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Music of Pro-Democracy Cantopop Star ‘Disappears’ from China Online Platforms


Lee Lai  |  Radio Free Asia

Denise Ho on Listerine’s Facebook page

Music fans in China have reported that they are now unable to access any online content linked to Cantonese singer Denise Ho, whose presence at Hong Kong’s 2014 pro-democracy movement likely angered Beijing.

Ho, the first Hong Kong celebrity to be arrested at the 79-day Occupy Central campaign for universal suffrage in the former British colony, has been called a “poison of Hong Kong” by state media linked to the ruling Chinese Communist Party and banned from performing across the internal border in mainland China.

The cancellation of a planned show for French cosmetics maker Lancôme in June sparked angry demonstrations and an online petition, while Ho herself said the move was a form of “white terror” targeting the people of Hong Kong.

Keyword searches for Ho’s Chinese name were blocked this week on NetEase Cloud Music, Xiami, and Bilibili, searches revealed.

The move comes after a long line of celebrities from Hong Kong, Taiwan, and elsewhere have apologized for “offending China” in the hope of protecting their sales there, sparking a satirical meme of spontaneous “apologies to China.”

Veteran political commentator Willy Lam said Beijing is likely even more concerned about clamping down on political opposition in Hong Kong after the election of six “localist” lawmakers to the city’s Legislative Council (LegCo) earlier this month.

“Beijing can always play the economic card when it comes to the creative industries in Hong Kong and Taiwan,” Lam said. “For example, if they show support for the localist movement [fighting for more autonomy] in Hong Kong or take part in their events.”

“Pop-singers and movie stars alike are all under this sort of pressure, but I think Denise Ho’s situation has been exacerbated by the LegCo election results,” he said.

“Now there are six localist lawmakers, and Beijing is getting more and more nervous, so it is stepping up its crackdown on celebrities.”

Politically motivated move

Chung Kim-wah, assistant professor of applied social science at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, said he also sees a political motivation behind the disappearance of Ho’s music.

“Most of the time, these celebrities don’t say anything that Beijing doesn’t like, but when they do, they can be controlled using this sort of method,” Chung said.

“This cuts off their access to a huge potential market, and it’s a very effective tool for controlling these Chinese artists in Hong Kong who are then unlikely to step out of line,” Chung said.

He said Beijing likely fears the huge potential influence stars like Ho have over the city’s youth.

“People who have a huge popular following are very careful what they say … and a lot of the stars in Hong Kong and Taiwan will avoid commenting on anything at all to do with China, or even to do with Hong Kong or Taiwan, so as to curry favor with the Chinese government,” Chung said.

“So, overall, this policy has been pretty successful [for China].”

Messages sent to Denise Ho via her Facebook page went unanswered on Friday.

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