ART UNDER THREAT IN 2016: CHINA
SERIOUS VIOLATIONS: 14
ACTS OF CENSORSHIP: 20
While China has dropped from being the country with the most serious violations on artistic freedom of expression – an unenviable position it has had for two consecutive years – to the fifth country in 2016, China continues to hold a firm grip on artistic freedom. The country does this by imprisoning artists that hold political views opposite to that of authorities or silencing them via blacklists, bans or exerting economic and political pressure on organisations, cultural institutions, businesses and other structures.
China held 14 artists behind bars through the whole or part of 2016, which made up all of the serious violations on artistic freedom of expression for the country. The country also carried out 20 acts of censorship, for a total of 34 violations on artistic freedom of expression in 2016 – 92 less than Freemuse registered for the country the previous year. While 2016’s registered cases for China were considerably less than the year previous, the main explanation for the difference lies in the fact that in 2015 Freemuse was able to obtain a blacklist of 120 songs, which we registered as 120 individual cases of censorship (see more in the “Principles of Documentation” section).
In China, legal bodies are not separated from political institutions and opinions considered in opposition with the government and country’s “One China” policy are not allowed. Censorship of arts, media and academia is widespread. “Objectionable” content, including references to controversial Chinese historical details, Chinese politics, details about Chinese leaders, sexually explicit material and, in some instances, material relating to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) issues are not allowed.
On the last day of 2015, Chinese censors issued an eight-page document on the production of TV content, forbidding a wide range of topics, including same-sex relationships, which led to the pulling of a popular same-sex drama ‘Addicted Heroin’ from online streaming sites in February 2016.
Artists who publically support the free Tibet cause, are in favour of Hong Kong and Taiwan independence from China, or who promote or believe in the Falun Gong spiritual practice, or are related to its members, are censored and cannot perform live on the mainland or have their art broadcast or streamed in China. China also aggressively tries to prevent artists from performing or having their art exhibited abroad that relates to the above issues (see more in the “Censoring across borders” section).
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”. And in August, Taiwanese actor Leon Dai, who played the lead character in Chinese romance ‘No Other Love’, was fired from the film for his alleged support of Taiwanese independence, and cut from two other films. Actress Mizuhara Kiko was also removed from the cast of ‘No Other Love’ after accusations of her being anti-China.
Government officials and exhibition organisers pulled an installation just five days into its run, set to be screened on the façade of Hong Kong’s tallest building, the ICC tower, from 17 May 2016 to 22 June 2016, after the artists revealed that part of the piece had a political message linked to the date 1 July 2047 when Hong Kong will no longer be politically or legally divided from China.
Currently, China is holding five Tibetan musicians – Lolo, Kelsang Yarphel, Trinley Tsekar, Shawo Tashi and Gonpo Tenzin – in prison. The singers are sentenced to between two and six years in prison for producing and performing “sensitive or political lyrics” related to the Tibet issue. The vague charges most widely used by China against Tibetan artists are “seditiously splitting the state” or “inciting separatism”.
China, however, not only punishes Tibetans for their stance and art on Tibet; they also target foreigners who are sympathetic to the Tibetan cause. In 2016, China banned American pop star Lady Gaga from entering the country and cancelled two concerts in the country by fellow pop star Selena Gomez because of their respective meetings with the Dalai Lama, among other artists.
Chinese lawmakers in 2016 passed the country’s first extensive film law set to take effect in March 2017. The Film Industry Promotion Law directs filmmakers to produce films that “serve thepeople and socialism”, “prioritise social benefits”, and don’t “jeopardise national unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity”. According to the law, foreign filmmaking companies cannot independently film or distribute films in the country, and movie theatres have to ensure that no less than two-thirds of the annual screening time of all films will be of Chinese films, thus limiting screen time for foreign productions.
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