Between June 2019 and January 2020, as Hong Kong was gripped by months-long pro-democracy protests and unrest, the city’s political cartoons and artwork scene flourished. During that period, scholar Justin Wong – who was himself a political cartoonist – collected more than 7,000 examples of political cartoons or illustrations from over 100 artists for his research.

Political Comic Zunzi
Ming Pao published the last comic strip by political cartoonist Zunzi on May 13, 2023 before its suspension. Photo: Peter Lee/HKFP.

However, since Beijing enacted the national security law in Hong Kong in June 2020 – criminalising secession, subversion, collusion with foreign forces and terrorism – and the government began to charge people under the once-dormant colonial-era sedition law, political comics have become a rarer sight in the city. Many have left, citing shrinking freedom of expression.

Authorities say the law has restored stability to the city, asserting that the right to freedom of speech is protected under the city’s mini-constitution, the Basic Law. However, a number of observers have noted that the security law has eroded freedom of speech.

HKFP rounds up some of Hong Kong’s best-known political cartoonists, and looks at what happened to them and their work after the implementation of the security law.

Zunzi

A satirical comic strip by Hong Kong’s most prominent political cartoonist Wong Kei-kwan – better known by his pen name Zunzi – published by Ming Pao was axed in mid-May. The cartoonist had contributed to the newspaper for more than 40 years.

Zunzi's comic on Ming Pao published on May 11, 2023.
Zunzi’s comic on Ming Pao published on May 11, 2023. File photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

The suspension came after Hong Kong authorities criticised Zunzi’s work six times since October 2022. After Ming Pao announced the termination of the comic strip, public libraries swiftly removed Zunzi’s books from their shelves.

Justin Wong

Justin Wong, who started doing satirical cartoons for Ming Pao in 2006, stopped drawing for the newspaper after the police complained that one of his works was “slandering” Junior Police Call – a youth outreach group run by the force – in September 2021. The cartoonist had already stopped posting on his Facebook page after pro-democracy tabloid Apple Daily folded that June.

artvocate Justin Wong
Justin Wong. Photo: Supplied.

Wong worked as an assistant professor in the Hong Kong Baptist University’s visual arts department. He left the city in November 2021 after hearing that the university had allegedly contacted the police over an article he had written about the 2019 protests.

Ah To

Pro-democracy political cartoonist Ah To said he had “no alternative” but to leave Hong Kong in April 2022. He said that continuing to produce political cartoons while living in the city would bring “great mental stress.”

Ah To’s work was previously published by Ming Pao Weekly and Yahoo News. Both columns were scrapped in July 2020, soon after Beijing imposed the national security law on June 30.

vawongsir

Less than a month after Ah To announced his departure, another political comic artist known by the name vawongsir announced that he had left Hong Kong in May 2022.

The former visual arts teacher, who had been deregistered by the city’s education authority, told HKFP that he was concerned by arrests made under the colonial-era sedition law, including those of five speech therapists arrested over “seditious” children’s books about sheep.

Hong Kong Worker

Cartoonist Hong Kong Worker announced his departure from the city in June 2022. The pro-democracy artist cited concerns about shrinking freedom of expression in the city.

Hong Kong Worker began publishing his work on social media in 2020. His cartoons covered not only politics, but also community affairs.

Baak Sui Comic

Satirical cartoonist Brian Chan, better known as Baak Sui, said he would stop updating The Boiling Frog, a series he had created for around a decade, on July 3, 2021. Chan added that his work published by Taiwanese website The News Lens in the past six years would also be removed.

“In the beautiful new Hong Kong, everyone can see how much room for survival political comics have,” he wrote.

Harry Harrison

Political cartoon columnist Harry Harrison began drawing daily satirical comics for the South China Morning Post in 2001.

Harry Harrison SCMP
Harry Harrison’s satirical comic column on SCMP. File photo: SCMP.

Harrison remains the only active political cartoonist in Hong Kong contributing to English-language newspapers in the city.

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Peter Lee

Peter Lee is a reporter for HKFP. He was previously a freelance journalist at Initium, covering political and court news. He holds a Global Communication bachelor degree from CUHK.