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Protest in Hong Kong on June 26, 2019. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.
Protest in Hong Kong on June 26, 2019. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Three Hong Kong Arts Development Council Members Resign

Three members of the Hong Kong Arts Development Council (HKADC)—artist Chan Kam-shing, songwriter Chow Pok-yin, and theater worker Lee Indy Chun-leung—have resigned from the elected ten-member body in response to a campaign of harassment waged by Chinese state-owned media. The three, who were elected in 2016 and reconfirmed in 2019, were to remain on the board through the end of 2022. Following the June 30, 2020 enforcement in Hong Kong of China’s national security law broadly curtailing dissent, the trio, all of whom have pro-democracy ties, have been cast in the state-owned Ta Kung Pao as “troublemakers,” with Chan claiming to have been followed by members of that newspaper’s staff, and having had his address published in its pages.

Chow, Lee, and Chan first began receiving unsolicited government attention this past March, when they publicly refuted politician Eunice Yung Hoi-yan’s assertion that works in the M+ museum’s Uli Sigg Collection— specifically Ai Weiwei’s 1995–2003 “Study of Perspective” series, which features the artist’s middle finger foregrounding well-known global institutions and landmarks, including Beijing’s Tiananmen Square—promoted hatred of the Chinese government. Hong Kong chief Carrie Lam placed the arts sector under scrutiny on March 17; weeks later, M+ announced that they would not display the series at the museum’s June opening.

On August 2, singer Anthony Wong was arrested by Hong Kong’s Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) on charges stemming from a two-song performance he gave at a 2018 rally for the pro-democracy politician Au Nok-hin. Officials contend that Wong’s performance was in violation of a law prohibiting the offering of food, drink, or entertainment in an attempt to influence voters. On August 3, Ta Kung Pao characterized Wong, Chan, Chow, and Lee as connected, owing to the participation of all four in a May 2020 press conference at which performers and artists banded together to speak against the national security law. On August 5, the charges against Wong were dropped and he was released.

The departing board members have said that they are leaving not only out of concern for their own safety, as Lee and Chow explained to The Stand News, but because they fear their continued affiliation with HKADC will reflect badly on the organization, which has already suffered state-media condemnation for its funding of a 2020 documentary focusing on pro-democracy protests at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University.

The departures of the three members come as pro-democracy newspapers are shutting down (Apple Daily) or moving away (Initium Media, to Singapore), and as artists are fleeing to Taiwan, taking advantage of the country’s Gold Card program for those in the creative field. More than 120 people have been arrested for violating the national security law since its hotly protested enforcement went into effect in June 2020. Though a chilling of the Hong Kong arts scene seems all but certain should the rule continue to be implemented, global auction house Christie’s recently announced a massive new Asia headquarters in the city-state, with Asia Pacific president Francis Belin telling Reuters, “Nothing has dented the confidence here.”

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