Human Rights Music Festival Blacklisted in Los Angeles Chinatown

The refusal of a venue to host a music and arts festival on human rights in China has raised concerns about Chinese censorship in the United States
By Larry Ong
Larry Ong
Larry Ong
Larry Ong is a New York-based journalist with Epoch Times. He writes about China and Hong Kong. He is also a graduate of the National University of Singapore, where he read history.
May 29, 2017 Updated: June 1, 2017

A music festival that seeks to raise human rights issues in China was blocked from its original venue, a state park in Los Angeles’ Chinatown, following a dispute between the festival’s organizers and a local community leader.

George Yu, president of the Chinatown Business Improvement District, said he won’t endorse the “Blacklisted Music + Arts Festival” being held at the Los Angeles State Historic Park unless the organizers stop calling attention to Tibetan independence, environmental pollution, and forced organ harvesting in China—issues that the Chinese regime considers out of bounds for discussion

The organizers and host of the festival said that Yu is practicing discrimination by denying them use of the park unless they practice self-censorship. They also feel that the “blacklisting” of Blacklisted bears similarities to other episodes when the Chinese communist regime has interfered in overseas affairs.

‘Locked In,’ Then Locked Out

Blacklisted is “dedicated to breaking the silence on injustice and censorship, with a focus on China,” according to its official website. The festival features music acts like moe., Citizen Cope, and Talib Kweli, and also includes an outdoor market, martial arts performances, and meditation workshops.

Blacklisted will be emceed by Anastasia Lin, the reigning Miss World Canada and human rights activist, as well as Chris Chappell, the host of China Uncensored, an internet satire show that seeks to expose the Chinese Communist Party’s propaganda.

Blacklisted’s producer Nick Janicki applied for a permit with California State Parks in December, and was informed on Jan. 17 that his festival was “locked in” for July 29 at the Los Angeles State Historic Park.

But in mid-May, the department withheld issuing a permit to Janicki after he met with Chinatown community leader Yu.

During the meeting on May 12, which Janicki scheduled at the State Parks’s request, Yu first asked Janicki to take down videos on the festival’s website discussing Tibetan freedom, slave labor, environmental destruction, and other human rights issues in China. Janicki agreed and followed through with Yu’s request.

Then Yu kept insisting that “there can be no Falun Gong presence” at the festival, Janicki said in an interview. “No Falun Gong banner, no Falun Gong booth. … If there’s Falun Gong at the event, then you need to take your event elsewhere, and this meeting is over.”

Falun Gong is a practice of meditation and moral discipline that has been persecuted in its homeland of China since 1999. It is based on the principles of truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance.

Janicki told Yu that he couldn’t exclude Falun Gong because its practitioners were one of the main groups being targeted for forced organ harvesting by the Chinese regime. On May 18, Yu informed Janicki by email that his community couldn’t support an event that promoted “anti-China sentiments.” The parks department followed up in stating that they won’t be “moving forward” with Blacklisted.

“This is a clear case of discrimination by the head of the Chinatown Business Improvement District,” said Kate Vereshaka, Blacklisted’s artistic director. “It’s very concerning that Chinatown can be given authority over what United States citizens can or can’t do in a public place.”

Censorship Abroad

The Blacklisted organizers also found troubling what they suspect to be a hint of the Chinese regime’s efforts to influence overseas Chinese communities.

Janicki recalled Yu saying during their May 12 meeting that he had received “calls from China.”

But Yu denied receiving such calls in a telephone interview with China Uncensored producer Matt Gnaizda. “We are a business improvement district. We have zero relationship with the Chinese government. Our responsibility is to our community,” Yu told Gnaizda.

Attempts by The Epoch Times to reach Yu on his cell phone, and via email to the Chinatown Business Improvement District, were unsuccessful.

Chappell of China Uncensored said that the manner in which the music festival was blocked “fits the Chinese Communist Party’s pattern of exporting censorship overseas.”

Chappell added: “Sometimes censorship comes in the form of Chinese embassies or consulates directly making phone calls to stop something. Other times, it comes in the form of general Chinese community pressure to conform to the Party’s stance on Falun Gong, Tibetans, or other groups.”

The Chinese regime has long engaged in operations to infiltrate Chinese communities abroad, and sway the loyalties of the Chinese diaspora toward the regime.

For instance, the Chinese regime has long sought to influence and control messaging in Chinese media in the United States, according to a study by the Jamestown Foundation’s China Brief. The regime’s four main tactics used are directly owning the media, using economic ties as leverage, purchasing broadcast time and advertising space, and deploying agents to work in overseas media.

These overseas Chinese media would often conflate China and the Communist Party, and encourage the view that opposition to Party policies, including persecution, is tantamount to being “anti-China.” Some Chinese people living overseas, who are constantly exposed to such reporting, eventually buy into the Party line, according to Chinascope, a Washington-based think tank that specializes in translating and analyzing Communist Party documents.

It is unclear whether the Chinese regime directly or indirectly influenced the blocking of Blacklisted at the Los Angeles State Historic Park. Festival organizers are in discussions with The Reef, a convention center in downtown Los Angeles, as an alternative venue.

“We’re using our festival to shine light into the darkness, to inspire compassion, and to unite brave artists who speak the truth,” said host Anastasia Lin in a press release. “The fact that we, ourselves, are now being censored on U.S. soil shows how important this festival is.”

Chappell thinks that the efforts to bar the festival from its original venue ironically highlight the need for such an event.

“By trying to stop the Blacklisted festival, they’ve now given it great publicity,” he said.

Larry Ong
Larry Ong
Larry Ong is a New York-based journalist with Epoch Times. He writes about China and Hong Kong. He is also a graduate of the National University of Singapore, where he read history.