A Hong Kong cartoonist claimed he is the victim of “self-censorship gone too far” after a publisher wanted to edit or delete content in his new political satire book.

Artist Ar To said on Facebook Thursday that he couldn’t reach a compromise with the publisher, whom he did not wish to name. He is now seeking a new publisher who will issue the book without any changes.

“The political pressure has been stronger and stronger, the publishing industry is not in good shape, now it is even full of obstacles to just publish a book,” he said. “Now the future [of the book] is in question, I don’t even know if my persistence was very stupid.”

self censorship comic
Ar To disclosed the “self-censorship” incident of his new comic book on Facebook and received many comics in support.

Ar To is known for his comic collection that turned Cantonese colloquial phrases into “sacred animals” to satirise current affairs. The animals were intended to appear on the cover of his new book.

He told Apple Daily that the publisher asked him to drop a cartoon satirising Chinese president Xi Jinping – which had already been published in Ar To’s online column – as the publisher found it too sensitive.

In a comic strip he published last October on Xi’s visit to the UK, a political activist added two characters to a banner welcoming Xi, changing it from “Hello president Xi” to “President Xi you are very dictatorial”. Ar To did not confirm whether this was the cartoon the publisher objected to.

comic Xi Jinping
The comic on Xi Jinping. Photo: Facebook.

He also told Apple Daily that the publisher requested that he edit around ten comics concerning conflicts between Hong Kong and China, as the publishing company was afraid it might be sued for the content.

Ar To said that his works were not radical and that they never contained subjects such as Hong Kong independence, stressing that he never had to pull or edit works from his previous political satire books.

After Ar To posted the incident on social media, many netizens offered suggestions on ways he could publish the book, including using small independent publishing houses known for critical political books, self funding the book or starting a crowdfunding campaign. He told the newspaper that two or three publishers have contacted him.

Last year, five booksellers of the Mighty Current publishing house and Causeway Bay Books – known for gossipy political titles critical of the Chinese government – disappeared from Thailand, China and Hong Kong, before all reappeared on the mainland saying they voluntarily returned to China for an investigation.

Kris Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist with an interest in local politics. His work has been featured in Washington Post, Public Radio International, Hong Kong Economic Times and others. He has a BSSc in Sociology from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Kris is HKFP's Editorial Director.