Zunzi's Hong Kong: Leading Political Cartoonist Looks Back

Zunzi's Hong Kong: Leading Political Cartoonist Looks Back

What you need to know

'I am not leaving the city for anywhere,' says the cartoonist.

Twenty years ago, famed Hong Kong political cartoonist, Zunzi, drew an image of a duck being chased from one cage to another, satirizing the 1997 Hong Kong handover from Britain to China.

“Before the handover, many Hong Kong people had already asked for more freedom and equalities in Hong Kong society and these people are still asking for the same things today in 2017,” said Zunzi. “Before the handover, in comparison, the society was freer. Now, more restrictions have been imposed.”

Credit: Robert C. Qiao
Zunzi and his 1997 caged duck political cartoon

Known for his political activism and theatrical absurdity, Zunzi, whose real name is Wong Kei-kwan, is particularly popular amongst Hong Kong readers who are in their 30s but are not too cynical to give up on continuing to pursue a more democratic version of Hong Kong. As one of the few well-known political cartoonists in the city, Zunzi has the ability to use the simplest images to tell the most complicated stories. His images provoke emotions, rendering lightheartedness and insight into the multifaceted world of local politics.

“Cartoon is one of the means through which I can express myself,” said Zunzi. “It’s my way of helping change and improve Hong Kong.”

As a child, Zunzi dreamed about becoming a painter. He graduated from the Chinese University of Hong Kong with a major in Fine Arts, but due to the difficulty of being a full-time artist, Zunzi initially worked as a teacher before moving on to newspapers.

“Not many newspapers were eager to look for a full-time political cartoonist. Most of the political cartoonists, who could make a living off their cartoons, had to be a staff at a newspaper first and foremost, like an art editor. I was a newspaper editor, reporter and drew political cartoons on the side,” said Zunzi.

As a former journalist, drawing politically inspired and socially aware cartoons is not only Zunzi’s creative outlet but also a way for him to take a public stance against suppression and intimidation that aims to silence different voices in a free society, be it in Hong Kong or abroad.

Zunzi was interviewed by the South China Morning Post immediately following the 2015 Paris attack on Charlie Hebdo — his personal friend, Jean Cabut, who worked for Charlie Hebdo, was gunned down due to the French publication’s depictions of the Prophet Mohammed. He commented that while Hong Kong political cartoonists were not subject to physical violence, they had to deal with an invisible hand of interference. Two decades have passed since the 1997 handover; Beijing has noticeably stepped up its efforts in asserting its dominance over Hong Kong. As a Hong Konger, Zunzi is not at all fazed by the prospect of being harassed by the “invisible hand of interference,” meaning Beijing, and remains his usual outwardly opinionated self.

“I am fortunate to have been one of the few political cartoonists, who has been able to draw cartoons for such a long time. The Chinese side thinks it is too hopeless to influence me. I think Beijing can still tolerate my type of criticism to a certain degree,” said Zunzi.

A defiantly resistant public figure in Hong Kong, Zunzi has seen significant transformation under Chinese rule, particularly in regard to the gradual erosion of Hong Kong’s freedoms — a regressive trend, which has become increasingly obvious by the decreasing number of Hong Kong newspapers featuring political cartoons due to business concerns.

Apple Daily News is a good example. Businesses don’t dare to place their advertisement in Apple Daily News due to the fear of political repercussions. Beijing may try to discourage businessmen or companies from investing in or advertising with a newspaper that’s anti-Beijing,” Zunzi explained. “A large part of the newspaper used to be dedicated to political cartoons and now the size of the cartoon section has shrunk. It is a way for the newspaper to salvage the lack of business advertisement.”

Hong Kong has a long history of political cartoons. As one of the first cities in Asia to have freedom of press, many Hong Kong political cartoonists in the 1930s and 1940s used the city as their base. Their cartoons were a means to criticize the political party in power at the time. More recently, during the 2014 Occupy movement, young cartoonists moved their base online while continuing to use images to show discontent and express criticism. The immediacy and the vast reach of the social media have given Hong Kong political cartoons greater exposure than ever before.

Connie Lam, the executive director of Hong Kong Arts Centre, is a longtime friend of Zunzi and a collaborator on comic exhibitions.

Her impression of Zunzi’s works, in particular, the 1997 caged duck cartoon, is “Hong Kong as a city that can not override the law from sovereignty — the same situation from the city’s past to its present.”


A connoisseur of arts in Hong Kong, Lam considers political cartoon as an art. It is “a way of communication to the rulers” and “a window to release the frustration of the people if the situation can’t be improved in an expected time,” and, more importantly, it is like “an alternative history record of the city or the country.”

Lam describes Zunzi as quiet, diligent, and not one to easily give in.

A “successful political comic reflects not only the belief of artists but represents the situation of the city and country,” said Lam. “There are no drastic changes in his (Zunzi’s) works, but the situation has been changing for the past 20 years and this will affect his development.”

Zunzi has a simplistic flair to his humorous creations. Behind the exaggerated faces and overblown scenarios, he has been an aficionado of Hong Kong for most of his adult life.

“Nowadays, in many sectors of Hong Kong society, such as education, social welfare, infrastructure, housing, you can see the footprint and influence of Mainland China,” said Zunzi. “Beijing is not comfortable with the opposition parties in Hong Kong.”

Recent political events, such as the 2016 abduction of five Causeway Bay booksellers, along with Beijing’s broken promises of establishing a universal suffrage voting system, have left many people in Hong Kong disappointed and frustrated. Without physically being at the frontlines of the protests, Zunzi uses cartoons to express his feelings.

“I would consider my cartoon as photography or news reporting,” said Zunzi. “It’s an exaggerated way of documenting what is happening in Hong Kong society. It might not be 100 percent factual; rather, a creative way of expressing the collective sentiment felt by the Hong Kong people.”

A vocation for life, Zunzi, now is in his 60s and continues to work as a freelance political cartoonist for both Ming Pao and Apple Daily. Thanks to the depths of his knowledge of Hong Kong’s past and present, Zunzi has always been able to artistically dissect the ins and outs of Hong Kong’s civic matters with his drawings while filtering them through the prism of his own experience; a unique talent of his best showcased again in his latest creations based on the 2017 Hong Kong chief executive election.

C.Y.Leung, then-incumbent Hong Kong Chief Executive is on the floor, while four other chief executive candidate hopefuls are vying for his office. It doesn’t matter who gets elected, the new Chief Executive will still be enforcing Beijing’s agenda and suppress Hong Kongers.

“It’s easier to draw a male cartoon character than a female one because you can use exaggeration without having to deal with certain gender-based restrictions. If you are being harsh on a female cartoon character, you might get labeled as being sexist and discriminatory,” said Zunzi.

Zunzi has worn many hats in his career — a teacher, a journalist, a political activist and an artist. And some might even add political oracle to his accolades. Thanks to his sharp instinct, as well as years of life and professional experiences, some of Zunzi’s works carry potent future predictions.

His 1997 caged duck cartoon is a prime example. Looking ahead to another 20 years from now, what kind of future does a political oracle like Zunzi picture for Hong Kong?

“People in Hong Kong would be cheery,” said Zunzi sarcastically. “People’s faces would be pale or green in color. And most of the Hong Kong residents would be made up of Mainlanders or immigrants from other places.”

As grim as the future might appear to him, Zunzi still has faith in Hong Kong, in particular in its independent judiciary system and freedom of the press. And, he will be in the city 20 years down the road, to witness the true reality.

“I have hope for everything,” said Zunzi. “Over the course of my 30-year-career as a political cartoonist, I have faced a lot of depression but also had many hopes. I am not leaving the city for anywhere.”

The largely pro-Beijing Election Committee cast their vote for the new Hong Kong Chief Executive. They overwhelmingly voted for the candidate favored by Beijing — Carrie Lam — as a way to show their political loyalty. Carrie Lam became the new Hong Kong Chief Executive-elect as predicted and C.Y Leung, represented by the Blue Monster in hell, subsequently declared his own victory . Carrie Lam’s campaign manager tried to recruit Hong Kongers to work for the new government yet no one applied, because the majority of Hong Kongers knew the job was going to be a hellish experience.

Editor: Olivia Yang