Monday, October 14, 2013

Award-Winning Cartoon Artist Forced Out of China

“Due to political pressure from higher administrations, all the teachers had to incite hatred towards Falun Gong,” said Wang.

“When my teacher defamed Falun Gong, I raised my hand and said, ‘I also practice Falun Gong; I think it is good.’ Then everyone stared at me in disbelief and my teacher told me to stop talking and sit down.”

By Helena Zhu
Epoch Times Staff
Comic book artist Haibo Wang escaped to the United States from China after having been jailed for his work on books that the Chinese regime deemed threatening. (Photo courtesy of Jingxiong Guo)
NEW YORK—Haibo Wang, a renowned Chinese cartoon artist, was compelled to leave China to New Jersey, U.S. prior to the Beijing Olympics; in fear that he would be arrested by the Communist police for his artistic expressions.
In 2005, the 27-year-old artist became the coloring assistant for Jingxiong Guo, founder of Flag Cartoon Coalition in Shanghai, China. Together, they won numerous awards for their comic repertoires. In 2006, the artists became the first Chinese in history to receive a special top award for their publication Turn the Devils Into the Guards of God in the Angoulême International Comics Festival in Europe, the equivalent of the Oscar Awards of comics.
“We base our cartoons on traditional Chinese culture, including Confucianism and the five Chinese virtues of kindness, loyalty, etiquette, wisdom and trust.” said Wang.
Despite his fame in the international community, Wang was persecuted under the Chinese Communist regime. Since Wang published illustrations with Guo for the award-winning Nine Commentaries on the Communist Party using the alias “Sacred Fruit,” his life in China became a disaster in the face of threats.
“Drawing illustrations for Nine Commentariescertainly confronts risks, but in my belief, an artist’s mission is to convey one’s voice and mind,” said Wang. “Especially when the message [from Nine Commentaries] is shared by many Chinese people.”
Nine Commentaries on the Communist Party, published in 2004, analyzes the history of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). As of September 2008, the book has inspired more than 42 million Chinese people to quit the CCP and associated organizations.
“I think the biggest obstacle that all artists face in China is that they do not have freedom to express themselves,” said Wang. “All media publications encounter strict restrictions from the CCP.  The Chinese markets are very complicated; plagiarisms and violations against copyrights are extremely prevalent. Under this kind of circumstance, it is difficult for comic artists to sustain themselves. Moreover, when they do produce works [that are restricted by government], they face issue of survival immediately.”
As the Beijing Olympics neared, the Chinese regime intensified the arrest of those it labeled as “enemies to CCP” and “threats to society”.
In July 2008, Wang and Guo were invited to the San Diego Comic-Con International to exhibit their cartoons. They left their homes in a hurry bearing some of the over 100 publications by Flag Cartoon.
“We didn’t have time, and everything was in a rush, thus our booth was not set up elaborately like the others,” said Wang. “However, our sales went quite well. We brought hundreds of comic books and were all sold out over the course of five days.”
An Inspired Journey
Wang found his passion to draw since he was a young child, encountering many unique experiences on his path as a professional artist.
“It was the summer of 1997, in my second to last year of high school, that I started to practice Falun Gong,” said Wang. Falun Gong is a spiritual meditation and self-cultivation system based on the principles of truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance.“After I read the book Zhuan Falun (main teaching of Falun Gong), I was astonished, and understood many principles and values,” he said. “I’ve never encountered qigong (Chinese energy-exercises) before, but the path of find the truth has always been my dream.
“In 1999, when the Chinese Communist Party started to slander Falun Gong on nationwide media campaign, I felt very puzzled,” Wang said. “The reports were all but the truth, and I felt very bad.”
In the same year, Wang was accepted to Shanghai Donghua University with major in Arts and Design.
“Due to political pressure from higher administrations, all the teachers had to incite hatred towards Falun Gong,” said Wang. “When my teacher defamed Falun Gong, I raised my hand and said, ‘I also practice Falun Gong; I think it is good.’ Then everyone stared at me in disbelief and my teacher told me to stop talking and sit down.”
Wang, like most other Falun Gong practitioners, wanted to let the government know that Falun Gong was good, and that it teaches the principle of truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance. Wang accompanied his mother and cousin to Beijing to protest in July, 2000.
“After going to Beijing, we realized the situation was very different from what we thought of in the beginning,” said Wang. “When we got to Tiananmen Square, a police came to ask us if we were Falun Gong practitioners. We replied ‘yes,’ and were instantly taken away by police cars.
“There was a whole truck full of Falun Gong practitioners being arrested with me in Beijing. In the detention center, prisoners were encouraged by the police to slap practitioners. We also were forced to stay in a half-kneeling position for a long period of time—if we moved, the prisoners would start beating and kicking us.”
Soon, Wang was transferred to a jail in Shanghai. Falun Gong practitioners were all roomed separately, and none of them knew when they would be released.
“The case was the same in Shanghai, as long as the prisoners knew that you were a practitioner, they could beat you to any degree,” Wang said.
Wang stayed in jail for over one month until his family finally bought him out with money and connections.
“I realized in jail that the officials did not want to hear from the people at all,” said Wang. “Even when they knew what they were doing was wrong, they still continued. I felt I was very weak, as it was impossible to change their minds.”
After his release, Wang did not have the freedom he had expected. The government charged the school administration to take responsibility for Wang’s action. Wang’s homeroom teacher was instantly fired after the Beijing trip.
“The school told me on behalf of 610 office (an agency specifically created to persecute Falun Gong, with absolute power over each level of administration in Party and judiciary systems) that if I continued to practice Falun Gong, they would expel me,” said Wang. “My parents worked very hard for me to get into school and I did not want to disappoint them. I collaborated and wrote a guarantee statement declaring that I was going to stop practicing.  However, writing the statement was against my will and made me very miserable.
“The administrators secretly ordered fellow classmates and roommates to spy on me to assure that I stopped practicing Falun Gong. Even my neighbors were asked by the 610office to record my actions. These oppressive activities carried on for years until I came to the United States.”
In America
Wang was forced to leave China, fleeing to New York.
Wang and Guo are hoping to establish their work in America, and publish new books and translate others from the original Chinese versions. Wang said he is confident that people in America will like their work.
“If a comic is fine, it can go into any country,” said Wang. “America has very few Chinese comics, but it has a lot of Japanese and American comics. We are influenced by Japanese comics, but different from them. I think comics are like a language, and we illustrate and bring Chinese traditional culture to the readers.”
America has a healthy producing environment, Wang said.
“‘Haibo has became an inevitable name in the community of Chinese comics,” said Wang’s mentor Guo. “He essentially mastered all software related to comic production. In 2007, he has led the Flag Cartoon into the publication of Confucius and General Yue Fei. Even though he is rather skilled in the modern career of cartoon, but deep inside him, he is greatly influenced by traditional culture and good values. Now he has stepped onto the American soil, embraced by the atmosphere of freedom.”