A Hong Kong arts centre hosting the city’s high-profile literary festival has cancelled appearances by exiled Chinese writer Ma Jian, the author said Thursday, as Beijing tightens its grip on the semi-autonomous city.
It is the latest blow to freedom of speech in Hong Kong as concerns grow that liberties are under serious threat from an assertive China.
Ma, who now lives in London, writes dark and satirical works depicting life in China and his books are banned on the mainland.
He was due to promote his latest novel “China Dream” later this week, a title that plays on Chinese President Xi Jinping’s rhetoric of national rejuvenation and is described by publisher Penguin as “a biting satire of totalitarianism”.
The author announced on Twitter that his two speaking events had been cancelled by Tai Kwun arts centre, where the festival is held, not by festival organisers who he said were trying to find an alternative venue.
“Just been told that my two events at the Hong Kong International Literary Festival this week can no longer be held at Tai Kwun, where all the other events are taking place. An alternative venue will have to be found. No reason has been given to me yet,” he said in his tweet.
Hong Kong’s government says it wants to turn the city into an arts and culture hub, with Tai Kwun the result of a multi-million-dollar renovation of a colonial-era prison and police station, led by the government and the Hong Kong Jockey Club.
Tai Kwun and the Hong Kong International Literary Festival were unable to immediately comment.
Hong Kong has rights unseen on the mainland, protected by an agreement made before the city was handed back to China by Britain in 1997, but there are fears they are being steadily eroded.
A highly anticipated art show by Chinese political cartoonist Badiucao was cancelled last week with Hong Kong organisers citing safety concerns due to “threats made by Chinese authorities relating to the artist”.
Hong Kong authorities also faced a major backlash when they denied a visa without explanation last month to a Financial Times journalist who had chaired a press club talk by a Hong Kong independence activist.
The Hong Kong literary festival attracts leading authors from around the world and this year features Scottish novelist Irvine Welsh and bestselling American author Cheryl Strayed.