“Wherever I take this exhibition, they follow me“
Chinese dissident artist Badiucao highlights how he is targeted overseas by Beijing in their bid to silence him
30 Jun 23

Badiucao speaking at the Banned By Beijing event at St. John's Church, London. Image: Francis Clarke

A packed-out audience gathered at St John’s Church in Waterloo, London on Tuesday to see and hear an extraordinary night of talk, music and art aimed at showing how the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) reaches beyond its borders to repress freedom of expression around the world.

Badiucao, the political cartoonist, artist and human rights activist who is a target of the CCP, was the main speaker and detailed how the CCP attempts to suppress his work abroad and the lengths they will go to.

Known as the Chinese Banksy, Badiucao was born into an artistic family in 1986. He explained he was told by his father at a young age that to be an artist in China is dangerous, and he would have to leave the country to pursue his career. He left in 2009.

‘Tell China’s Story Well’, by Badiucao

“I didn’t want to be silenced and devalued by this terrible regime, and the way to go forward was to make art they don’t believe in,” he said.

However, in 2018 an exhibition of his work in Hong Kong was cancelled by organisers after threats made by the Chinese authorities. After this, he also felt there was a lack of interest to show his work in Australia but blamed a strategy of the CCP for this.

“The Chinese government are very good at playing mind games”, he said. “They will use a tactic of accusing people and countries of being racist, of simply being anti-Chinese.”

Fresh from his exhibition in Warsaw in June, Badiucao said the pressure from China not to exhibit his work in Europe has so far been successfully fought against, but the pressure has been ramped up. He explained that in Warsaw, when the exhibition was announced, the Chinese Embassy visited the museum and demanded its cancellation.

Banned By Beijing exhibition

“Wherever I take this exhibition, they follow me,” he said. “It’s a warning to anybody wanting to host my show, that you must handle the pressure you’ll get. However, what the CCP is doing is raising the bar for my future work.”

Baudicau feels that as a dissident abroad his work means the CCP will eventually catch up with him. He said: “To me it’s no longer a yes or no. It’s just a case of when. But the more people join [protest the CCP], we can all share this big burden together.”

Music was provided by the London Silk Road Collective, who performed the diverse music traditions found along the ancient Silk Road route, connecting Europe, Central Asia and South East Asia, with a particular focus on songs (both melancholy and hopeful) from the Uyghur region. Its singer, Uyghur campaigner Rahima Mahmut, spoke about the personal effects of being a dissident abroad when she explained the anguish of her sister recently dying in China but being unable to contact her family due to the CCP.

The event also marked the opening of the Banned by Beijing art exhibition, aimed at highlighting transnational repression from China. Badiucao’s artwork featured, as well as works from husband-and-wife painting duo Lumli Lumlong and cartoonist and former secondary school visual arts teacher Vawongsir. The exhibition will run in the crypt of St John’s Church, Waterloo until 10 July 2023.

By Francis Clarke

Francis Clarke is a writer and was the 2022-23 Tim Hetherington Fellow at Index on Censorship