China’s Red Opera Sparks Boycotts in Australia

By Beatrice Lee
Beatrice Lee
Beatrice Lee
November 9, 2018 Updated: July 20, 2021

As soon as China’s controversial opera “Lake Honghu” arrived in Australia, it met with protesters from the local Chinese-Australian community who are concerned about the “silent invasion” of the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP’s) ideology in Australia.

Protest banners and boards calling on Australians to boycott “Lake Honghu” were on full display outside the iconic Opera House in Sydney on Nov. 4 as well as outside the Melbourne Recital Centre on Nov. 7. The two arts precincts were the selected venues for the performance of the revolutionary red opera.

Zhang Xiaogang, founder of the Australian community group Australian Values Alliance (AVA) that made up the mainstay of protesters, said he wanted to alert his fellow Australians to the “red poison” that is seeping into Western society through such CCP-funded artistic propaganda events.

“This is not an ordinary opera, but rather the Chinese Communist Party’s infiltration of Australia through propaganda that glorifies the Communist Party,” he told The Epoch Times.

To someone whose family lived through Mao Zedong’s red terror China, Zhang said, “It’s not appropriate to perform ‘Lake Honghu’ at the Sydney Opera House. Presenting this show is the same as praising Adolf Hitler.”

China’s Red Opera Sparks Boycotts in Australia
Protest banners and boards calling on Australians to boycott “Lake Honghu” were on full display outside the iconic Opera House in Sydney on Nov. 4. (Supplied)

Ms. Yang, who co-organized the protest in Sydney, was there among the protesters handing out information pamphlets about the history of Lake Honghu to passers-by.

“It is not right for a western society like Australia to allow the spread of an ideology promoting seizing power by force,” Yang said, referring to the opera’s revolutionary theme in which Mao’s murderous communist forces are depicted in a positive light. “The CCP exploits Australian democracy to export lies to Australia, rather than presenting art.”

Another protester, Grace Chen, told the Epoch Times, “After talking to us, at least two groups of Chinese audience had their tickets refunded.”

China’s Red Opera Sparks Boycotts in Australia
Pedestrians looking at the protest banners and boards calling on Australians to boycott “Lake Honghu” outside the Melbourne Recital Centre on Nov. 7. (Thoai Nguyen/The Epoch Times)

Lake Honghu: Glorifying a Dark Side of History

According to Li Yuanhua, a former associate professor in history education at Beijing’s Capital Normal University, the story that the performance describes is of the CCP establishing a Chinese Soviet Republic around the Lake Honghu region in the 1930s where it “engaged in armed separatism, intent to overthrow the Republic of China through uprisings and violent revolution.”

“The CCP led the Red Guards to spread misinformation about the ROC in the Lake Honghu area, inciting hate among the populace, with the goal of gaining support for a revolution among the people.

“The Red Guards seized land and set houses on fire, extorted money and forced ‘confessions’ using torture. They beat up and shot dead landlords and the wealthy, and raped the daughters and wives of their victims. They shouted that they would ‘spread the Red Terror’, and ‘kill off all the wealthy landlords, evil gentry, and counter-revolutionaries.’

“Wherever the Red Guards went, they left a trail of blood and corpses behind,” Li said in his op-ed.

Li believes the purpose of CCP funding red operas like “Lake Honghu” overseas is to “promote a positive image of communism and promote violent revolution.” He added, “It’s a product used to brainwash.”

Silent Invasion in the Name of ‘Cultural Exchange’

In an open letter to the NSW Minister for the Arts and the Victorian Minister for Creative Industries, AVA organizers bemoaned that the “Lake Honghu” production had been granted use of Australia’s most respected arts venues to present revolutionary songs that glorify the communist Red Guards.

“The Red Army killed massively during the long march especially targeting the land-owners, many of whom were innocent peasants. The killings remind us of the brutal acts of the Nazi Germany that targeted Jews for massacre,” the letter read.

“The ‘Honghu’ opera is not about freedom or hope; it is more about promoting class struggle and hatred, glorifying violence under communism and undermining the existing regime.”

The performances went ahead as scheduled after nearly 3,000 people signed petitions to both the NSW and Victorian ministers for the arts to “Stop the Red Opera.”

China's Red Opera Sparks Boycotts in Australia
Protest banners and boards calling on Australians to boycott “Lake Honghu” were on full display outside the iconic Opera House in Sydney on Nov. 4. (Thoai Nguyen/The Epoch Times)

South Australian Senator Cory Bernardi, leader of Australian Conservatives Party, told The Epoch Times, “The ‘Lake Honghu’ opera performance, is yet another attempt, through China’s ‘soft diplomacy’, to positively influence Australians’ view of China.”

“I have called for a royal commission into Chinese Communist Party influence in Australia but, despite overwhelming evidence, the federal government has rejected that call. I fear that China’s persuasive and insidious influence may already extend to our government benches,” Bernardi said on Nov. 5.

Clive Hamilton, a professor of public ethics at Charles Sturt University, says the CCP’s invasion of Australia is “a ‘silent invasion’ because it has been done secretly, covertly, underneath the radar.”

“So I think that any Chinese scholars who say that Beijing’s influence is really a spread of Chinese culture, that’s something we can welcome … But not if it’s Chinese Communist Party culture.

“And not if it’s the political power of the Communist Party that’s being veiled behind so-called ‘Chinese culture’ as a way of manipulating this country and the way that Beijing tries to manipulate other countries,” Hamilton told Radio Free Asia on April 24.

Epoch Times Photo
Clive Hamilton, author of “Silent Invasion,” speaks at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in “A Conversation on Chinese Influence in Australia and Beyond” in Washington on Oct. 18, 2018. (Jennifer Zeng/Epoch Times)

One Belt One Road, Culture First

Lake Honghu is presented by the Hubei Symphony Orchestra, Hubei Provincial Opera, and Dance Drama Theatre.

On Oct.14, Chinese-language Sohu News published a report on Lake Honghu’s debut in Australia.

“In recent years, the (Hubei) Provincial Performing Arts Group has adhered to the practice of ‘One Belt One Road, Culture First’ and has organized a series of classic repertoire programs. Hubei provincial Opera & Dance Drama Theatre has undertaken the main tasks,” the report read.

According to Zhang Guozuo, the former deputy director of the Theoretic Bureau in Propaganda Ministry of China and director of the National Planning Officer for Philosophy and Social Sciences, the success of the One Belt One Road (OBOR) initiative depends on “how well we publicize contemporary China’s standpoint, views, policy ideas, and strategic intentions. And all these propaganda requires culture.”

Zhang made this point in a 2017 article published on the government’s official OBOR website entitled, “Cultural soft power is the soul that runs through the ‘Belt and Road.’”

“If culture goes first, everything will be smooth and victory a breeze,” Zhang said in his final line.

John Garnaut, senior adviser to former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull who was invited to testify to a U.S. House Armed Services Committee in March 2018, said: “The Communist Party institutions, ideologies and methodologies involved are so alien to our systems that we have been having trouble seeing them let alone responding. The party has been ‘winning without fighting,’ to borrow some of its terminology.”

According to Hamilton, the CCP has long been committed to the political infiltration of Australia because “Australia is a very valuable prize for the CCP.”

“If Beijing can control Australia, they’ve won an enormous strategic advantage against the United States,” Hamilton told RFA.

China’s Red Opera Sparks Boycotts in Australia
Protesters from the local Chinese-Australian community who are concerned about the “silent invasion” of the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP’s) ideology in Australia. On Nov. 7, 2018 (Thoai Nguyen/The Epoch Times)

Safeguard Australian Values

Gao Jian, the coordinator of the Melbourne protest, said he cherishes Australia’s universal values of freedom and equal opportunity after having witnessed his family suffer persecution at the hands of the CCP. Gao’s father was a famous Guomindang Major General during the Second Sino-Japanese War. Gao emigrated to Australia more than 20 years ago from Hubei province.

“As an Australian citizen, I pledged allegiance to the Australian flag to defend Australian values,” Gao told The Epoch Times.

Gao says he is concerned to see how over the last few decades, the CCP has been openly in pushing its communist values in Australia. Now he said, fortunately “Western countries are aware of it. They are just somewhat slow to react, but they are already alert.”

But “don’t turn a blind eye,” he warned. “You’ll regret when you’re in trouble.”

Gao hopes that with international voices of support, the Chinese people will also be able to wake up to the true nature of the CCP.

Neither the NSW Minister for the Arts nor the Victorian Minister for Creative Industries responded to The Epoch Times’ requests for comment.

Beatrice Lee