Political artist Kacey Wong has left Hong Kong for Taiwan citing a shrinking space for artistic expression.

The 51-year-old left the city 17 days ago and posted a farewell message and video on social media on Tuesday after completing his Covid-19 quarantine in Taichung.

Kacey Wong. Photo: Sarah Karacs/HKFP.

“When you received this letter, I 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,” he wrote on Facebook, with music and quotes from Vera Lynn’s “We’ll Meet Again.”

The Cornell-educated artist – who describes himself as a “cultural fireman” – is known for his political performance art. He has targeted issues including the Tiananmen Massacre, Chinese censorship and the national anthem law.

Artist Kacey Wong. Photo: PH Yang.

Wong said that he needed to be strategic and tactical in his decision to leave: “For me, the critical moment for the decision to leave was the [arrest of the] 47,” he said in reference to January’s round-up of election hopefuls. “For me, that is a signifier for the destruction of Hong Kong’s law system as we know it.”

He also cited his February appearance in an attack piece on the frontpage of the state-run Ta Kung Pao newspaper, which he perceived to be acting as a “wanted list” for Beijing.

Kacey Wong. Photo: PH Yang.

Last June, the artist was more optimistic about the Beijing-enacted security law, telling HKFP that the legislation will only galvanise creativity in Hong Kong.

However, he said he did not foresee the severity of the crackdown: “The biggest question is what do I need? Why do I leave? And it’s very obvious… the freedom of artistic expression,” he said. “I want and I demand 100 per cent freedom, with no compromise.”

Taiwan art scene

Since the 2014 pro-democracy Umbrella Movement, Wong sought to push the boundaries of art as a means of political dissent on the streets and was often seen at the July 1 democracy protests. His 2018 performance piece, “The Patriot,” shows him playing the Chinese national anthem on an accordion from inside a red cage outside the Chinese Government complex of Hong Kong.

“Patriot,” by Kacey Wong. Photo: CitizenNews.

Whilst many Hongkongers are emigrating to the UK, Wong said he specifically chose Taiwan as it has a vibrant art scene and would allow him room for growth: “I always appreciated Taiwan’s culture and art, I think it’s very mature and deep and the society is sophisticated and raw at the same time, which I like.”

The Real Culture Bureau by Kacey Wong. Photo: Kacey Wong.

In March, Chief Executive Carrie Lam vowed to put the city on “full alert” against artwork displays deemed to be endangering the city’s national security in government-funded spaces.

In June 2020, Beijing inserted national security legislation directly into Hong Kong’s mini-constitution – bypassing the local legislature – following a year of pro-democracy protests and unrest. It criminalised subversion, secession, collusion with foreign forces and terrorist acts, which were broadly defined to include disruption to transport and other infrastructure. The move gave police sweeping new powers, alarming democrats, civil society groups and trade partners, as such laws have been used broadly to silence and punish dissidents in China. However, the authorities say it has restored stability and peace to the city.

Tom is the editor-in-chief and co-founder of Hong Kong Free Press. He has a BA in Communications & New Media from Leeds University and an MA in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong. He has contributed to the BBC, Euronews, Quartz, Global Post and others.