27 October 2016
Hong Kong band Sweat and Blood Attack (right) sends messages about civil disobedience through its songs, following the path of the American band Rage Against the Machine. Photos: YouTube
Hong Kong band Sweat and Blood Attack (right) sends messages about civil disobedience through its songs, following the path of the American band Rage Against the Machine. Photos: YouTube

Foul language hardly uncommon in HK, in a song or otherwise

Hongkongers have enjoyed freedom of expression, protected by the law, for decades.

But as hostility grows between the pro-democracy and pro-Beijing camps after the electoral reform plan for 2017 was announced, people are increasingly using foul language and drawing criticism for it.

However, there seems to be no consistent standard regarding the public use of foul language.

Police officers were often heard saying “f**k off” to those taking part in the Occupy campaign last year, so why are people now pointing fingers at a band for using foul language to condemn the police in a song performed at Lingnan University?

A local group immediately called for the arrest of the members of Sweat and Blood Attack, the performers of the song, F**k the Police, for breaching the Public Order Ordinance.

It also urged the university to dissolve the student union, which organised the performance.

Why did the band condemn the police with foul language?

The growing discontent with the police is the result of their failure to maintain a neutral stance when performing their duties during public demonstrations.

Many feel that while the police used violence against peaceful protesters, they allowed pro-Beijing loyalists to go undisturbed.

Against this backdrop, it is quite clear why the students and young people hate the police so much, especially as seen in their postings on social media.

The police still earn the public’s respect when they perform their duties properly.

But it is certain that Hong Kong’s police are no longer heroes to the public, at least among young people.

In fact, singing a song condemning the police with foul language is not something new.

An English version of the song “F**k the Police” was recorded by the American rap band N.W.A in 1988, helping to raise people’s awareness of police brutality.

When the song was released with famous rapper Dr. Dre as producer, it caught the FBI’s attention because of its inflammatory lyrics.

It became more popular after many rock bands, including Rage Against the Machine (Live & Rare album 1997), covered the songs.

Hong Kong’s Progressive Lawyers Group said performing a song containing foul language in a campus concert cannot be characterized as acting “in a disorderly manner”.

“We also cannot see how the persons concerned had allegedly acted “with intent to provoke a breach of the peace,” the group said in a press release.

“Therefore, we are of the view that Section 17B of the Public Order Ordinance (Cap. 245) does not apply to this incident.” 

The group said people with different opinions are now less tolerant toward one another and want to try to silence their opponents.

The latest trend is that Beijing loyalists are implementing a new round of political struggle against the opposition camp to try to keep their mouths shut.

Despite such “Cultural Revolution-style” criticism, even if certain songs or written articles contain foul language or “curse words”, it does not necessarily mean that people who create, publish or perform such songs or articles will thereby have breached the Public Order Ordinance, the lawyers’ group said.

In fact, several pro-Beijing politicians have used bad language at public events when they failed to convince their opponents using rational arguments.

The latest example is Wong Kwok-hing, a pro-Beijing politician from the Federation of Trade Unions (FTU).

On Sunday’s City Forum live television program, responding to Scholarism spokesman Oscar Lai Man-lok’s criticism of FTU for betraying its members, Wong used a crude Cantonese swear word to tell Lai to shut up.

While Hongkongers love to pretend to be polite, most of them do use foul language or slang to express their anger regarding their work or the political situation.

Hongkongers should respect those in the city’s cultural and creative industries, as well as citizens’ academic freedom and freedom of expression as protected under the Basic Law, no matter whether they are pro-democracy or pro-Beijing.

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EJ Insight writer

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