16 February 2019
Lyricist Albert Leung (L), singers Anthony Wong and Denise Ho (center) and actor Chapman To (R) are among those facing the ire of Chinese authorities for expressing support to the pro-democracy campaign in Hong Kong.
Lyricist Albert Leung (L), singers Anthony Wong and Denise Ho (center) and actor Chapman To (R) are among those facing the ire of Chinese authorities for expressing support to the pro-democracy campaign in Hong Kong.

Why is China targeting entertainment celebrities in HK battle?

Beijing’s apparent warning to Hong Kong celebrities not to support the pro-democracy protests will only boost the standing of those who have opted to stand up boldly for their beliefs.

For entertainment artists such as Chapman To, Denise Ho, Anthony Wong and others who had expressed solidarity with the “Umbrella Movement”, a backlash from the mainland — in the form of a boycott or ban on performing in the mainland, could in fact serve as the best recognition for their backing of the campaign for greater political freedoms.

Ho and Wong are said to have failed to secure approval from Chinese authorities to hold a concert in Guangzhou, while well-known lyricist and author Albert Leung — who uses the pen name Lin Xi and is another supporter of the democracy movement — was forced to cancel a talk in Beijing.

With the protests in Hong Kong making headlines around the round, the central government is keen to suppress prominent voices that could influence the youth to continue with their demonstrations. Thus, singers, actors and other popular icons are being advised to stay away from protest sites and not encourage the movement.

With the advice, comes a not-too-subtle warning: Behave, or else your career prospects could be damaged.

It’s no empty threat, given the fact the mainland is now biggest market for Hong Kong’s entertainment industry and its performers. It’s also precisely the reason why some artists with interests in China have opted to keep their mouths shut on sensitive issues.

In China, the entertainment industry is also a propaganda tool for the Communist Party. All movies and television drama series, as well as stage performances of artists, are watched closely to ensure that the performers do not do or say anything that goes against the Party’s interests.

Coming back to Hong Kong artists, China aims to leverage its huge market to force the celebrities to follow the “main rhythm” and not challenge the Party’s bottom line.

State news agency Xinhua on Thursday published a commentary that condemned the Hong Kong entertainment celebrities that have come out in support of the Occupy movement.

The Hong Kong stars were “fed” by the mainland market since the territory’s handover in 1997, it said, adding that their support now for the protests amounts to a betrayal of their “Chinese blood”.

“On the one hand you make money from China, and on the other you turn your head and scold your motherland [China]. Is that the right thing to do to the country that feeds you? How could your behavior be tolerated?” the article said.

President Xi Jinping has said that China has been in an ideological war with the West, with pop culture being one of the main battlegrounds. That is the main reason why Beijing wants to rein in overseas artists that could influence the youth.

China’s “Great Firewall” blocks all sensitive online content, and authorities have also banned several foreign websites. But technology has made it possible for people to bypass the government censorship and get information from overseas sources.

However, a majority of the mainlanders are willing to accept the government’s position and toe its line.

That’s why when the proposal to ban some Hong Kong artists began circulating on Chinese social media sites, many users were praising the government’s decision and urging the Hong Kong artists to go home and not reap profits from China.

The threat is not limited to Hong Kong artists. Even American smooth jazz saxophonist Kenny G came under fire this week after he visited an Occupy protest site in Admiralty. A Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman said foreign individuals should desist from supporting ‘illegal activities’.

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EJ Insight writer

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