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Hong Kong cartoonist Zunzi urges world to look at protests

"For us cartoonists, we’re always making fun of things. But in this situation I really can't think of anything that is laughable."

Cartoonist held a 3-day exhibit of his works in Vancouver

A cartoon depicting the woman who was shot in the eye by Hong Kong police on Aug. 11. The woman became a galvanizing figure for the anti-government movement. (Submitted by Zunzi)

As the protests in Hong Kong intensify, one political cartoonist sees his work as an important way of recording the truth. 

Wong Kei-Kwan, better known by his pen name, "Zunzi", has been covering Hong Kong politics through his satirical drawings since the 1980s. He recently showed a three-day exhibition of his work in Vancouver as a way of bringing attention to the crisis. 

Zunzi studied fine arts at the Chinese University of Hong Kong during the end of the cultural revolution, well aware of the political situation in China. After graduating, he worked as a journalist before become a cartoonist.

"I started to work in a newsroom and so I used two things, my art ability and [my] journalism together to become a cartoonist," he told Gloria Mackarenko the host of CBC's On The Coast

Riot police standoff with university students at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, China Nov. 12, 2019 (Tyrone Siu/Reuters)

Of late, Zunzi is focused on the protests that have swept the city since June. Sparked by the introduction of an extradition bill that would have sent criminal suspects to mainland China, tens of thousands of protesters have taken to the streets. 

Protests have turned violent, with tear gas, rubber bullets and force. On Monday, police shot a protester and  a man was set on fire.

Zunzi says there is a tightening of control around how political cartoonists can express themselves. 

"There are less and less newspapers willing to carry the political cartoon," he said. "It's difficult for a young cartoonist to come out and voice their opinion, so they choose to use the internet. But on the internet they're limited to a different kind of audience." 

Zunzi himself only works for two newspapers but says since he's been working in the field for a long time, it would be difficult to censor him at this point.

"So they are quite tolerant with my work I guess," he said. 

Zunzi says the number of newspapers willing to publish political cartoons has shrunk in recent years. (Submitted by Zunzi)

The political situation is so dire that the traditional weapons of satire and humour are difficult to employ in some situations. 

After a protester was shot in the eye in August, Zunzi said the reaction was astonishment that the police would use this kind of weapon directly against the protesters. 

"For us cartoonists, we're always making fun of things. But in this situation, I really can't think of anything that is laughable," he said. 

A man is detained after police fired tear gas at the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK), in Hong Kong on Nov. 12, 2019. (Philip Fong/AFP via Getty Images)

The protests have also deepened Zunzi's commitment to recording the news of the day as a historical record. 

"I think a cartoonist can act as a historian in a way," he said, adding that the Chinese government is already attempting to whitewash what has happened and is happening in Hong Kong.

"[My] hope is that my cartoon can be used as a reference telling the true story of what has happened in Hong Kong."

Zunzi says his cartoons can be a historical record of what is actually going on in Hong Kong. (Submitted by Zunzi)

Listen to the interview with political cartoonist Zunzi on CBC's On The Coast:

November 12, 2019 Hong Kong protests show no sign of declining. In fact police clashed with protesters at a university earlier today. Political cartoonist Wong Kei-Kwan reflected the protests in a recent three-day exhibition of his art. 8:08

With files from On The Coast


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