Badiucao is one of China’s most prolific and well known political cartoonists. Born in Shanghai, Badiucao studied law in China before moving to Australia where he has lived in exile for the last ten years, wearing masks and cross-dressing during public appearances.
Badiucao has been extremely concerned about revealing his appearance, fearing reprisals from China’s oppressive government over his work, which regularly targets and criticizes President Xi Jinping and his repressive policies.
It wasn’t enough. “My identity is leaked,” he said to The Intercept, “I am worried about my safety.”
The artist had been working on an exhibition in Hong Kong to celebrate Free Expression Week, a series of events organized by activist groups. His work was inspired by Google’s plan to build a censor-friendly search engine for the Chinese market, with artwork mocking the tech giant for flirting with the Communist regime and its suppression of internet freedom.
A few days before the exhibition, set to launch last year during an event featuring the high-profile activist group Pussy Riot, the show was canceled by the organizers. And Badiucao received threats from the Chinese Government.
“The Chinese government sent two policemen to visit my family in China. They took one of my family members to a police station and interrogated them for three or four hours,” he said in the interview.
“They were sending a message that they wanted my show to be canceled, and they said they would show no mercy to me anymore. It was intimidation, a terror tactic in order to force me to shut my mouth.”
Once Badiucao discovered that his identity had been compromised, he disappeared from the internet for a while, leaving his usually highly active social media accounts in silence. But after thinking it over, the artist decided to make his move.
In his later work, a documentary film called “China’s Artful Dissident” aired Tuesday in Australia, the 33-year-old artist reappeared, this time revealing his face to the public for the first time.
“The only way to maintain my safety is to show myself to the world and tell the world what happened in Hong Kong,” he said in a phone interview. “For a lot of people, it was a big defeat of human rights and free speech that my exhibition got canceled. I want to make sure that people know this is not the end. I am not away. I am back. I will be back with you. And we will fight together.”
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