Defend free speech, urges author
HONG KONG: Dissident Chinese author Ma Jian hit out at threats to freedom of speech saying it was the “basis of civilisation” after a struggle to find a venue to host his talks at Hong Kong’s literary festival.
The venue battle fuelled growing concerns that semi-autonomous Hong Kong’s freedoms are fast vanishing under an assertive Beijing.
Ma, whose books are banned in mainland China, was due to promote his latest novel China Dream at two speaking events yesterday.
The title plays on Chinese President Xi Jinping’s rhetoric of national rejuvenation and is described by publisher Penguin as “a biting satire of totalitarianism”.
“Self-censorship is nothing wonderful and we have to have the courage to break that,” he told reporters yesterday at the new Tai Kwun arts centre, which hosts the Hong Kong International Literary Festival and had originally cancelled his talks.
The venue reinstated them at the eleventh hour on Friday after a replacement location also dropped out.
Ma, 65, said Tai Kwun’s last-minute change of heart showed that “self-censorship had failed”.
“The freedom to speak is the basis of our civilisation,” he added. “We have to safeguard our freedom of expression. We have to safeguard our civilisation.”
He agreed freedom of speech was shrinking and that people felt a “lack of security” but said the attention given to the cancellation of his talks and the reversal of the decision had unified people and could be the “beginning of change”.
Ma, who lives in London and is a British passport holder as well as holding Hong Kong residency, said he had informed his local MP that he was coming to Hong Kong.
Speaking freely: Ma speaking to reporters after arriving at the Hong Kong international airport. — AP