An artiste can’t please everyone.
But if some humorless mandarin in Zhongnanhai doesn’t like you, it would have been better if you didn’t become an entertainer at all.
Not only will you be dropped from the movie, television series or variety show where you are performing, your name will also be dragged through the mud.
Such was the fate of TVB comedian Wong Hei, who was made to disappear in a reality TV show produced by Chinese state broadcaster CCTV last year. His face was pixelated throughout the pre-recorded program.
Why? Because he made the mistake of hinting on his Facebook page, right before the show’s premiere, that the late Communist Party leader Zhou Enlai could be gay and also because he reportedly addressed his mainland compatriots as “you Chinese”.
After Wong was eased out, the host and other guests had to pretend that he had never been a part of the show.
When a singer is labeled a ‘separatist’
The witch-hunt appears to be getting worse.
Earlier this week Hong Kong pop idol Hins Cheung was accused in articles appearing in People’s Daily and China National Defense Daily of “clandestinely advocating Hong Kong independence”.
The allegation could be traced to Anna Chan, convenor of the pro-Beijing group Caring Hong Kong Power who appears bent on digging up dirt on pan-democrats and participants of the 2014 Occupy protests.
Chan accused the Cantopop heartthrob of using his popularity to brainwash his young followers into opposing Beijing through the anti-national education rallies in 2012 and the pro-democracy Occupy protests two years later.
Chan’s evidence? She said Cheung once posted on Facebook that he would like to shake hands with student leader Joshua Wong, who was the leading light in the two massive sit-ins.
Chan’s attack came right before Hunan Television, one of the mainland’s most-watched TV channels, was to launch the latest season of its hit show I Am a Singer featuring Cheung and other musicians competing live on stage.
Hunan TV ditched Cheung in the last minute and cut his appearance in all the trailers.
For his part, Cheung wrote on his Weibo account that he is strongly opposed to any movement seeking Hong Kong independence, adding that he is frustrated by all the unfounded allegations against him.
The pop star has a huge cult following among Hong Kong youth who adore him not only for his undeniable charisma and soothing love songs but also for his strong empathy for their grievances.
When he attended a music awards ceremony in 2014, he wore a white shirt with smudges of red paint, which is seen as a subtle form of protest after police officers beat up a handcuffed activist in Admiralty during the Occupy protests.
Born and raised on the mainland, Cheung says his background made him identify with the fairness and freedom that Hong Kong embodies.
Those words, unsurprisingly, have incurred Beijing’s ire.
“You just can’t make loads of renminbi on the mainland while brazenly insulting the Chinese people … Don’t even try to fool us with your sudden patriotism when in truth you need to woo our money,” said one pro-Beijing article about Cheung.
Cheung’s record company, Emperor Entertainment Group, has declined to make a comment.
More names on Beijing’s blacklist
Cheung is the latest addition to Beijing’s growing list of unwelcome celebrities who are barred from making any commercial performance or denied entry into the mainland.
Last year a Lancôme promotional gig featuring local singer Denise Ho blew up into a big controversy after party mouthpiece Global Times took potshots at her for allegedly sympathizing with pro-independence groups.
The hard-hitting tabloid said Lancôme, in hiring Ho, is using mainland consumers’ money to support the Hong Kong separatist movement.
More names are being added to Beijing’s entertainment industry blacklist. There is local filmmaker Chapman To, who is accused of supporting democracy movements in Hong Kong and Taiwan.
There is veteran actor Anthony Perry Wong, whose acts of solidarity with student activists have long angered mainland censors.
Cantopop diva Faye Wong and famed actor Tony Leung were once forced to eat humble pie after they were seen sitting close to personalities identified with the Dalai Lama group at a Tibetan Buddhist event in India last year.
Taiwanese pop star Chou Tzu-yu was involved in a Taiwan flag-waving incident and had to bow twice and apologize to mainland fans in a video clip afterwards.
She is believed to have been forced into doing so by her management firm to placate Beijing’s ruffled feelings.
Singer-songwriter A-Mei got a decade-long ban of her albums and performances after she sang Taiwan’s anthem during the inauguration of President Chen Shui-bian in 2000.
All these are far from surprising as Beijing seeks to tighten ideological control to fend off “the filtration of thoughts pernicious to Communist values and territorial integrity”.
The ruling party has always insisted that the arts must serve a social purpose – that is, moral education and ideological remodeling.
Elsewhere, entertainers can boldly express their views on politics.
Madonna dropped a trio of f-bombs and admitted that she’s “thought an awful lot about blowing up the White House” during a speech in Washington last Saturday when Donald Trump was sworn in as the 45th US president.
In China, however, entertainers have to dance to Beijing’s music if they want to play safe.
After attending a Communist Party meeting on the role of arts and culture in Chinese society, popular sitcom actor Zhao Benshan said he was so moved by the speech of party chief Xi Jinping that he “couldn’t sleep”.
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