Using Art to Mend Hearts, The Artist Behind The Protest Posters Flooding Hong Kong Streets

By Penny Zhou

Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protest continues. Ten weeks of violent clashes between Hong Kong police and protesters have already left many distraught and fatigued.

City streets once filled with the aroma of egg waffles and sounds of bargaining are now often occupied by tear gas, gunshots and screaming.

Local suicide prevention centers are reporting increased calls related to the conflict. Four people have ended their own lives so far, leaving messages voicing their frustration to the government.

Among all this, a U.S. based comic artist is trying to use his paintings to shine a light on some of the brighter moments of the protests in order to help mend wounded hearts and to help people keep up their resistance with courage and rationality.

Award-winning artist Guo Jingxiong—or, as what most people know him by, his artist name, Daxiong—said that inspiration hit when he saw Hong Kong’s streets flooded with two million people peacefully demanding democracy on June 12.

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Protesters march along a road demonstrating against a proposed extradition bill in Hong Kong. June 12, 2019. (Athit Perawongmetha/Reuters)

In clashes with riot police, many at the front line protesters who are facing tear gas, rubber bullets, and batons are young Hong Kong students.

Daxiong said that he was moved by “the spirit of the youth, and the courage of the youth.”

“They were struck down and they stood up and struck down again and they stood up again,” he told NTD, “They persisted… I think as an artist, I should show my respect to them.”

And this led to Daxiong’s first painting inspired by a lone student protester facing riot police and holding a typical hand gesture used by protesters to coordinate their groups.

Daxiong’s first painting inspired by Hong Kong’s protesters, featuring a lone student protester. (Courtesy of Daxiong)

The artwork was quickly printed as posters and distributed amongst the Hong Kong protesters.

Media reports on Hong Kong have not been cheerful. Graphic videos of violent clashes are rampant online. But Daxiong decided to shed light on the good, the beautiful, and the hope in the city’s trying times.

He said there are many different ways to express oneself in comics. Using satire to expose the evil is one commonly seen way, but not the only way.

“I want to take a more friendly, compassionate approach to praise the good,” he said, “To only expose evildoings, I think it doesn’t look good. It can’t inspire the righteous energy, and will only escalate the conflict. So I think, comics are a way to mend and heal things.”

And so he did with his follow-up artwork, which shows a protester protecting another with his body against the July 21 attack from pro-Beijing gangsters; and one of two demonstrators helping wash the eyes of a child who was tear-gassed. The Chinese characters displayed say, “Protect the Future.”

Daxiong’s painting inspired by the Hong Kong protest.(Courtesy of Daxiong)
Daxiong’s painting inspired by the Hong Kong protest.(Courtesy of Daxiong)

“Young people have good hearts. And they fight to keep their good hearts,” he said.

Daxiong’s message of humanity had a huge impact on protesters. These posters have now been seen at almost every rally by protesters, and at the occupation of Hong Kong’s international airport, which is currently still in effect.

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People attend a protest in the Western District of Hong Kong in opposition to a planned extradition law. Aug. 4, 2019 (Photo by Anthony Wallace/AFP/Getty Images)
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Protesters gather to take part in a march to the West Kowloon railway in Hong Kong on July 7, 2019.  (Photo by Hector Retamal/AFP/Getty Images)

It’s not easy for protesters to keep positive. Hong Kong’s government has condemned them as rioters. The Chinese Communist regime has accused them of terrorism and warned of a hardline crackdown.

President Donald Trump tweeted on Aug. 13 that U.S. Intelligence has found the Chinese Government moving troops to the Hong Kong border. He reminded everyone to remain “calm and safe.”

Hong Kong was promised a high degree of democracy and autonomy when China took it over from Britain in 1997 under the “one country two systems” principle. This principle will end in 2047, leaving the city in Beijing’s hands.

Hong Kongers have been pushing for democratic reforms for decades, but with little success. Many protesters deem the movement this summer as their last chance to fight for it.

Pro-democracy protesters standoff with police after attempting to shutdown parts of Argyle Street and Nathan Road in Mong Kok, Hong Kong, on Oct. 18, 2014. (Benjamin Chasteen/Epoch Times)

“Facing this kind of strained situation, I think the protesters have reached the point where they have nowhere to retreat,” Daxiong said, “But I believe, as the Chinese saying goes, if you confront a person with the danger of death, he will fight to live.”

Daxiong, born and raised in mainland China, was once arrested and tortured in a Chinese prison for works critical of the Communist Party and for practicing Falun Dafa, a spiritual belief persecuted in China. He migrated to the U.S. in 2008.

“I think this is just a start. I believe ultimately all the Chinese people will see clearly what the Communist Party is, and it will step down from the stage of history,” he said.