“Every Hong Kong protester is my biggest inspiration. You guys think I am brave? Those young kids, 16 and 17 years old, are risking their lives at every protest. They are the people who inspire me, they are the people who motivate me to do more work to share their story with you guys.” These words, from the Chinese dissident artist known as Badiucao, were met with rapturous applause from the audience at the private screening of the new documentary about his life, China’s Artful Dissident.
The invitation-only screening was held at the Tate Exchange and hosted by Index On Censorship. Badiucao, who until recently had kept his identity a secret in an attempt to protect himself and his family from the Chinese government, was present, alongside the filmmaker Danny Ben-Moshe.
The film cannot fail to move and inspire. It documents Badiucao’s move into political activism after watching a documentary about the Tiananmen Square massacre, the details and death toll of which the Chinese government has done its best to suppress, and his move to Australia in 2009 to escape the censorship and artistic oppression in China.
The last part of the documentary shows the lead up to an exhibition of Badiucao’s work in Hong Kong. It ends on a heartbreaking note when the exhibition is cancelled following threats to Badiucao’s family in China. This was the reason Badiucao revealed his identity; it became clear that the Chinese government had already discovered it.
The screening was followed by a Q&A with Badiucao and Ben-Moshe, chaired by Martin Rowson, the political cartoonist and regular contributor to Index on Censorship magazine. Responding to a question about his safety in Australia, Badiucao described it as “a problematic country” and that he may have been naive to think he could entirely escape the influence of Beijing.
“Australia can be an example of how China is projecting its threat all over the world,” he said.
Addressing current counter-protests from the Chinese diaspora specifically, Badiucao said:
“You have to remember that when we grow up in China, we grow up with an entire machine of propaganda, it will take a very long time for people to walk out of this shadow.”
He expressed concern that people may view the Chinese population, the counter-protesters in particular, as brainwashed, aggressive nationalists who don’t deserve democracy.
“As a consequence, the far right will rise, xenophobia will rise, discrimination will rise, racism against China will rise. Ultimately this solution will not solve the problem, it just pushes the Chinese back to Beijing.”
Badiucao’s career goal, he explained, is to destroy censorship using art. He said: “I’m very proud and honoured that my work is recognised and used by the Hong Kong protesters.” He also said that his art is a way to record history to act as counterpoint to the Chinese government, who rewrite history.
Badiucao is now living in Australia and having revealed his identity, he is followed, sees strange cars outside his home and receives daily threats via social media. He made light of those that daily detract him.
“We call them 50 cent, because when they send me a death threat, they get 50 cent deposited into their bank accounts,” he said of China’s infamous trolls.
All of this is the price he pays for simply expressing himself through his art.
Click here to read more about Badiucao and to see an exclusive cartoon of his in the new magazine