A free nation nurtures its society and sparks cultural influence across borders.
For almost 50 years between the end of World War II and the handover of Hong Kong to China in 1997, Hong Kong was the place in the Chinese-speaking world with the highest degree of freedom and entertainment.
The “four heavenly kings” — Jacky Cheung (張學友), Aaron Kwok (郭富城), Leon Lai (黎明) and Andy Lau (劉德華) — dominated show business.
Martial arts movies adapted from Jin Yong (金庸) novels in the 1970s, zombie movies and Jackie Chan’s (成龍) Police Story series in the 1980s, movies about kung fu master Wong Fei-hung (黃飛鴻), as well as Stephen Chow’s (周星馳) comedies and gangster films in the 1990s, created a golden era for the Hong Kong film industry.
However, since the 2000s, Hong Kong’s film industry has never been a trendsetter, maybe with the exception of the Infernal Affairs (無間道) series.
The reason for this is simple: After Hong Kong’s return to China in 1997, the territory has gradually lost its freedom and cultural competitiveness.
In the past few years, a large number of films with strong political metaphors have been produced in the territory.
The 2016 film Call of Heroes (危城) is one example: On the surface, it is a kung fu movie, but it includes implications of the situation in Hong Kong after the 2014 “Umbrella movement.”
Another example is the film My Prince Edward (金都) from last year. On the surface being a romance, it was made with the intention to insinuate Beijing’s omnipresent controls and Hong Kongers’ thirst for freedom.
On the contrary, prior to Taiwan’s democratization process in the 1990s, due to constraints applied by the then Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) government on Taiwan-themed works, the nation’s film and entertainment industries were almost completely colonized by Hong Kong artists and entertainers.
Entertainers from the territory also dominated Taiwanese events such as the Golden Horse Awards and Golden Melody Awards, leaving very few of the honors to Taiwanese artists.
Since then, Taiwan has become the nation in the Chinese-speaking world enjoying the highest degree of freedom, thanks to a push for democratization. As a result of Taiwan’s social freedoms, and its rich history and culture, the box office for its films long ago surpassed that of Hong Kong.
Meanwhile, Taiwanese artists dominate the Chinese-language music world. From Taiwanese singers Chang Hui-mei (張惠妹), Wu Bai (伍佰), Jay Chou (周杰倫) and Jam Hsiao (蕭敬騰) to rock band Mayday (五月天), the nation has produced one music superstar after another.
Despite many of them for a long time having frequently been invited to participate on Chinese reality shows or contest shows as coaches, the Chinese showbiz world has been unable to copy them and produce similar stars.
As China is a highly controlled society, and completely lacks popular political participation and freedom, it continues to be unable to bear creative fruit.
As we grieve over Hong Kong’s loss of freedom, we should cherish Taiwan’s freedom even more.
Freedom is like the air we breathe. You will only realize how precious it is once you are suffocating.
Fan Shuo-ming is a senior administrative specialist at National Chengchi University.
Translated by Eddy Chang
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