The highly charged political atmosphere in China in light of the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) 18th National Congress, which opened on Thursday, has allegedly caused a number of cultural and arts events to take a back seat.
The performance by Taiwan’s National Symphony Orchestra at the National Center for the Performing Arts in Beijing on Wednesday was reportedly affected, with its second encore piece — originally designated as renowned Taiwanese composer Tyzen Hsiao’s (蕭泰然) The Angel from Formosa (福爾摩沙的天使) — suddenly changed to a composition by Antonin Dvorak due to Chinese Minister of Culture Cai Wu (蔡武) and Taiwan Affairs Office Minister Wang Yi’s (王毅) attendance at the concert.
Hsiao is a Taiwanese pianist, composer and conductor. Born in Kaohsiung City in 1938, Hsiao was prominent in international orchestral music circles in his early career, but was blacklisted and seen as pro-Taiwanese independence by the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) during the Martial Law period for basing many of his compositions on Taiwanese folk songs.
Speculation in arts and humanities circles across the Taiwan Strait is that the alleged encore switch had been due to political reasons.
However, Hsiao’s friend, Chuang Chuan-hsien (莊傳賢) made a statement in Taiwan, saying that: “He [Hsiao] had no comment. It is their country, they can do whatever they want.”
According to Chuang, the Chinese had stepped up implementation of its “United Front” rhetoric by asking Hsiao for his personal data to include him as an “Exceptional Chinese Artist.”
Hsiao declined the offer, saying he is Taiwanese and not Chinese, Chuang said.
The orchestra’s executive director, Chiu Yuan (邱瑗), denied the performance list had been changed, adding that the encore performance depended on audience reaction to the concert.
“There were fewer Taiwanese businesspeople at the Beijing concert, so we decided to stop at the first encore piece,” Chiu said.
The disappearance of the second encore piece is all the more glaring when contrasted with the message on the orchestra’s Facebook page last Saturday after its Shanghai performance, stating: “All rose and applauded the performance of Tyzen Hsiao’s The Angel from Formosa and someone even shouted from the audience stands: ‘Go, Taiwan Philharmonic!’”
It seems the program change in Beijing was not an isolated incident for Taiwanese artists performing in China.
Taiwanese theater and film director and curator Yen Hung-ya (閻鴻亞), known by his pseudonym Hung Hung (鴻鴻), posted a quote by renowned artist Yao Jui-chung (姚瑞中) on his Facebook page on Saturday last week: “I was originally going to Huang Shan (黃山) to attend the Photo Fest, but the best Photo Fest in China was canceled the day before it started due to the 18th Party Congress. Many in the Chinese arts and humanities circles feel furious.”
Yen responded by saying: “A government that cannot look its people in the eye cannot hold out for very long. Let the jasmine, lily, and the Potentilla fruticosa flowers bloom from the Tibetan Plateu to the South China Sea.”
The reference to the jasmine flower refers to the “Jasmine Revolution” that swept the Arab world starting on Dec. 18, 2010. The lily flower may be a reference to the Wild Lily Student Movement (野百合學運) that was launched in Taiwan in 1990 in a bid to force government leaders to advance political reforms. The Potentilla fruiticosa is the official flower of Lhasa, and may refer to continued calls for an independent Tibet.
Yen perhaps feels that some Taiwanese arts and humanities group abase themselves to perform in China, because he also commented on Facebook: “Those artists who do not stand side by side with their Chinese counterparts, but instead pander to the Chinese government, have shamed the freedom of creativity fought for with the blood and sweat of Taiwan’s many forebears.”