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One more sign that Hong Kong is bowing to China’s mandarins

Posted by Author on February 3, 2010

Wall Street Journal, Feb. 1, 2010-

In New York last month to promote the West Kowloon Cultural District development, Hong Kong Chief Secretary Henry Tang declared that the territory was poised to become “Asia’s cultural hub.” Earlier this week, Hong Kongers got a taste of the kind of “culture” they can expect.

Sunday was to be the triumphant closing of New York-based Shen Yun Performing Arts‘ seven-show, sold-out Hong Kong tour. Instead, the curtains at Lyric Theatre remained closed. Just two days before the company was to embark on its trip, six “core production team members” were denied work visas, including the stage manager and a lighting engineer.

The Hong Kong Immigration Department has remained silent on the matter, saying only that it doesn’t comment on individual cases. But according to Shen Yun officials, government authorities felt that these crew members were locally replaceable. So much for pro-competition policies. Shen Yun promptly refused the advice and, in a show of defiant solidarity, instead canceled the tour.

Since then, Shen Yun and its Hong Kong co-organizers have staged protests and press conferences, and are even mulling a lawsuit. They say the visa matter was just “a pretext”—the implication being that the decision came from Beijing, motivated by a condemnation of Shen Yun’s dance program, which includes depictions of traditional Chinese tales but also “events in present-day China, such as the story of Falun Gong.”

In fact, “the story of Falun Gong” is central to Shen Yun‘s mission. Based in upstate New York, the company shares an address with the Fei Tian Academy of the Arts, a high school based on “the guiding principles of Falun Dafa”—another name for Falun Gong. More than 70% of the dancers listed on Shen Yun’s Web site are graduates of Fei Tian.

The group performs regularly in the U.S. and Canada and has toured around the world, including Japan, Korea and Taiwan, but has never danced in Hong Kong. This was the company’s first opportunity to bring their show to China’s doorstep, and it appears the Chinese government balked. Asked company manager and choreographer Vina Lee, “Is our show really scaring somebody?”

But this isn’t about a dance show. And we don’t have to be fans of Shen Yun or advocates of Falun Gong to find this troubling. Hong Kong’s ambition to become a cultural center is commendable, but one of the keystones to a vibrant arts community is the freedom to express its creativity, even at the risk of provoking the sensitivities of the politicians among the audience. The Shen Yun case suggests that Hong Kong still lacks the capacity to resist political pressures from Beijing. And this drama may just be the opening act.

Wall Street Journal

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