Censoring China's True Culture
Part Four in a Series
Joe Wang thought on Friday night that the Chinese New Year show he helped organize at Ottawa's National Arts Centre had been a resounding success.
A sell-out crowd of more than 2,300 took in the event, and the response was overwhelming. Video footage shows departing audience members with beaming faces offering gushing reviews. They raved about the costumes, the dance, the music, and the display of China's ancient culture and traditional values.
"It was the most extraordinary cultural show I've ever seen and experienced," said Cyril Dabydeen, a renowned writer and former Governor General Literary Prize juror. "I have a greater appreciation of Chinese culture than ever before even though I studied Chinese history for many years." Ottawa Mayor Larry O'Brien said he'd "never been treated to this level of sophisticated entertainment," though he'd visited China in the past.
Wang, president of New Tang Dynasty Television Canada, which hosted the event, said the network was pleased to have drawn more than 200 for a VIP reception before the show.
Wang said the network had not received a single complaint.
But three days later, staff at the Chinese embassy in Ottawa changed that. In an email sent to a reporter at The Ottawa Citizen , a large Ottawa daily and a sponsor of the event, the embassy blasted the show and issued a warning to Canadian officials who had attended.
The embassy said the show's goal was to "spread rumours, sabotage China's relations with relevant countries and to engage in anti-China activities." It said the Chinese regime was against "the participation in the 'New Year Spectacular' by the officials of any country in any form."
Tuesday, the embassy's official condemnation of the show was covered in a story on the Citizen 's front page.
Wang says the statement is just one part of a coordinated attack on the production by the Chinese Communist regime since NTDTV began hosting the events in 2004.
In a letter dated Jan. 4, 2004, the Chinese consulate in Toronto urged Toronto City Councillor Michael Walker not to attend the inaugural New Year show.
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"Attack on Cultural Show Aims at Network" and
"Chinese Regime Threatens Performing Artists"
"We understand that New Tang Dynasty Television station is going to hold a gala on Jan. 10, 2004. You may have received an invitation to the gala or been asked to send a letter of congratulations to this event," the letter said.
Following a rash of denunciations of NTDTV, the letter closed, "We hope that you will handle this invitation with great caution and we would appreciate your understanding of our concerns on this matter."
Similar letters have been received by other officials and by performers.
Wang says it is all because of the station's unabashed coverage of what is deemed 'sensitive' news in China, most notably the regime's persecution of the Falun Gong meditation discipline.
NTDTV was founded in 2001 by overseas Chinese in the United States as an alternative to China's state-run television networks, which are heavily censored.
NTDTV's stated purpose includes to "provide viewers with accurate information" and "foster understanding between Chinese and Western societies" while "contribut[ing] to pluralism and free flow of information in Chinese-language media."
But its candid coverage of off-limits topics has irked Chinese rulers. Although officials have attempted to block the network's broadcasts in China, it is believed that millions of Chinese citizens still view the television station with satellites purchased on the black market.
NTDTV owns claim to being the first television network in the world to report on the outbreak of SARS in China, weeks before it was even acknowledged by authorities.
The network also regularly delves into issues of corruption in China and hosts popular dissidents on its talk shows.
One of its programs, "Zooming In," was awarded best investigative or in-depth broadcast by New America Media in November for a report on the censorship of the internet in China. The Washington Post described the show as being "known for not shying away from tough, controversial issues."
What has earned NTDTV the most wrath, however, has been its coverage of the ongoing persecution of Falun Gong by the regime in China, including reports by two Canadian investigators earlier this year that the Chinese Communist regime has been killing Falun Gong practitioners and selling their organs in a lucrative organ trade that includes Western recipients.
In a Sept. 2005 statement, media watchdog Reporters Without Borders said the Chinese regime had pressured the network's satellite providers not to carry the NTDTV signal. Eventually, a deal was struck to secure broadcast of NTDTV on Eutelsat's W5 satellite, which can be received in China, but only after months of negotiations with the European company.
"The international campaign in support of NTDTV has not been in vain," the statement said. "This TV station has the merit of offering alternative news to the Chinese people and its disappearance from the Chinese media landscape would have been a real loss for free media."
But other times, the station has not been so successful. In Jan. 2005, the Chinese embassy revoked visas that had originally been granted to two NTDTV reporters to join Prime Minister Paul Martin on his Asia trip, which included a stop in China. The move angered Martin, who protested but to no avail.
Employees at NTDTV's Toronto office have had their tires slashed, and the office has been vandalized on numerous occasions. The office was also quarantined on multiple occasions when letters containing a suspicious white substance were sent to executives of the station. The station's staff believe the Chinese consulate is responsible.
Wang says the station has faced constant interference as it tries to grow its New Year Spectacular event.
This year's show includes depictions of the Chinese heroine Mulan, loyal Song Dynasty general Yue Fei, and traditional Chinese dance and music. It also includes an artistic portrayal of a Falun Gong practitioner being beaten and killed by police in China. The practitioner ascends to the sky after being killed, whereas the policemen who beat her face retribution.
But despite the pressure to fall into the Communist Party's line, NTDTV has continued to expand its annual Spectacular. Friday's show was the first in Ottawa, one of four Canadian stops, which also include Vancouver, Montreal, and four shows in Toronto this Friday and Saturday. In all, the Spectacular will play in 28 cities on four continents in 2007. Most shows so far have sold out.
"Our growing audience speaks for itself," Wang said. "People are hungry for a Chinese New Year show that both showcases the beautiful traditional culture and is not afraid to say what is really happening today in China."