Dissident Chinese cartoonist Badiucao, whose work highlights rights violations and abuse of power under Chinese Communist Party (CCP) rule and often satirizes CCP leader Xi Jinping, says he remains upbeat about a forthcoming exhibition in Italy after the Chinese embassy tried to get it canceled.
Badiucao spoke to RFA shortly after the Chinese embassy in Italy demanded the cancellation of his exhibition at the Museo di Santa Giulia in Brescia, which is scheduled to open on Nov. 13.
Brescia’s mayor, Emilio del Bono, said he had received a letter from the Chinese embassy’s cultural office describing the cartoonist’s work as “full of anti-Chinese lies,” and warning that diplomatic relations would be “endangered” if it is allowed to go ahead.
“The Chinese government feels that it can exert pressure on me, on the municipal government where the exhibition is being held, and on the venue,” Badiucao told RFA.
“They sent a threatening letter to the mayor of Brescia, the Museo di Santa Giulia, and other Italian officials in charge of diplomatic and cultural exchanges, and the content of the letter was pretty rude and brusque,” he said.
“The Chinese called on the local government and museum to cancel my exhibition, and called me a liar who endangers China’s national interests,” Badiucao said.
“It also mentioned a number of planned cultural exchange projects between China and Italy, which basically means that if they go ahead with the exhibit, they could cancel future events too,” he said.
But Badiucao said he was upbeat about the forthcoming show.
“I think it’s pretty cool, because the Chinese government gave me some free publicity,” he said.
“Previously, this was just going to be a national-level exhibition in Italy, but now everyone in Europe and the rest of the world has heard about it too.”
“Once again, Beijing has shot itself in the foot,” he said.
Badiucao’s work has recently garnered international attention after he painted customized shoes for the Turkish NBA player Enes Kanter, who has hit out at China’s rights abuses, especially of Uyghurs and Tibetans, and criticized sponsors Nike for failing to stand up to Beijing.
“One of the strongest images of the third pair of shoes is Winnie the Pooh,” Badiucao said in a recent interview with RFA’s Mandarin Service.
“We know that Winnie the Pooh represents Chinese leader Xi Jinping, so I used the image of Tank Man, but with the heads of Winnie the Pooh on the tops of the tanks, symbolizing China’s totalitarian and repressive regime,” he said.
“I turned the Tank Man figure into a basketball player as a sort of tribute to Kanter, because he is acting like a contemporary Tank Man,” he said, in a reference to the 1989 news photo of a lone man in shirtsleeves with shopping bags who blocked an entire column of People’s Liberation Army (PLA) tanks briefly during the June 4, 1989 crackdown after weeks of student-led protest in Tiananmen Square.
He said the shoes also bore images of red bricks, in a reference to the Great Firewall of government censorship that limits what China’s more than 900 million internet users can do or see online.
“I used the image of a red brick wall, because China’s censorship mechanisms are very strict,” Badiucao said.
The cartoonist’s work has been targeted by China before.
In 2018, authorities in Hong Kong canceled an event that would have included Badiucao’s cartoons a day before it was due to open.
The exhibition, titled “Gongle,” had been scheduled for Nov. 3, and was canceled after “threats made by the Chinese authorities relating to the artist,” organizers Hong Kong Free Press, Amnesty International and Reporters Without Borders said at the time.
Badiucao had been due to appear on a panel alongside Russian anti-Kremlin punk band Pussy Riot, as well as the now-jailed student protest leader Joshua Wong.
Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.
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