Tai Kwun, an arts center managed by Jockey Club CPS, reversed its earlier decision to cancel two literary events arranged for exiled Chinese author Ma Jian amid criticisms that it was engaging in political censorship.
Ma Jian, a Hong Kong permanent resident who now lives in London, showed up at the events held on Saturday as scheduled at Tai Kwun, the former Central Police Station compound on Hollywood Road that has been transformed into a center for heritage and the arts.
In one event, Ma presented his latest novel, China Dream, a satire on modern China, and in the other, he joined a panel discussion on Hong Kong literature. Both events were part of the Hong Kong International Literary Festival.
At a press conference held before the two events, Ma, considered a dissident by Beijing, said the fact that Tai Kwun changed its mind at the last minute and decided to host the talks as originally planned proved its self-censorship failed, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reported.
Tai Kwun director Timothy Calnin said in a statement issued last Thursday that they “do not want Tai Kwun to become a platform to promote the political interests of any individual”, sparking criticisms.
However, the center made a U-turn on Friday night, with Calnin announcing in another statement that the two events involving Ma would be held as scheduled and apologized for any inconvenience caused.
Ma told media on Saturday that if anybody takes the political elements in a book out of context, that only shows the ignorance of that person.
Ma also revealed that he had informed a member of the British parliament about his journey to Hong Kong, who then notified the British Foreign Office, suggesting that the British government would offer him protection if anything happens to him during his trip, RTHK reported.
He did not rule out the possibility that his latest trip to Hong Kong would be his last return to the city.
Ma said he went through the immigration counter without any problem, which probably meant that the Hong Kong government was not involved in the controversy.
Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor was asked by media about the incident before her departure for a three-day visit to Shenzhen and Beijing on Saturday. She said the government does not have any involvement in Tai Kwun’s previous decision to bar Ma from the events, noting that she only learned about it from media reports.
Lam said she was glad the incident was resolved to everyone’s satisfaction, stressing that freedom of speech is protected under the Basic Law.
However, the government does not control the decision made by the owner of any venue, she added.
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