Hong Kong art space Tai Kwun has officially agreed to host a talk by Chinese dissident writer Ma Jian on Saturday evening, reversing its decision on Thursday to deny the writer a platform.

Event organiser the Hong Kong International Literary Festival (HKILF) said in a statement that Central’s Tai Kwun has offered to host the events as scheduled.

The venue’s director Timothy Calnin said in a statement that it could not find an alternative venue for the exiled author, plus Ma had clarified that he would not promote a political platform.

Ma Jian

“Although we have been working with the Hong Kong International Literary Festival to secure a suitable alternative venue for Mr Ma’s talks, it is now clear that no alternative venue is available,” he said.

“At the same time, Mr Ma has made public statements which clarify that his appearances in Hong Kong are as a novelist and that he has no intention to use Tai Kwun as a platform to promote his personal political interests,” he added.

Timothy Calnin, Director of Tai Kwun.
Timothy Calnin, Director of Tai Kwun.

Ma’s new novel China Dream is described by its publisher as a “biting satire of totalitarianism” in China. Ma says no Hong Kong publisher would release it in Chinese, but a willing Taiwanese publisher has been located.

Calnin had previously said that Tai Kwun would not host Ma because they did not want the space to become a platform to advance any individual’s political interest.

HKILF apologised for the “uncertainty over the past few days,” while Tai Kwun thanked supporters for their opinions and apologised for “any inconvenience caused.”

HKILF said that Ma had been informed of the change. “I am pleased that Tai Kwun has reconsidered, and I am looking forward to speaking about my book, China Dream,” Ma said, according to the festival organiser.

In reaction to the news, lawmaker Claudia Mo told HKFP: “A sad, sad mini-saga. Quite obvious somebody intervened. While Mallet’s treatment obviously has been calculated and well thought out, Ma Jian’s was much more impromptu apparently.”

Holmes Chan

Holmes Chan

Holmes Chan is a reporter at Hong Kong Free Press. He covers local news with a focus on law, politics, and social movements. He studied law and literature at the University of Hong Kong.