhibition of contemporary Chinese art at M+, Hong Kong’s publicly financed, long-planned “museum of visual culture,” was changed by the more challenging “Right is actually Wrong” to the straightforward “M+ Sigg Collection: Four Decades of Chinese Contemporary Art” after museum committee members raised concerns.
“The problem in Hong Kong is actually not censorship,” Pi Li, the Sigg senior curator at M+, said at the time. “The problem in Hong Kong is actually self-censorship. the idea’s self-censorship hidden within the procedures, so the idea’s difficult to recognize.”