Fri, Apr 11, 2014 - Page 11 News List

Live Wire: How would the cross-strait service trade agreement impact live music?

By David Frazier  /  Contributing reporter

Tens of thousands of revelers descended on Kenting last weekend for Spring Scream.

Photo: TT and courtesy of Ying wei-min

Music venues are one sector that would be opened to Chinese investment by passage of the trade pact, and with concerts, parties and events at a virtual standstill for the past three weeks as both promoters and the youth that form their main audiences were camped out around the Legislature, this came up for discussion and scrutiny. There are serious concerns that Chinese ownership — even part ownership — of music venues would result in censorship in Taiwan.

For Taiwan’s pop musicians, Chinese censorship is already a reality. China regularly punishes Taiwan’s top pop stars with performance bans, radio bans, online attacks meant to destroy an artist’s fan base and other means of control. The crimes that trigger these bans range from singing Taiwan’s national anthem in public (as A-Mei (阿妹) famously did more than a decade ago — much to the chagrin of Chinese authorities) to Facebook posts that even vaguely displease China’s government.

Speaking on a stage outside the Legislature on March 25, singer Ying Wei-min (應蔚民) addressed this issue head on, saying, “If the commercial situation is affected by political factors, how is it that independent music will not also be affected? It most definitely will be, and even more seriously. ”

Ying became famous after playing a major role in the hit film Cape No. 7 (海角七號), and has been performing for nearly two decades as leader of an indie band called The Clippers (夾子電動樂隊). He spends one or two weeks each year performing in China, and has seen Chinese musician friends subjected to police surveillance or banned from public performance for criticizing the government.

Ying once posted one of his own performances on China’s biggest streaming video Web site, Tudou, but “within 10 minutes it was taken down, because the content did not accord with the norms of a caring society,” he said.

The cross-strait service trade pact, among its three provisions for opening up the entertainment industry, would allow Chinese investors to buy up to 49 percent of music performance venues or theaters for live performances. Though Chinese could not own a controlling interest in these venues, Ying argues that this level of ownership would have dire political consequences, as Chinese shareholders would be able to influence content.

Hypothetically speaking, if a Taiwanese singer supported Tibetan freedoms, the Dalai Lama, Taiwanese independence or was critical of China — and a huge number of indie musicians in Taiwan do — Chinese investors could tell their Taiwanese counterparts that allowing such artists to perform would have adverse effects on business. If the Taiwanese live house is connected to other music venues in China, this threat has real teeth, especially if the venues in China earned most of this hypothetical group’s income. The effect would be censorship of free speech in Taiwan’s theater and music circles.

Given that Taiwan’s pop music industry has completely caved in to the Chinese Communist Party, the scenario is not very far-fetched. Adding to Taiwan’s vulnerability would be its small market size. There are really only two live houses of commercial significance in all of Taiwan, The Wall and Legacy. Control of one major venue, would have far reaching effects.

“We can see Mayday and some Taiwanese singers have been banned in China for supporting the protests against the services trade agreement,” said Ying. “So to this I must say, as an artist or singer or performer in Taiwan’s music circles, this result tells us something very simple. It tells us that there can be no free trade without political repercussions. So in any cooperation with China, we absolutely must remember this.”

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