Artists who’ve dared to broach Tianan­men pushed into shad­ows

The Standard Journal - - ENTERTAINM­ENT - By Yanan Wang

It has been three months since Chi­nese rock mu­si­cian Li Zhi dis­ap­peared from pub­lic view.

First, an up­com­ing tour was can­celed and his so­cial me­dia ac­counts were taken down. Then his mu­sic was re­moved from all of China’s ma­jor stream­ing sites — as if his ca­reer had never ex­isted at all.

Li is an out­spo­ken artist who per­forms folk rock. He sang pen­sive bal­lads about so­cial ills, and un­like most en­ter­tain­ers in China, dared to broach the ta­boo sub­ject of the Tianan­men Square prodemoc­racy protests that ended in blood­shed on June 4, 1989.

“Now this square is my grave,” Li sang. “Ev­ery­thing is just a dream.”

China’s rul­ing Com­mu­nist Party has pushed peo­ple like Li into the shad­ows as it braced for the 30th an­niver­sary of the mil­i­tary crack­down last week. Hun­dreds, if not thou­sands, are es­ti­mated to have died on the night of June 3 and in the early hours of June 4.

The party’s ef­fort to scrub any men­tion of the move­ment has been con­sis­tent through the decades since then and ramps up be­fore ma­jor an­niver­saries ev­ery five years. This year, the trade war with the U.S. has added to gov­ern­ment skit­tish­ness about in­sta­bil­ity.

“They are cer­tainly ner­vous,” said Jean-Pierre Cabestan, a po­lit­i­cal sci­ence pro­fes­sor at Hong Kong Bap­tist Univer­sity. “Un­der (Pres­i­dent) Xi Jin­ping, no stone will be left un­turned.”

Many of the ac­tions ap­pear aimed at elim­i­nat­ing any risk of in­di­vid­u­als speak­ing out, how­ever small their plat­forms. Bili­bili, a Chi­nese video stream­ing site, an­nounced last week that its pop­u­lar real-time com­ments fea­ture was dis­abled un­til June 6 for “sys­tem up­grades.”

Chi­nese Hu­man Rights De­fend­ers, an ad­vo­cacy group, said 13 peo­ple have ei­ther been de­tained or taken away from their homes in con­nec­tion with the an­niver­sary. Among them are sev­eral artists who re­cently em­barked on a “na­tional con­science ex­hibit tour” and a film­maker who was de­tained af­ter tweet­ing im­ages of a liquor bot­tle com­mem­o­rat­ing June 4.

The bot­tle’s la­bel fea­tured a play on words us­ing “bai­jiu,” China’s sig­na­ture grain al­co­hol, and the Chi­nese words for 89, or “ba­jiu.” A court con­victed four peo­ple in­volved in de­sign­ing the bot­tle in April.

For­eign com­pa­nies are not im­mune. Ap­ple Mu­sic has re­moved from its Chi­nese stream­ing ser­vice a song by Hong Kong singer Jackie Che­ung that ref­er­ences the Tianan­men crack­down. Tat Ming Pair, a Hong Kong duo, have been deleted en­tirely from the app. They re­leased a song this month called “Re­mem­ber­ing is a Crime” in memory of the protests.

Wikipedia also an­nounced this month that the online en­cy­clo­pe­dia is no longer ac­ces­si­ble in China. While the Chi­ne­se­lan­guage ver­sion has been blocked since 2015, most other lan­guages could pre­vi­ously be viewed, Wikipedia said.

The dis­ap­pear­ance of Li, the mu­si­cian, has left fans search­ing for an­swers.

On Feb. 20, the of­fi­cial Weibo so­cial me­dia ac­count for the 40-year-old’s concert tour posted a pho­to­graph of its team in front of a truck about to em­bark on sched­uled per­for­mances in Sichuan prov­ince in China’s south­west.

Just two days later, how­ever, the ac­count posted an im­age of a hand wear­ing what ap­peared to be a hos­pi­tal wrist band and the words: “Very sorry.” The next post, pub­lished the same day, an­nounced with­out ex­pla­na­tion that the tour was can­celed and that ticket pur­chasers would shortly re­ceive a re­fund. Fans flooded the com­ment sec­tion with wishes for a speedy re­cov­ery.

But the sug­ges­tion that a health is­sue was be­hind the can­cel­la­tions was later thrown into doubt.

A state­ment pub­lished in April by Sichuan’s cul­ture de­part­ment said it had “ur­gently halted” concert plans for a “well-known singer with im­proper con­duct” who was pre­vi­ously slated for 23 per­for­mances — the same num­ber of concerts which Li had sched­uled in the prov­ince. It said 18,000 tick­ets were fully re­funded.

Author­i­ties in China reg­u­larly use “im­proper con­duct” to de­scribe po­lit­i­cal trans­gres­sions.

A com­puter screen shows web con­tent from out­side China in­clud­ing a clip of Chi­nese singer Li Zhi singing his song “The Square” with the lyrics “Now this square is my grave.”

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