Maura Cunningham tells Jeffrey Wasserstrom about controversy at the Hong Kong Literary Festival
In the first week of November, I crossed the Pacific to take part in several events dealing with the past: university talks about the Boxer Crisis of 1900 and a panel on the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912) at the Hong Kong International Literary Festival, held this year in Tai Kwun – a former prison turned heritage site cum arts and shopping district (think Alcatraz meets Covent Garden). I thought these activities would prove interesting, especially the panel, where I was paired with the versatile writer Mishi Saran (a LARB contributor) and the historian Stephen Platt (author of an acclaimed new book on the Opium War). I was not disappointed.
What I did not expect – though perhaps I should have, given recent clampdowns on rights in the territory – was how many interesting discussions relating to a single contemporary issue, censorship, would be taking place while I was in the territory. Before I departed the US, my schedule for the week included attending a November 3 launch party for the first international exhibition of work by a China-born and Australia-based satirical cartoonist I admire, Badiucao. Two members of Pussy Riot, as well as local artist Sampson Wong and local activist Joshua Wong, were scheduled to speak at the party. By the time I reached the Hong Kong airport on the evening of November 2, however, both the party and the exhibit had been called off due to concerns about Badiucao’s safety.