Comics Hong Kong, Fallen City, published by Rue de l’Échiquier, questions with acuity the shift from democracy to dictatorship. It is a manifesto in favor of freedoms and human rights, which is also a call to mobilize in the face of totalitarian threats.
RFI: What do you fear most for the future of Hong Kong?
Lau Kwong-Shing : Today, I have no real hope for the future of Hong Kong. Of course, I continue to believe in the need to fight to restore the confiscated freedoms. But the current situation is in my opinion hopeless. In Taiwan, in France or in other countries which are lands of freedom, I hope that this book will encourage readers to realize that their freedoms were acquired only at the cost of long-term struggles and that they are not born without reason, that this state of affairs is not obvious.
Because when we lead a serene existence in an environment that is too familiar to us, it is often difficult for us to imagine the value of the elements that compose it and this is particularly the case of freedom. I therefore hope that through this book, free citizens will be able to realize that their freedoms are precious and that they deserve to be defended.
We feel that things are changing in small steps, such as, for example, the changes made to school textbooks. Was it important for you to show that?
Yes, and there are plenty of examples on this subject: in the new school textbooks, for the definition of the concept of mass media, we see the disappearance of a sentence evoking the surveillance and control that the media could carry out on the functioning institutions. This is an outright attack on our freedoms, because Hong Kong enjoyed the freedoms of association, assembly, expression, publication, as well as the freedom to inform.
I’m sure it’s an anecdote that all Hong Kongers still remember. On this plate, the old textbook from which this text is taken was the one on which I myself studied as a child. As an adult, I discovered that in the new textbooks this passage had been deleted. Within a few years, Hong Kong began to undergo a slow metamorphosis, and this example seemed to me quite symbolic and revealing.
The situation in Hong Kong has evolved extremely quickly and brutally and some of the predictions I made came true after only a few months.
– Lau Kwong-Shing, illustrateur
How did you select the events you illustrate?
Initially, my drawings covered more events, but my editor also wanted to participate in deciding on the themes covered, and because of the limited number of pages in the book, we ended up operating a joint selection on the elements that seemed essential to us. This included highlighting events that had been covered by the international media. But I also wanted to incorporate aspects that had not been sufficiently considered by the media, such as, for example, in the last part of the book, I describe the background in which the anti-extradition movement took its boom, and too little reporting has been done on the issue.
For those who do not know Hong Kong well enough, the 2019 movement may have seemed like an unusual event, but it has its roots in a long historical process. From the British Mandate to the handover to China, from a society where freedom reigned to a slow mutation into something gradually approaching the Chinese mainland model, despite the so-called “One country two systems” policy. A way of putting in writing a concept that dressed the retrocession treaty which, on the Chinese side, we never tried to believe.
You project your city in 2028. How fast are we moving towards, as you say, a foreseeable catastrophe?
Hong Kong, 2028 is a series of drawings that I made in 2019 and I believed that the topics I covered would only be relevant in ten years. But the situation in Hong Kong evolved extremely quickly and brutally and some of the predictions I made came true after only a few months. For example, at the time, I did not think it imaginable that a police officer could shoot a protester with live ammunition – as I precisely draw in one of the illustrations in this series – but only a few months later, on October 1, 2019 , a demonstrator was actually shot and wounded.
I am also referring to the cult of Xi Jinping’s personality, certainly forcing the line, when I mention the obligation for each household to display his portrait in his living room as the citizens of Nazi Germany saw him impose. We are not there yet, but we can see the beginnings. So, although not all primary schools do, some schools that are known to support the Chinese Communist Party have started to incorporate teaching Xi Jinping Thought into their curricula and this is something that would have seemed unimaginable in the past.
Addressing Hong Kong readers on political issues through my cartoons would certainly be more productive than joining the processions.
– Lau Kwong-Shing, illustrateur
Engaging in political comics is not without risk, why did you choose this path? Aren’t you afraid of repercussions from Beijing?
This is a possibility that I thought about, because it was indeed a risky undertaking. The streets of Hong Kong did not wait for 2019 to welcome protest movements. About me, I have always been interested in politics and social issues, and it was from 2012 that I started to participate in these movements. I walked down the street with other protesters. And gradually, I found that protesting had no effect on the Hong Kong government, because it is not a government elected by the people. If in truly democratic societies, popular movements have managed to influence the course of events, this is simply not the case in Hong Kong.
In 2019, I thought to myself that addressing Hong Kong readers on political issues via my cartoons would definitely be more productive than joining the processions. When did I really decide to take the plunge? It is a decision that was not unrelated to the positions of Hong Kong stars, like Chapman To or Anthony Wong, who are among the greatest film actors. In my opinion, the risks they ran were much greater than in my case: they did not hesitate to take positions that endangered their careers and their example inspired me.
This was going to involve sacrifices: on the professional level, I was going to have to give up on certain prospects for collaboration, because taking a stand would be very unwelcome by some. In my work and in my daily life, it was obvious that this would not be without influence. My production had hitherto had no link with politics, and suddenly it found itself intimately linked to my positions. This would obviously have an impact on the space of expression that I had enjoyed before, but all these questions, I had taken the time to think about them. It seemed obvious to me that I should describe and report the events that the people of Hong Kong were facing. Certainly, exposing oneself in this way presented risks, but the most important thing was to report the facts without disguising them, in a style faithful to reality.