Art meets political correctness in HK
Updated: Apr 5
Various news sources have announced that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has effectively taken its attack on freedom of expression in Hong Kong (HK) one step further with a recent clamp down on artistic freedom in the SAR....
How nice for HK that after much argy-bargy over the years which we won't go into here, an exhibition facility newly built on HK’s Victoria Harbour is soon to open its doors. M+ Museum aims to rival Western contemporary heavyweights such as London’s Tate Modern and New York’s MoMA. The 60,000 square-metre (646,000-square-foot) venue is set to open later this year, but it has already found itself in hot water.
After successfully muzzling HK’s democracy protests and opposition, CCP loyalists are taking aim at the arts as they seek to impose mainland-style orthodoxy on culture and purge the city of dissent. A group of prominent pro-Beijing local politicians has accused the museum of breaching a sweeping national security law (NSL) that China imposed on HK last year in response to 2019’s democracy protests. (Asia Times, 21 March 2021)
It was the 1 July 2020 enactment of a national security law that saw HK finally become 'communist' HK. This was when CCP Emperor Xi Jinping decided to put on a little dog and pony show for his domestic audience - imposing the NSL just to remind them that he is the boss!
The cause of the complaint against M+, filed with the police, was the content of a media preview, including works by dissident Chinese artist Ai Weiwei (pictured below).
One of the much publicised concerning images produced by Weiwei comes from a series of photographs taken by the artist pointing his middle finger at symbols of authority in well-known locations....the Eiffel Tower, Tiananmen Square etc
“Many of the pieces are spreading hatred against the country,” pro-Beijing lawmaker Eunice Yung said in a recent question to CE Carrie Lam in the HK legislature.
“Will the government censor the collection? What will the government do to prevent such provocation of anti-China sentiments?” she added.
This is yet another awful turn for the people of HK who were originally promised under the Joint Declaration that their lifestyle was safe at least until 2047! Instead we have seen CCP, which is the illegitimate one-party ruler of China, breach the treaty they signed with Great Britain in 1984 and completely ignore the will of HK people.
CCP appointed itself to be the 'People's democratic dictatorship' in China's Constitution. CCP's Mao Zedong by conspiring with the Japanese' enemy against CCP's partner Chiang Kai-shek's KMT (ROC) was a Chinese traitor during the Sino-Japanese War. There was no civil war won by CCP, despite their claims otherwise.
Anything and all things linked to CCP are illegitimate!
Similarly, we can see systemic failures in HK's electoral system that unfairly favour some while disadvantaging others. Lately we have seen elected representatives disqualified from office, and the dismantling of district councils. Scheduled Legislative Council (LegCo) elections have been postponed indefinitely for nefarious reasons. Governance in HK is not functioning properly as a body that acts on the will of the people. Wielding illegitimate contol over the Police and Judiciary, LegCo and the HK Chief Executive (CE) governance in the city has become a puppet show for its Beijing masters.
The exchange in LegCo in which pro-CCP lawmakers prodded the CE to act sent a new shudder through the arts scene in HK, already struggling to hold onto its reputation as an international cultural gateway to China unhindered from the authoritarian mainland’s controls.
After Suhanya Raffel, executive director of M+ museum, told press on March 12 that the museum would not shrink from presenting work relating to historical events such as the 1989 pro-democracy Tiananmen Square protests, or that by artists who have expressed dissent in regard to government policy, such as Ai Weiwei, HK chief executive Carrie Lam on March 17 warned that the government would be “on full alert” in regard to threats to national security posed by the arts, ArtAsiaPacific reports. (ArtForum, 18 March 2021)
Arts insiders say self-censorship has been increasing steadily in recent years. Furthermore, with the broad wording of HK’s NSL – and the fervour with which influential pro-Beijing figures wish to see it applied – artists and art works now have to contend with a whole extra layer of risk. (The Guardian, 21 March 2021)
“People are just a little deflated and anxious,” one art expert involved in major exhibitions at museums said, asking to remain anonymous.
The NSL law targets anything deemed “secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces” and has quickly criminalised a host of political views.
“Now in the ever-widening definition of things that could undermine national security in Hong Kong, we should add pieces of art,” Peter Lewis, a radio presenter with RTHK wrote on Twitter.
Retired journalism professor To Yiu-ming has said that “Hong Kong is heading down a path where all parts of the society, from political actions to people’s daily life, will be measured by political correctness.”
Back at M+, curators will have to navigate HK’s rapidly changing cultural sands as opening day approaches. The art museum has gathered perhaps the finest collection of modern Chinese art in the world thanks in part to a massive donation by Swiss collector Uli Sigg. (Bangkok Post, 29 March 2021). Despite this, M+ says a picture by Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei flipping a middle finger in Tiananmen Square will not be shown at the museum.
HK's Legislative Council Building is not much loved
HK's Legislative Council (LegCo) facility housed in the Tamar complex has been criticised for its design and location ever since it was opened, though its adjacent harbourside park has won accolades. While Ai Weiwei has not yet photographed the Tamar complex, and we are not feng shui experts, we think the above image might tickle your fancy.
The first meetings of the Legislative Council (LegCo) of HK, from 1844 to 1846, were likely convened in the residence of Governor Pottinger (later to be the French Mission Building), still standing at Government Hill. From 1848 to 1954 (interrupted by renovation in 1928-9 and the Japanese occupation in 1941–5), LegCo was housed on the upper floor of the Colonial Secretariat Building, Lower Albert Road, replaced in 1957 by the Annex to the Central Government Offices Main Wing, on the same site.
In 1985, LegCo moved down to the nearby Old Supreme Court building in Central Hong Kong where it remained until November 2011. It took up residence in its present accommodation at the Legislative Block of the Central Government Complex, Tamar in December 2011.
To provide a long-term solution to the space shortage problem facing both the Government and LegCo, the Government commissioned the Tamar Development for the design and construction of the Central Government Complex, the Legislative Council Complex and other ancillary facilities in 2008.
The Legislative Council Complex comprises a low block and a high block: the low block, which is named the Council Block, mainly houses conference facilities including the Chamber, major conference rooms, and communal facilities such as library, cafeteria and education facilities. The range of education facilities for visit by the public includes video corner, visitors' sharing area, exhibition area, children's corner, viewing gallery and access corridors, memory lane, education activities rooms and education galleries. The high block, which will be named as the Office Block, mainly houses offices for members and staff of the LegCo Secretariat. Officially opened on 1 August 2011, administrative staff had already taken occupation on 15 January 2011.
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OTHER EVIDENCE : ARTS AND CULTURE IN HK NO LONGER OPERATES FREELY
RTHK (Radio Television Hong Kong) has axed another episode of a current affairs programme at short notice, the broadcaster announced on Facebook. It was the ninth such cancellation since the new Director of Broadcasting Patrick Li took office on March 1. (HKFP, 30 March 2021) There has been public disquiet over the lack of transparency surrounding the cancellations, except to say that under its new chief programming for the semi-independent broadcaster must more closely adhere to the NSL and the station's management principles.
Located at the West Kowloon Cultural District, the HK Palace Museum is scheduled to open in mid-2022. Offering Hong Kong and international perspectives, the museum will create dynamic and innovative exhibition and public programmes. It will feature a rich selection of treasures from the Palace Museum, often known as the Forbidden City, and present other art exhibitions from around the world. (DimSumDaily, 13 October 2020) ......The controversy is that the museum was not originally part of the West Kowloon plan, and questions arise from the "gifting" of the rights to show the treasures of Beijing, and Chief Executive Carrie Lam's connection with it.
Headline: World Press Photo exhibition opens in Hong Kong after being nixed over ‘safety and security’ fears, (HKFP, 28 March 2021) The exhibit was to be held from March 1 at the Hong Kong Baptist University, but the school pulled out three days before its opening, citing “safety and security” concerns, forcing the award’s organising committee to find a new venue. A similar World Press exhibition held in Macau featuring photographs from HK protests was abruptly shut down last year (The Guardian, 10 October 2020)
A woman holds up an umbrella (a symbol of protest) during protests in the Causeway Bay district of Hong Kong, on 1 October 2019. Photo: Nicolas Asfouri, Agence France-Presse.
4. Headline: Oscars won’t show in Hong Kong for first time since 1969 as state media rails against protest film nomination, (HKFP, 29 March 2021) “It was purely a commercial decision that we decided not to pursue the Oscars this year,” a TVB spokesperson told AFP. [What rubbish!] The decision comes after Bloomberg News reported earlier this month that China’s Communist Party propaganda department has ordered its state-controlled media to play down the awards and not show the ceremony live. The cause is believed to be the nomination of “Do Not Split”, a short documentary on HK’s pro-democracy protests, as well as the four nods for Chinese-born US director Chloe Zhao for “Nomadland”. Derek Tsang's youth drama Better Days, nominated this year for the best international film Oscar, has given HK its first shot at Academy Awards glory since Farewell My Concubine got the nod in 1993. (TheHollywoodReporter.com, 29 March 2021)
Headline: Director of Hong Kong Protest Documentary Not Surprised China Wants to Ban the Oscars Broadcast, (VisionTimes, 4 April 2021)
5. Headline: Protest sketches by local artist not distributed in Hong Kong over security law fears, (HKFP, 3 April 2021) A book of sketches of the 2019 pro-democracy protests by local artist Fong So will not be distributed in HK for fear of the NSL, the artist told HKFP, saying freedom of the press and artistic expression are being eroded in the city.
During the height of the 2019-2020 protests in HK, art and self expression was flourishing, especially on Lennon Walls. Some one has to point out the errors of governance when they can't or won't acknowledge it themself!
Some of our readers may not be aware that even before 2019 certain well-known booksellers and publishers were already being fingered by CCP. WTPOHK is proud to be able to present through our blogs a small percentage of the very creative work of many, many different artists, freedom fighters and human rights activists.
Though we have been told in HK that "Freedom is not free", and "Freedom is not without limits", we note that stemming from our government, political censorship and authoritarianism lacks any such restraint.
Please read some of our other blogs related to the life and times of Hong Kong:
Hong Kong's Big White Elephants. (Part 2 of 3) (Includes a paragraph on West Kowloon Cultural District)
“The world is watching”—appalled reactions to China’s kidnapping of a Hong Kong bookseller, (Quartz, 17 June 2016)
Security Law: Hong Kong authors look for safety and freedom in Taiwan, (HKFP, 4 August 2020)
If China Meant to Chill Hong Kong Speech, Booksellers’ Case Did the Job, (New York Times, 4 November 2016)
As China Bans Oscars Broadcast, ‘Do Not Split’ Proves the Power of Short Film — Watch, (indiewire.com, 2 April 2021)