Interview with Chinese cartoonist Crazy Crab
By Tjeerd Royaards
As our network of cartoonists has grown, blank spots have become apparent on our global map, often coinciding with countries that do not have the best track record when it comes to freedom of speech. China is one of these blank spots. Therefore we're very happy to to welcome our first Chinese political cartoonist to the network. Crazy Crab (pen name) is the author of Hexie Farm (Crab Farm), a series of political cartoons depicting dictatorship, censorship, and propaganda of the Chinese Communist Party. He started this series in 2009. Due to the censorship, he publishes anonymously. In October 2011, the cartoon series was completely banned in mainland China. We talk to him about cartoons, censorship, and the harmonious society.
There are not many political cartoonists working in China, are there?
No, in fact, there are lots of political cartoonists working in China. Hundreds of political cartoons are published in newspapers every day. However, you can hardly find real political satire about the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) and the government from those cartoons. Cartoonists have to figure out what they can draw before drawing. Due to censorship and self-censorship, most political cartoons in China are boring and pointless.
Why did you start doing political cartoons?
Before I drew cartoons, I was a big fan of Calvin and Hobbes, and Snoopy. To be a cartoonist like Bill Watterson was my dream. I never thought about drawing political cartoons until 2009, when I read the news about Mr. Feng Zhenghu and Ms. Tang Fuzhen on the Internet. Mr. Feng’s story was hilarious and Ms. Tang’s is sad. Those stories happened in an era of the so-called “harmonious society” in China. And I found no Chinese cartoonist stood up to support them. So I asked myself, why didn’t you draw something? So I did.
What's the meaning of your pen name 'Crazy Crab', and the title of your cartoon series 'Hexie Farm'?
In Chinese, ‘Hexie ’is a pun of harmony and river crab. Every day, thousands of news, articles, and pictures are censored and deleted by the government. People use “river crab” to make a joke on the Party’s “harmonious society” theory. Nowadays, “Hexie”(river crab or harmony) also means “to delete” or “be censored” on Chinese websites.
Public critic on the Party and the government is dangerous. People might lose jobs, be detained or arrested for doing this. Their family might be threatened too. To speak out the truth, as a real citizen, might be regarded as being crazy.
What do you hope to achieve with your work?
I hope I can speak a different voice through my cartoons to the Chinese audience and to the Party. I want to combine the Chinese history and reality together in my drawings, and figure out how ridiculous the logic behind the Party’s politics is. And I also hope my audience will get a new perspective and start to think differently when they read my cartoons.
No Chinese cartoonist criticized the CCP’s political system in past 60 years. I think it will be changed soon.
Your cartoons were banned in China in October 2011. Why and how did this happen?
At first, they just kept on deleting my cartoons and my blogs. But since October 2011, “Hexie Farm” (in Chinese: 蟹农场) was on the list of Banned Search Terms . That means you cannot find my cartoons using Baidu search engine (the most popular Chinese search engine).
I don’t know why they banned my cartoons. What I know is they fear the truth, they fear people’s laughter, and they fear my cartoons. According to the order from “the Ministry of Truth”, my cartoons are considered as “harmful”. They even required every Chinese website to make double check and make sure that all my cartoons were deleted. I regard this as an honor.
How did this censorship affect you personally? Did you consider giving up political cartooning?
The Party’s censorship policy makes my cartoons impossible to be published in mainland China. In fact, the freedom of speech is affected to a large extent by the CCP even in Hong Kong.
Sometimes I was depressed and angry. How can we breathe freely before such a powerful censor system? But I’ll not give up. I can feel the true power of laughter when my cartoons are reposted and shared on the Internet despite the authority’s determination to delete them.
Where do you publish your work now?
Most of my cartoons are published on my blog, twitter and G+. Some were published by a few Hong Kong based magazines. I am not a columnist cartoonist yet.
How do you see the future of China?
I don’t know. China has a powerful economic engine and the country has been changing dramatically. However, the ghost of Chairmen Mao is still there. Bloody stories like Ms. Tang’s are happening never so often. Does China have a bright future while those tragedies are being censored and quickly forgotten?
What role can political cartoons and cartoonists play in shaping this future?
Political cartoons not only criticize the political system and speak out for those who are fighting for their freedom and justice, but can also make people think from a different perspective. A great cartoon speaks a thousand words. I hope more and more Chinese cartoonists will stand up and speak out.