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  • Aug 31, 2014
  • Updated: 8:22pm
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No special Legco inquiry into Hong Kong Ballet 'censorship' row

But lawmakers may invite Hong Kong Ballet to clarify why it cut Cultural Revolution sequence from show after alleged political interference

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 09 November, 2013, 4:37am
UPDATED : Saturday, 09 November, 2013, 6:45am

Pro-Beijing lawmakers have shot down plans to force Hong Kong Ballet to explain its actions after allegations that - under pressure from unnamed officials - the ballet cut a sequence depicting the dark side of communist history from its latest co-production.

The Legislative Council's panel on home affairs yesterday decided to invite but not oblige staff of the publicly funded ballet to explain the episode - which has prompted concern over political interference - at a regular meeting next month.

The premiere of The Dream of the Red Chamber, a joint production with Germany's Ballett Dortmund, included a 12-minute projection sequence depicting different stages in China's history. But one part, in which dancers in Red Guards uniforms waved copies of Mao Zedong's "little red book", was cut from subsequent performances.

The German newspaper Ruhr Nachrichten reported that several officials pressured the production team to cut the Cultural Revolution scenes. The newspaper did not make clear if the officials were from Hong Kong or the mainland. Beijing's liaison office chief Zhang Xiaoming reportedly attended the premiere.

Hong Kong Ballet said the decision was taken for technical reasons, and later restored the sequence to the show.

Ip Kwok-him, a lawmaker from the pro-establishment Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, opposed setting up a special panel to investigate the episode, as had been suggested by Democrat Wu Chi-wai and endorsed by Wu's pro-democracy allies.

"The accusation [of censorship] is based on speculation," said Ip. "My biggest concern is that Legco intervenes whenever something is not made clear."

Cyd Ho Sau-lan, of the Labour Party, disagreed. "It involves a cultural exchange between a subsidised local dance group and one that is internationally renowned. The incident is not good for future co-operation with other international art groups," Ho said.

Kenneth Chan Ka-lok of the Civic Party, who is vice-chairman of the home affairs panel, said: "We will invite Hong Kong Ballet and other concerned members of the art community to come to share their observations."

Oscar Ho Hing-kay, professor of cultural management at Chinese University, asked the Hong Kong Ballet to "come clean" at the upcoming meeting.

"There is no reason for it not to attend the meeting, because it is a publicly funded body. If it still fails to provide an explanation on the issue, it is really irresponsible," Ho said.

Hong Kong Ballet did not respond to the Post's inquiries yesterday about whether it would attend the meeting.


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This article is now closed to comments

It was really dumb to censor the bit about the Cultural Revolution from this production. This gives HK a really bad international image simply because nobody wants to hurt the feelings of Beijing. How is this not a violation of the Basic Law's promise of free speech and expression?
Agreed, but what's more revealing is that it shows who really is in control.
HK is a SAR, people should have the rights to voice their opinions whether positive or negative about their Government.
But as we have seen from our Government's action over the last year, transparency is apparently not our forte anymore.
"Agreed, but what's more revealing is that it shows who really is in control."

I find it hard to believe that Beijing is micromanaging on what should be cut from an award winning ballet in Hong Kong, a territory which has guaranteed freedom of speech that has been historically upheld for the most part.

Doesn't Beijing and Beijing's liaison office chief Zhang Xiaoming have better things to do? There's a consensus on the mainland that the Cultural Revolution was a massive failure anyway. Sorry you don't like to see it thrown in your face in HK, but tough, HK has guaranteed freedoms of speech. If you try to suppress artistic expression, then you're simply going to create a controversial situation for the media to report on freely since they will not yield to you unlike media in the mainland.
Also apparently the Hong Kong Ballet is directly funded by the Home Affairs Bureau. The Home Affairs Bureau is probably responsible for the meddling, especially since it's run by Tsang Tak-shing. Tsang Tak-shing is not nearly as pragmatic as his younger brother Jasper unfortunately.

It wouldn't surprise me if the Hong Kong Ballet was threatened by the Home Affairs Bureau with having their funding pulled if they did not comply. Maybe a judicial review is in order?


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