Day 6·Q&A

Hong Kong political cartoonist Zunzi says he won't back down from China's new security law

Wong Kee-Kwan, the Hong Kong-based political cartoonist better known as Zunzi, says he won't back down from drawing images that sharply criticize the Chinese leadership, despite the passing of a controversial new security law.

'I think a lot of journalists are in more danger than me,' says Wong Kee-Kwan, a.k.a. Zunzi

Political cartoonist Zunzi says that when he draws unflattering images of political leaders, he portrays them as foolish or stupid, rather than menacing or scary. (Submitted by Zunzi)

Originally published May 29, 2020. On June 30, a controversial national security law, widely seen as a threat to press freedom, came into effect in Hong Kong.

Wong Kee-Kwan, the Hong Kong-based political cartoonist better known as Zunzi, says he won't back down from drawing images that sharply criticize the Chinese leadership, despite the passing of a controversial new security law.

China's parliament gave unanimous backing Thursday to a new law that gives Beijing the power to crack down on subversion, secession and terrorism in the semi-autonomous territory of Hong Kong.

China insists the new law will not compromise the "one country, two systems" rule that has been in place since 1997, but critics say it could be used to bring Hong Kong fully under Chinese control.

Zunzi spoke with Day 6 host Brent Bambury about his recent work, including satirical images of Chinese President Xi Jinping and Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam. Here's part of their conversation.

You drew a front page cartoon this week about the new security law. Would you describe that cartoon for us?

I've drawn a [police officer] from mainland China wearing a mainland Chinese uniform, coming up from a statue that was the Bauhinia flower that represents Hong Kong. It's suddenly popped up from there. And then in his hand ... he has a cage and then he is trying to clip Hong Kong and then put that little Hong Kong into the cage.

Political cartoon of a Chinese police officer stepping on a statue of the Hong Kong orchid, and holding Hong Kong with a pair of bloody tongs. (Submitted by Zunzi)

Is it unusual for your publication to put your cartoons on the front page?

It's not that unusual, because in the past few years, there has been so many demonstrations in the streets that it is difficult for the editor to find a suitable way to express them…. They can't find a good photo to cover ... the whole story. So sometimes they ask me to make a picture to represent the situation. So in the past few years, I think I have done more than 10 to 12 cartoons.

Hong Kong's leader, Carrie Lam, said that Hong Kong citizens' legitimate rights and freedoms would not be affected by this law. And she also said this week, "For the time being, people have the freedom to say whatever they want."

Her use of "for the time being" is very interesting there. How are you characterizing Carrie Lam when you draw her in your cartoons now?

Well, before and when she started to become chief executive, we didn't draw her too badly. But now, right now, we find that she is just like a servant, like a maid of Xi Jinping. She directly serves Xi Jinping only.

Do you draw her as a maid?

Yes. I draw her as a maid, holding a teapot … ready to serve Xi Jinping every day.

How do you feel about what's ahead for you and other people who are in the business of freedom of expression?

Well, I think that in the past 10 years, actually [since] the handover, there are less and less newspapers ready to carry that kind of satirical cartoon as before. So now, I would say there's only two or three papers left that could carry my kind of cartoon. And young cartoonists, young artists, they sometimes find it very, very, extremely difficult to find a new column for them to draw what they like.

So during the last two years, when there were a lot of artists who had the talent to draw cartoons, we could only see their works on the streets when they put up posters and all these cartoon stickers during the demonstrations. [I said,] wow, there's a lot of actually real good cartoonists, but we can't see them normally in the daily newspaper.

Pro-democracy protesters are arrested by police in Hong Kong on May 24. (Isaac Lawrence/AFP via Getty Images)

But what about your personal freedom? Are you worried that some time  that at any time  a car might pull up to you and you could be told to get in?

I think one thing is that they want to persuade other people that Hong Kong hasn't changed. So they might leave alone one or two newspapers and one or two cartoonists, to let them still draw.

But usually they try to contact you with some other people [who] ask you to come out and have a drink. And then they … try to pressure you to do a less severe cartoon. And then if you don't listen to them, of course they do further steps on limiting your work.

Has anything like that happened to you?

Yes, they started in 1997. There have been some guys from China who come and contact me, just like contacting the other writers or artists.

But now I think that since I've been doing this job for too long, they let me go. They don't think they can persuade me anymore. So they stopped coming.

You're not that concerned about arrest. You don't think that that's a risk for you?

I don't think they would do it very quickly or directly…. Of course, [it] might happen. But to me, I think a lot of journalists are in more danger than me.

Cartoon titled Xi the Conqueror by Zunzi, satirizing Chinese President XI Jinping. (Submitted by Zunzi)

How much fun is it to draw Xi Jinping, to poke fun at someone who seems to take great offence at being criticized?

Actually, in the past years, I seldom drew him. I find it's more easy to draw the Hong Kong government officials. But in the past few weeks, I have to draw more on Xi Jinping because I think he is the one who has directly put all this tracking on Hong Kong.

How do you do it? What are the characteristics that you give to him?

Political leaders want cartoonists to make them look ugly, because that makes people scary. So what I did this the other way around, and make [them] look foolish and stupid.

Written by Jonathan Ore. Produced by Annie Bender.

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