Badiucao (巴 丢 草) is an appreciated Chinese political artist and rights activist.
The name Badiucao was adopted to protect his real identity. Badiucao uses satire and pop culture references as tools for his criticism of the regime, overturning the stereotypes of Chinese propaganda against the status quo. Criticism of the regime and the crackdown of Chinese society find a very important place in his art. Over the last few years, his artistic production has attracted the attention of international media.
Interview by Matteo Damiani
When and Why did you start to make political cartoons?
I think I started in 2011 with a bullet train incident in China (the Wenzhou train collision). So it was like triggered by the crash of two bullet trains. By the time I was just starting to use Twitter, and the Chinese version of it, which is called Weibo. That incident sparked huge discussion on the internet besides China, about why this happened.
The Chinese government tends to cover the story by telling a lie or they’re making stories instead of reporting the fact. But people online were trying to confront the official narratives so by the time I was really moved by this and the atmosphere in China with people starting to express their own ideas on this new intact platform. I was thinking I should just use it at my advantage. It’s a way to express myself and after that, it all just began.
Are your works available in China?
Well, yes and no. The reason why I say yes is I do know some people get access to my work from my social media like Twitter, or from the media where I post my work like Hong Kong Free Press or China Digital Times. People will download my work and they will post it in China. Most of the websites I’m using now are forbidden in China.
The people are using VPNs or other methods to get access to the information, or to go around the Great Firewall which is the Chinese censorship filter. So yes, technically nobody in China is allowed to actually get access to my work. I mean even my website is blocked, my personal artist website is blocked, but in the real world, people will find a way around to see my work.
Recently I’m really just trying to expand my practice beyond the internet worlds, so I started doing like internet campaigning for performance or for street art and I have a lot of positive feedback from those campaigns. There are even people inside of China joining the campaign as well by printing out my work and placing it on the street, by doing the performance in public and taking photos and videos and then uploading on social media. There are people in South China that have access to my work.
What do ordinary Chinese people think when they read your comics?
I think they feel is funny, because they know what I’m talking about. We have effective communication, it’s not like if I’m joining something and they don’t understand. It’s very easy for them to understand because all the work is carefully observing the internet inside of China and try to use the internet culture to present it, so even the people inside of China would understand what I’m trying to express.
I think sometimes it can be confronting them as well because you know inside of China almost no one can have the freedom and safety to express the same way as I do. So maybe they will be shocked. It’s the first time they see something like that, they wouldn’t think “it is okay to mock the leader in China like Xi Jinping or people like that”.
I think it is necessary even if they are shocked or feel they want to keep distance with my work but by continuing sending the work back in China it’s also a way to encourage people to express themselves and accepting criticizing.
I think most of them are using VPNs, so they can get access to Twitter or to those media platforms. Then they will download my work and then they re-post them on the platforms inside of China like WeChat or Weibo or even just sharing with friends, one by one, so that’s kind of indirect but it works sometimes.
I also always have feedback from other Twitter users. They will say “ok my post on Wechat of your cartoon has already being deleted” or “you know, I put your work upside down then I can post it again”. So I had a lot of scenarios like that, people telling me how was the reaction to the work inside of China, how’s the government react to them, whether they deleted or they try to censor. Some people lose their accounts because they’re posting works of mine. So the accounts can be suspended or deleted after posting like that.
What do you think about the direction taken by the CPC in the last years?
I think it’s really getting worst and worst, and like I said, in 2011 there was almost an illusion of a great change was happening because everything was new. The Internet was new to China, social media platforms were new to China, so I guess the government by the time did not have the capacity to do a very efficient controlling and censoring but now they understand how important this is, they have the determination to just control this platform but also they have the technology, like AI or other methods, or they organize enough people to put into the censorship work, so after Xi Jinping presidency the whole China is getting darker.
If I try to visualize it the platforms are diminishing the civil society. The movement of learning to be citizens is really just removed from China and you see they are cracking down here our lawyers on NGOs and activists so it’s pretty like a desperate moment and just today I saw another horrible news that Google’s planning to go back to the Chinese market and they’re helping to develop this new censored search engine. It’s a total disaster, so I guess not just within China, but also the international Internet environment is not good either.
What’s your background?
No, I’m afraid I can’t answer this question.
Is the CPC aware of your real identity?
I mean, the reason why I keep being anonymous and using a pen-name is that I recognize the danger behind it. I don’t know if the government is aware of my identity. I just have to be cautious and try my best to protect myself.
Have you ever go back to China?
No. I wouldn’t take the risk.
Do you miss China?
Yeah, of course. I mean who would like to be exiled from your home, from your family and friends? It’s not an easy choice. Although, it feels great when you can travel around the world and see different people and cultures, but at the end of the day everybody will be homesick. And yeah that would be kind of an odd feeling.
What inspires you?
I feel there are a lot of artists from the history to the contemporary art scene that are actually focusing on what we know now as human rights or the human condition. I’m interested in artists reflecting on human struggling and tragedies. In the modern world, we have Picasso depicting Guernica, the trauma of the war or a bit earlier, artists like Francisco Goya, the Spanish painter who did a lot of paintings dealing with the brutality.
I guess they’d actually had a huge impact on me. Also a German female artist, Käthe Kollwitz had a huge impact on my cartoon style. I like the wooden printings because the Chinese propaganda system is actually inspired by her work by the time when before the Congress party was in power or the left-wing artists actually adapted to the style and use that style as their propaganda. Personally, I think it’s a very powerful form of art that’s why Congress party adapted it and use it for the propaganda machine.
A part of my art is using the same style but doing the opposite thing by attacking the propaganda system, by giving an individual perspective narrative against this official national owned story.
Also, there are contemporary artists like Ai Weiwei, they are a great inspiration to me as well, like all his practice, the online campaigns he launched, the investment about the children victims from the earthquake.
What contemporary Chinese artists do you like the most?
I think Ai Weiwei for sure.