China to deport Tiananmen 'pork' artist Guo Jian, Australian officials say

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Story highlights

  • Chinese-Australian artist Guo Jian to be deported from China
  • Guo's latest work is a pork-covered diorama of Tiananmen Square
  • Interview with the artist appeared in the Financial Times before his arrest
  • DFAT says Chinese authorities say he's being held on visa-related issues

A Chinese-Australian artist who covered a diorama of Tiananmen Square in ground pork is to be deported from China, according to Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT).

Guo Jian was taken into custody last weekend, a day after The Financial Times published an interview with the artist, and photos of his latest work.

The piece, called "The Square," shows the Beijing landmark covered in 160 kilograms of ground meat.

In the accompanying FT article, Guo was highly critical of the actions of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) on June 4, 1989, when troops opened fire on civilians around Tiananmen Square, killing hundreds if not thousands of people.

"The army is regarded as a loveable institution. But at Tiananmen I realized it's not, they will kill you if ordered to," he was quoted as saying.

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'Visa-related' matter

According to a DFAT spokesman, consular officers visited Guo in Beijing on June 5. They said Chinese authorities said Guo was being held on a "visa-related matter" and would be deported after 15 days' detention.

    Amnesty International's China researcher William Nee said the timing of Guo's deportation was "incredibly odd," given the artist has worked in the country for a number of years.

    "It seems incredibly odd timing that right after he gives an interview that is very moving to the FT and he comes out with a very shocking and moving piece of artwork, that is the time that the government decides to detain him about a visa-related issue," Nee said.

    "As far as I know, he did not leave the country or get detained for some other unrelated event. It was almost certainly due to his freedom of expression which the government did not approve of," he added.

    Born in China, Guo joined the PLA in the late 1970s during a recruitment drive to support the Sino-Vietnamese war, according to his website. He was just 17 years old.

    After leaving the army, Guo worked as a propaganda officer for a transport company and later studied art in Beijing. He told the FT he witnessed shooting near Tiananmen Square on the night of the massacre, and saw bodies stacked outside a local hospital.

    "Walking into the hospital, walking into the emergency room packed with bodies, the smell was much stronger than in my studio. I just couldn't do anything and wanted to throw up. I was shocked, angry, sad and hopeless," he told the FT.

    After the Tiananmen crackdown, Guo moved to Australia where he became a citizen and lived for 13 years.

    'Don't call me'

    On Monday, one of Guo's friends told CNN he'd called Guo to discuss the FT article. No one answered, but the artist texted him soon after to say he was "with police," followed by another SMS: "don't call me".

    The friend said Guo was aware of the provocative nature of his work. "He's not naïve about this stuff," he said.

    Prior to finishing the project, Guo asked the friend not to tell anyone about it, for fear that the authorities would stop him from working on it.

    Ahead of the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen massacre, authorities across the country arrested a number of prominent dissidents and critics of the government.

    READ: China's Tiananmen activists: Where are they now?

    READ: Tiananmen 25 years on: The day I drove famed hunger strikers to safety

    READ: China, the world remembers Tiananmen massacre