Forget the Chinese military’s new aircraft, long-range missiles and combat ships: Beijing’s new weapon as it rattles the region is culture — or the denial of it, to be more precise.
China’s targeting of performance arts is not a recent phenomenon. It has used them both as instruments of propaganda to reinforce Chinese identity and as a lure for artists wishing to make fortunes in the market of 1.3 billion people.
Often, artists from, say, Taiwan, which China regards as part of its territory awaiting “re-unification,” have been compelled to hide their true identity as a tradeoff for one’s ability to perform in China. In most cases this meant publicly identifying as a “Chinese” rather than “Taiwanese.” Those who refused were simply barred access. Such measures not only affected singers but also actors, film companies, and authors. Occasionally, Taiwan-China or Taiwan-Hong Kong co-productions also had a chilling effect on artistic freedom or the ability of Taiwanese production to participate at film festivals that, for one reason or another, were being boycotted by China.
However, with Chinese nationalism reaching new levels in recent years, the frequency with which the arts have been politicized to serve Beijing’s agenda has only increased. The feedback loop that has arisen from the state’s reinforcement of nationalism and patriotic netizens has recently resulted in public attacks on artists whose ideology is deemed unacceptable to the Chinese. Recent victims include the Taiwan-born K-Pop star Chou Tzu-yu (周子瑜), who earlier this year was forced to issue a televised confession that could very well have been produced by the fanatics over at ISIS, as well as actor Leon Dai (戴立忍) and director Wu Nien-chen (吳念真), both of whom were blocked from performing in China due to their “separatist” ideology.
Last month, rumors began circulating in the artistic community that people from the entertainment industry would be required to sign a form vowing not to “split the country” before being allowed to participate in projects in China.
Chou’s case was a foreshadowing, as her “apology” for displaying a Nationalist flag (not supporting Taiwanese independence, as misguided Chinese netizens claimed) came after her Korean agents at JYP Entertainment were pressured by China. Fear of losing access to the highly lucrative Chinese market was all it took for Chou’s agency to force the 16-year-old to humiliate herself. South Koreans had been dragged into the Taiwan “issue” and elected to side with Beijing rather than support their young client.
But now there are signs that South Korean artists may also be in for this kind of treatment as a dispute over the deployment of a U.S.-made THAAD air defense system in South Korea deepens. According to anonymous industry sources cited by Sina.com, officials from the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television verbally instructed TV producers in China to “postpone any plans for new programmes that involve South Korean stars or copyright for South Korean TV shows.”
The South China Morning Post also reports that TV stations in Guangdong Province have been informed by state regulators that TV shows featuring South Korean pop stars would not be granted approval to air “in the near future.”
And the sting already appears to have been felt. According to Bloomberg, shares of South Korean entertainment companies nose-dived on Tuesday, reportedly due to jitters over possible retaliatory restrictions by China.
The fever of nationalistic stridency has taken over Chinese netizens and government officials, and as a result artists on both sides of the divide will be harmed. Will China impose a cultural embargo on every country with which it has political differences and thereby create a Reich Culture Chamber with Chinese characteristics? An even bigger question is how the Chinese public will react. They may be patriotic, but can they really live without their T-Pop, K-Pop and Korean TV drama?
First Editor: Edward White
Second Editor: Olivia Yang