‘It’s too dangerous to stay’: Hong Kong artist Kacey Wong leaves for Taiwan as Chinese government curbs artistic and editorial autonomy

Wong’s name appeared in a state-run newspaper article which he considered a “wanted list” for Beijing

A still from Kacey Wong's film The Patriot 愛國者, July 1st 2018 Courtesy of the artist, www.kaceywong.com

A still from Kacey Wong's film The Patriot 愛國者, July 1st 2018 Courtesy of the artist, www.kaceywong.com

The 51-year-old artist and activist Kacey Wong has left his native Hong Kong for Taiwan, telling The Art Newspaper it is “too dangerous to stay” as the Chinese government continues to target critics.

In the past week alone, the longtime Hong Kong broadcaster Steve Vines has fled to the UK, while the Hong Kong news outlet, Initium Media, announced it would move its headquarters to Singapore, making it the first media organisation to leave Hong Kong since the enactment of China’s controversial national security law in June 2020. The Cantonese pop star Anthony Wong has also been arrested for singing at an election rally in 2018.

Wong says he arrived in Taiwan, where he has been quarantining, 18 days ago and is now in the industrial city of Taichung. “The Taiwan government granted me status allowing me to work and stay here,” he says. In May, Taiwan’s president Tsai Ing-wen offered refuge to those fleeing Hong Kong, but has yet to establish a political asylum system that could grant exiled protesters citizenship.

For Wong, the critical moment came in January when 55 pro-democracy politicians, activists and campaigners were arrested by national security police for holding unofficial primary polls in July 2020—47 are still due to stand trial. “For me, that is a signifier for the destruction of Hong Kong’s law system as we know it,” Wong told the Hong Kong Free Press, which first reported his departure.

A month later, Wong’s name appeared in an article in the state-run newspaper, Ta Kung Pao, which the artist thought to be a “wanted list” for an increasingly controlling Beijing.

The artist, who gained notoriety for creating protest performances in the street, was forced to stop making public works last July. For his last performance, Shop Like There’s No Tomorrow, he dressed up as a rich tourist from China and prowled the glitzy Times Square shopping mall carrying designer bags printed with the words “separatism”, “subversion”, “collusion” and “terrorism”—all considered crimes under the new national security law.

After he stopped performing in public, Wong turned to film, creating black-and-white shorts that referred more covertly to the political climate in Hong Kong. He created one such film as a farewell to Hong Kong, titled We’ll Meet Again. In the video, Wong plays an accordion rendition of Vera Lynn’s eponymous song, at one point uncrumpling a note which reads simply, “FORMOSA”, the name given to the short-lived republic that existed on the island of Taiwan in 1895.

Posting the video on social media, Wong wrote: “By the time you receive this letter, I will have already left. Leaving is not easy, staying is also difficult. We have known each other for 51 years, I will not forget you. Let’s treasure each other, goodbye Hong Kong.”

As for his fellow political artists still in Hong Kong, Wong has some advice. “Stay submerged and hidden,” he says. “The public art space is now drastically different than before, old artistic resistance strategies don’t seem to be effective and would only have heavy consequences.” He suggests “exhibiting inside protected private spaces like homes and only sharing works of art among a trusted audience”, adding: “This way one can still keep a critical edge in the arts without being blunted by political survival.”

• Listen to our interview with Kacey Wong on The Week in Art podcast here


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