HK cartoonist Zunzi bids farewell to 40-year column

STORY: One of Hong Kong’s last remaining critical voices in mainstream media has had his political cartoon column axed after nearly forty years.

On Sunday Wong Kei-kwan, better known by pen name Zunzi, was cut from the pages of the Ming Pao.

While the newspaper did not give an official reason, it had received six government complaints, where his drawings mocking policy decisions were called ‘misleading,’ ‘deceiving the public’ or ‘slanderous.’

Ming Pao was the last paper to carry Zunzi’s cartoons since police raided and shut down the pro-democracy Apple Daily in 2021, following a sweeping national security law.

Speaking to Reuters, the 67-year-old cartoonist defended his right to express himself.

“Besides news reports, comics can serve as a record of society's emotions, layman's ideas, popular ideas, and to question and challenge. I believe this is something that should be done in a healthy society and environment.”

Zunzi cartoons gained a huge following after he began in the 1980s.

They touched on growing pains as Hong Kong transitioned from a British colony to Chinese rule.

He also took on human rights in China and the city’s major democracy movements in 2014 and 2019.

“There are fewer and fewer newspapers, and there has been a tightening control over the newspapers, even resorting to legal accusations. It was rare in the past, but now it's very intense, even more severe than in places like Singapore. We used to say that Hong Kong was similar to Singapore, but now it's even worse than Singapore.”

When asked about Ming Pao’s decision, Hong Kong leader John Lee said the city legally enshrines press freedoms, but the government is also obliged to oppose false and biased messages.

Ming Pao, meanwhile, expressed gratitude to Wong for his four decades of work.

In recent weeks, public libraries across the city have pulled Wong’s books from their shelves.

They’ve also recently pulled books related to the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown, discussion of which used to be allowed in Hong Kong, unlike in mainland China where it is a censored and taboo topic.

That’s after a government-backed commission said in April, it had reviewed public libraries and removed "books which are manifestly contrary to the interests of national security”.

Hong Kong's national security law, which punishes acts such as subversion and collusion with foreign forces with possible life imprisonment, has been criticized as a tool of repression by the West.

Chinese authorities, however, say the security law has brought stability after the mass pro-democracy protests in 2019.

Wong says he won’t leave the city, and will continue to draw.

“It's somewhat similar to being a firefighter in this line of work. Firefighters only go places where there are fires, but they can't just rush to every fire they see. Firefighters can't flee when they see a fire, so we should stay put and record our times.”

In his final Ming Pao strip, Wong drew his main character, a lawmaker playfully named “someone, whoever”, and his wife noticing a rainstorm worsening, waving goodbye to readers... before walking away huddled beneath an umbrella.