The writer, Ma Jian, said he was told that the Tai Kwun arts complex had canceled his two events scheduled for Saturday and organizers were looking for alternative venues. (Shutterstock/Olga Konakova)
The author of a novel critical of President Xi Jinping’s slogan touting the Chinese Dream said he has been barred from speaking at the main venue of the Hong Kong International Literary Festival.
The writer, Ma Jian, said he was told that the Tai Kwun arts complex had canceled his two events scheduled for Saturday and organizers were looking for alternative venues. While Ma said he wasn’t given any explanation, he has previously complained about censorship of his works, including “China Dream,” a new book satirizing one of Xi’s signature campaigns.
“Just been told that my two events at the Hong Kong International Literary Festival this week can no longer be held at Tai Kwun,” the London-based writer said in a tweet Wednesday. “An alternative venue will have to be found. No reason has been given to me yet.”
Ma didn’t say who had informed him of the ban, and didn’t immediately respond to an email seeking clarification. The author spoke at an event in London on Tuesday and it was unclear whether he was already in Hong Kong.
The Tai Kwun -- occupying the the site of a former colonial police barracks and jail -- was renovated by the Hong Kong Jockey Club and the HK$3.8 billion ($485 million) project was completed this year. The club is the city’s largest taxpayer and holds a monopoly over local horse racing and gambling and runs charities for the “betterment” of Hong Kong.
Philip Ho, HKJC’s head of public affairs, referred inquiries Thursday to “Tai Kwun colleagues.” The Tai Kwun’s media department acknowledged an email seeking comment and said it would respond as soon as possible.
The literary festival’s organizers didn’t immediately respond to emails, but its event page changed to say a “venue update” was forthcoming. Both events were sold out.
The move comes amid growing concern about efforts to tame dissent in the former British colony. In recent months, Hong Kong authorities have issued an unprecedented ban against a pro-independence party, and took the unusual step of denying a work visa renewal to a Financial Times journalist who presided over a talk by the banned party’s leader.
Ma said he has been prevented since 2011 from entering mainland China, where his books are banned. He tweeted Nov. 1 that “China Dream” wouldn’t be translated into Chinese in Hong Kong, alleging publishers were “too afraid.”
The reported ban follows the cancellation last weekend of an exhibition featuring an artist critical of China due to what the organizer called “threats” by Chinese authorities.
Hong Kong’s No. 2 official, Matthew Cheung, defended Hong Kong this week after some United Nations member countries -- and local civil society organizations, including the city’s Foreign Correspondents’ Club -- alleged Hong Kong’s rule of law and its human rights environment were deteriorating.
Cheung told the UN Universal Periodic Review in Geneva that such concerns were “unwarranted, unfounded, and unsubstantiated,” according to media reports.