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Cultural Revolution-style Lambast Now in Hong Kong, Hardest Hit in Arts Sector & Academia


This is translated from CitizenNews' weekly digest tracking Hong Kong's political news over the past week. (一周政情:文革批鬥臨香港 藝文學術重災區

In the past week, the most prominent political news was a wave of criticism in the political sector. Direct attacks by the Chinese Communist Party media and pro-Beijing media  targeted the Arts Development Council and various arts and cultural groups funded by it, as well as Professor Lee Ching-kwan, Chair of Sociology at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST). They are all accused of beautifying or encouraging “riot violence” and breaching the National Security Law (NSL), among other things. These events showed that the National Security Law enforcement agencies are now targeting the academia and the arts sector after 47 pan-democratic camp activists have been arrested and charged.

Terms such as "Cultural Revolution" and "Cultural Revolution-style lambast” have appeared frequently in recent headlines, mainly because the political purge after the enactment of the National Security Law has been coming in waves without any sign of stopping, giving Hong Kong people the impression that it is similar to the series of frenzied political struggles during the Cultural Revolution. On Wednesday 17 March, newspaper Ta Kung Pao, which is directly led by the Liaison Office, criticised an official body, the Hong Kong Arts Development Council (HKADC), for funding “riot violence” films under the headline "HKADC Allocates $15m over three years to support riot violence films; Subsidised film companies possibly breach NSL”. Art organisations criticised include: Lumenvisum, Theatre Horizon, Ying E Chi (Film), The Nonsensemakers (theatre), Wedraman (theatre), and Hong Kong House of Literature. The reports said these are “yellow ribbon” and “pan-yellow” art groups and of “yellow film circles”, saying that they use public funds to produce artworks that are anti-government and glorify riot violence and the independence of Hong Kong.

After checking the accounts of the HKADC, CitizenNews found that questions raised by Ta Kung Pao were inconsistent with the facts in many places. For example, only one of the named organisations is related to film production, namely Ying E Chi, the film company that released the documentary film "Inside the Red Brick Wall", while the rest are mainly theatre companies. Moreover, the amount of funding received by the named organisations is very small, ranging from some $500,000 to $1.1 million in annual operating grants, and they have never been among the top ten most funded by HKADC. HKADC publicly responded that its vetting mechanism was professionally assessed by experienced members of the industry and that grantees had to undertake to abide by the law. HKADC could suspend or stop grant disbursement in case of non-compliance.

"Inside the Red Brick Wall" is one of the many documentaries about the 2019 Anti-Extradition Law Amendment Bill Movement (anti-ELAB movement) . It won the Best Editing Award at the International Documentary Film Festival in Amsterdam in November 2020 and was subsequently awarded the Best Film Award by the Hong Kong Film Critics Society. The film was sent to the Office for Film, Newspaper and Article Administration, where it was classified as Class III: not suitable for children (due to its violent scenes), but was allowed to be screened. The film was supposed to be screened in a new cinema in Kennedy Town, but the cinema suddenly announced the cancellation of the screening before the supposed screening time, saying it did not want to cause unnecessary misunderstanding. The sudden cancellation has made the public aware that the political storm caused by the NSL is now sweeping into the arts and culture sector. Even if an artwork passes vetting as required by the law, if it is associated with the anti-ELAB movement, the artwork will be  targeted at any time.

The sudden halt of the screening of "Inside the Red Brick Wall" squarely coincided with Ta Kung Pao’s political lambaste of a number of arts organisations. The objective effect was to put the entire arts and cultural sector at risk, as the named groups were certainly in distress, and their funding would probably be terminated in future. In future, when applying for funding, they will have to meet not only the professional requirement, but also the vague and elusive threshold of political censorship. Even if those which are not named, they will avoid political issues in the planning of their creative projects for fear of attracting accusations of violating national security laws. In this way, Hong Kong's arts and cultural sector has been silenced and de-politicised.

Not only has the arts and cultural sector been targeted and criticised, but the academia has not been spared either. Although the pro-Beijing media often criticised academics who criticised the government in the past, those papers are only targeting the convenors of massive social movements, such as accusing them of violating the NSL and demanded their dismissal from the universities. For example, the several convenors of the Occupy movement. However, those who voiced their support for the social movement, or showed humanitarian support are now targeted too. The incident of Professor Lee Ching-kwan of HKUST being lambasted shows that the pro-Beijing media are systematically monitoring academics, secretly collecting information on their attendance at local or overseas seminars. Once they are found to have said something “accusable” in their speeches, they will expose and criticise them with great fanfare, and put all kinds of political charges on them in a high profile manner. For example, in a seminar in Taiwan, Lee Ching-kwan presented her humanitarian work during the anti-ELAB movement), including her involvement as a member of “Protect the Children” (守護孩子), wearing a reflective vest to separate demonstrators and law enforcers, which might be defined by law enforcement authorities as illegal (obstructing officers in discharging duties). The pro-Beijing press has persisted in claiming that she has admitted to illegal activities, demanding a serious investigation by the HKUST or a police investigation.

In the wake of the Lee Ching-kwan incident, academics in Hong Kong who are rarely involved in politics but are sympathetic to the social movement have felt that a crisis is looming around them. Even those who are usually low-profile supporters of the democratic movement could and would become the targets of surveillance and criticism. This ever-widening net of political lambaste has created a somber atmosphere in Hong Kong's academia. Many scholars of international repute have begun to look for overseas tenure, and a wave of academic emigration is beginning to emerge. The vacant posts are likely to be filled by academics from the mainland. A major replacement of Hong Kong's faculty will take place within a few years, and will result in a self-consciously politically silenced and depoliticised academic sector.


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