TAIPEI—For several breathtaking minutes in Taipei City Youth Development Office’s concert hall, dancer Weng Ziheng twirled, lept, and became standout Song Dynasty statesman and scholar Su Tungpo.
“Weng Ziheng’s interpretation of ‘Remembering Chibi’ displays Su Tungpo’s innermost qualities … such technique surpasses that of his peers,” said Ms. Su, a cultural education instructor who attended the Asian preliminary round of the seventh New Tang Dynasty International Chinese Classical Dance Competition on Aug. 1. “I’m very impressed to see such high standards from the youths.”
Weng and 44 other male and female contestants had enthralled a full house of nearly 400 in Taipei. But the dancers were until very recently headed to Hong Kong to compete and entertain over 1,200 in Hong Kong.
New Tang Dynasty Television (NTD), a Chinese language broadcaster based in New York, had to shift its dance competition to Taiwan very recently after facing stiff interference from the Hong Kong government and local communist front groups. The smooth proceedings in Taiwan, when juxtaposed with NTD’s reception in Hong Kong, casts a sharp relief on the latter Chinese territory’s declining freedoms under communist rule.
In June and July, NTD twice found itself without a competition venue in Hong Kong after signing legally-binding contracts. NTD and this newspaper are subsidiaries of the New York-based Epoch Media Group.
The first venue, Heung Yee Kuk Tower Theater, was forced to renege on its contract on June 1 because the Hong Kong government demanded use of its premises “for election reasons” on the date of the NTD competition. But the Hong Kong government had announced in the last week of July that it wasn’t requisitioning any venues for an upcoming elections, according to Xin Ling, a coordinator for the NTD dance competition.
Meanwhile, Hong Kong’s Macpherson Stadium told NTD three days later that it was pulling out over “safety reasons.” The stadium had already sold all 1,246 tickets for the dance competition on July 24. At least eight Communist front groups had gathered near the stadium and staged raucous protest in the week leading up to the competition.
Events organized by NTD and Epoch Times often face harassment and inference from groups connected to the Communist Party, likely because the media outlets provide broad coverage of human rights abuses in China and remain independent from the Chinese regime.
Lawmakers and scholars from Hong Kong and Taiwan have voiced their concerns over the cancellation of the dance competition in Hong Kong, and lament the semiautonomous Chinese city’s political situation.
Veteran Hong Kong legislator Lee Cheuk-yan told Epoch Times: “I feel that there should be no element of governmental interference in cultural exchanges or artistic performances … this dance competition has been sabotaged.”
Leung Yiu-chung, another veteran Hong Kong lawmaker, noted that the city’s police had become partial to rowdy front groups since Hong Kong leader Leung Chun-ying (no relation to Leung Yiu-chung) took office in 2012.
“Now the police don’t arrest those that should be arrested, and suppress those that shouldn’t be suppressed,” said Leung the senior lawmaker.
Taiwan Legislative Yuan member Huang Wei-cher said: “I think everyone feels that there is something odd about the pressure and suppression of such a large-scale dance competition.”
He added that the “‘One Country, Two Systems’ arrangement is, in the end, a mirage or even empty talk,” referencing the political conditions under which Hong Kong rejoined mainland China in 1997.
Zeng Jian-yuan, a board member of Taiwan’s New School for Democracy, felt that the breaking of contracts due to interference from the Hong Kong government or the Chinese regime was a sign that Hong Kong’s freedoms were being eroded, and is a cause for international concern.
“It’s really ridiculous! The contracts were already signed; in the future, who will dare to hold events in Hong Kong?” Zeng said.
“The Hong Kong people should be aware that the interference in the NTD dance competition is not an isolated incident,” he added. “Even pro-Beijing businessmen need to let the international community know the importance of preserving Hong Kong’s global reputation; all Hong Kong people are responsible for preserving Hong Kong’s honor.”
Before the second venue cancellation in Hong Kong, several United States Senators and Congressmen expressed their support for the NTD dance competition, and urged Hong Kong chief executive Leung Chun-ying to allow the event proceed unmolested.
NTD dance competition coordinator Xin Ling said that they were fortunate enough to secure the alternative venue in Taipei on short notice, and signed a contract within a day of applying.
On Aug. 1, the competition preliminary round was conducted and concluded without a hitch. Four contestants—male dancers Weng Ziheng and Zeng Dengfu, and female dancers Fan Huiyi and Shen Yuxian—qualified for the semi-finals, which will be held in October in New York.
With additional reporting by Chang Yuan-chang and Tai Te-man.