Music fans in China have reported that several major Chinese music and video streaming platforms, as well as the Chinese iTunes store, have removed, blocked or filtered out the music and online content of pop star Denise Ho, who has been active in the Hong Kong independence and pro-democracy movement since 2014, as well as having been critical of China’s communist party, reported China Digital Times on 16 September 2016.
When users search for Ho in popular platforms, such as NetEase Cloud Music, Xiami, Bilibili, Kugou and Tencent QQ Music, no results are found, reported the Chinese news source and Quartz on 22 September 2016.
Trouble began for the singer in 2014 when she joined the pro-democracy Occupy Central campaign in Hong Kong (also known as the Umbrella Movement) and became the first celebrity to be arrested for her activism in the movement.
Political backlash after September elections
According to a veteran political commentator interviewed by Radio Free Asia on 23 September 2016, more political backlash may hit Hong Kong after six candidates from the localist movement, which is centred on the preservation of the city’s autonomy and culture, won seats in its recent Legislative Council (LegCo) election held on 4 September 2016, resulting in gaining nearly 20% of the vote share.
Beijing can always play the economic card when it comes to the creative industries in Hong Kong and Taiwan. For example, if they show support for the localist movement in Hong Kong or take part in their events. Pop singers and movie stars alike are all under this sort of pressure, but I think Denise Ho’s situation has been exacerbated by the LegCo election results. Now there are six localist lawmakers, and Beijing is getting more and more nervous, so it is stepping up its crackdown on celebrities.
Chung Kim-wah, assistant professor of applied social sciences at Hong Kong Polytechnic University, told Radio Free Asia that celebrities often don’t say anything that China may not like as they can be controlled economically by such methods as what are being used against Ho.
This cuts off their access to a huge potential market, and it’s a very effective tool for controlling these Chinese artists in Hong Kong who are then unlikely to step out of line. People who have a huge popular following are very careful what they say … and a lot of the stars in Hong Kong and Taiwan will avoid commenting on anything at all to do with China, or even to do with Hong Kong or Taiwan, so as to curry favour with the Chinese government.
In 2014, Ho said that about 80% of her income came from China, mostly from performances, which have dried up since she began her activism with the pro-democracy movement, reported The New York Times on 25 October 2014.
The singer also lost her record deal with East Asia, a company headed by Peter Lam Kinngok, who, according to Hong Kong media, has close ties to China, Quartz reported on 6 June 2016.
The Lancôme cosmetics cancelled concert controversy
On 5 June 2016, global cosmetics brand Lancôme, owned by L’Oreal, cancelled an event featuring a music performance by Ho set to take place on 19 June, due to what they said were “security reasons”, reported Quartz.
Trouble began for Lancôme when China-backed tabloid Global Times asked its followers on social media for their views on them hiring Ho, whom they called “Hong Kong poison”, as their spokesperson. Thousands of comments flooded in and people began calling for a boycott of Lancôme and all other L’Oreal brands in China.
Soon after, the company released a statement saying Ho was not a spokesperson of the brand. A few hours later they announced the cancellation of the 19 June event. A day later, on 6 June 2016, nearly 25,000 Hong Kong supporters took to social media to denounce the move and threatened a boycott themselves. On 8 June 2016, after hundreds of protestors showed up at Lancôme stores throughout Hong Kong, the company had to shut down its stores for the day.
Ho published a statement on 6 June 2016, demanding an explanation from Lancôme to “spell out the reasons behind the decision”.
The company owes me and the public a proper explanation. Freedom, justice and equality are the values cherished by the people of Hong Kong. If we are penalised for defending our rights and upholding beliefs, this is not just about me anymore. Our value system has been completely distorted.
On the day and time Ho was supposed to perform for the cosmetics company event, hundreds packed a street in Honk Kong’s hip PoHo district where the singer gave a performance to mark the cancelled event and to call attention to China’s influence on Hong Kong, reported The Wall Street Journal.
[People in mainland China and Hong Kong] have to fight for the basic human rights, which are freedom of speech and freedom of thought. The pressure is growing and the fear is growing. We need to face the problem directly because people are choosing to stay silent.
China’s growing intimidation
Ho is just one of many artists recently affected by China’s growing reach economically and socially on those who wish to use their art to voice opinions the country considers undesirable.
In May 2016, government officials and exhibition organisers pulled a light installation, set to be projected onto the façade of Hong Kong’s tallest building, just five days into its run after the artists revealed the piece had a political message: a countdown in seconds until 1 July 2047 when Hong Kong will no longer be politically or legally divided from China.
The start of the installation, which was exhibited in Hong Kong’s famous Victoria Harbour, coincided with the second day of one of China’s top leaders Zhang Dejiang’s visit to Hong Kong. Four days later the piece was pulled.
In July 2016, Taiwanese actor Leon Dai was fired as the lead actor in Chinese romance film ‘No Other Love’ for his alleged support of Taiwanese independence, this despite the film having completed principal photography and in post-production, meaning the film required significant re-shooting.
Dai’s cameo performance was also removed from another romantic film, ‘At Café 6’, prior to its release on mainland China in July 2016, and another film, ‘The Peaceful Island’, starring Dai, set to release in the same month had its release date pulled.
In January 2016, Taiwanese teen pop star Chou Tzuyu was banned from performing on China’s Anhui Spring Festival programme for holding up a Taiwanese flag during a TV performance in South Korea. She later posted an emotional apology on YouTube, saying “there is only one China”.
Further, China has forbidden numerous international musicians, most recently Lady Gaga in June 2016 and Selena Gomes in April 2016, from playing concerts in the country due to their stance on Tibet or for meeting the Dalai Lama.
On her 39th birthday in May 2016, Ho met with the Dalai Lama.
China has also exerted pressure on art galleries to remove work that calls attention to such taboo subjects, most recently in Bangladesh in February 2016 when a Chinese ambassador took offense to an art exhibit in Dhaka featuring works on Tibet that were quickly pulled down.
Photo: Artist’s Facebook page
» South China Morning Post – 9 December 2016:
Hong Kong’s fears for its freedoms can inspire an arts and culture boom
» Radio Free Asia – 23 September 2016:
Music of pro-democracy Cantopop star ’disappears’ from China online platforms
» Quartz – 22 September 2016:
China’s censors scrubbed a Hong Kong popstar’s music from the internet because she supports democracy
» The Guardian – 19 September 2016:
Denise Ho: The Cantopop Queen on a crusade against China’s Communist party
» China Digital Times – 16 September 2016:
HK star Denise Ho filtered on iTunes, music sites
» The Wall Street Journal – 19 June 2016:
Denise Ho draws Hong Kong crowd after Lancôme cowed
» The Washington Post – 10 June 2016:
How China’s war on dissenting views spills over into pop music and French cosmetics
» Quartz – 6 June 2016:
Lancôme is self-censoring outside mainland China to keep Beijing happy
» South China Morning Post – 13 November 2014:
Canto-pop star Denise Ho vows to fight for democracy despite mainland backlash
» The New York Times – 24 October 2014:
Stars backing Hong Kong protests pay price on mainland
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