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Aug 11 2021

Mounting Political Pressures Prompt Exodus of Hong Kong Cultural Workers

by Pamela Wong

Portraits of (from left to right) CHAN KAM-SHING, LEE CHUN-LEUNG, and CHOW POK-YIN. Images via Facebook.

Three of the Hong Kong Arts Development Council (HKADC)’s ten elected members have vacated their positions. The representatives—artist Chan Kam-shing, songwriter Chow Pok-yin, and theater worker Lee Chun-leung—were chosen in public polls in 2019, and were supposed to serve from January 1, 2020, until the end of 2022, but have faced harassment and repeated verbal attacks from Chinese state-owned media since March. Arrests of pro-democracy creative professionals since the enforcement of the National Security Law on June 30, 2020, have also pushed some of the city’s artists to emigrate. 

Chan, Chow, and Lee were labeled as the “three troublemakers” in Ta Kung Pao newspaper in March, when disputes erupted over some artworks in M+ museum’s Uli Sigg Collection. Barrister and politician Eunice Yung Hoi-yan claimed that pieces such as Ai Weiwei’s photographic series Study of Perspective (1995–2003)—which features the artist holding up a middle finger at global institutions and landmarks, including Beijing’s Tiananmen Square—incite hatred against the Chinese government. Chan openly criticized Yung on a television program for her lack of artistic knowledge. He alleges that, since those remarks, he has been tailed by staff from Ta Kung Pao, and his address and whereabouts were leaked in the newspaper.

The three were lambasted by Ta Kung Pao again, after singer Anthony Wong was arrested by Hong Kong’s Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) on August 2 for performing two songs at a rally for the pro-democracy politician Au Nok-hin in 2018. The ICAC suspected that the act violated an ordinance that prohibits anyone from providing food, drink, or entertainment to influence voters. The following day, the newspaper reported that Wong and the “three troublemakers” were affiliated as they had collectively convened a press conference on May 28, 2020, together with other performers and artists, to speak against the National Security Law. The ICAC retracted the charges against Wong at an August 5 court mention, and Wong was released on bail.

Beside the verbal mud-slinging, the three were concerned about preventing any further backlash against the HKADC, as Lee and Chow explained to The Stand News, and thus ultimately decided to resign. In March, Ta Kung Pao and Wen Wei Po, another state-owned outlet, had also condemned the HKADC for funding the anonymously produced documentary Inside the Red Brick Wall (2020), about the 2019 pro-democracy protests at Polytechnic University.

Since June 30, 2020, more than 120 people have been arrested for alleged violations of the National Security Law. Some artists, including Kacey Wong and illustrator Lau Kwong Shing, have moved to Taiwan under the Employment Gold Card scheme for creative talents. Wong explained to The Art Newspaper that it is “too dangerous to stay,” while Lau told Initium Media that “the current trend shows that the situation in Hong Kong is becoming similar to the situation in mainland China. Even if I’m creating something that’s apolitical, it could be interpreted as related to politics. To me, this is unacceptable.”

Pamela Wong is ArtAsiaPacific’s assistant editor

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