The Dream of the Red Chamber, a ballet co-produced by the Hong Kong Ballet and German company Ballett Dortmund and choreographed by Wang Xin Peng, Artistic Director of Ballett Dortmund, is caught up in a censorship scandal involving mainland Chinese authorities in Hong Kong.
Inspired by a famous novel in the Qing Dynasty written by Cao Xueqin, the Ballet Dream of the Red Chamber, is about China's modern history. As choreographer Wang Xin Peng experienced the Cultural Revolution in China and left his country after witnessing the June 4 Tiananmen Crackdown, he has injected his personal reflections onto the Ballet. Below is a video uploaded by Ballett Dormund showing some scenes from “The Dream of the Red Chamber”.
A censored ballet scene depicting the Red Guard's campaign to destroy the Four Olds during the Cultural Revolution was removed by the Hong Kong Ballet before first night. In addition, a 12 minute background projection of a scene with Pao Yu, the main protagonist of the story, reflecting on the history of Grand View Garden or Daguanyuan, a metaphor of Chinese history in Wang's Ballet, was removed after the opening show. The projection carries images from Ming and Qing Dynasties to contemporary China and it has snapshots showing the Cultural Revolution as well. Such abrupt post-production censorship has outraged the cultural circle in Hong Kong and many believe that the Beijing government is behind the scene.
Online news commentary portal site, the House News, quoted an email reply from the Ballet Dortmund on the significance of the two censored scenes:
We are not informed of any cuts on purpose made in the production – and we haven't given permisson to do so.
We have been officially informed though that there were serious technical problems in the venue, which concerned the video and text in the performances after the opening night. We sincerely hope that these problems are being solved for further performances!
The elements of the third act are important to understand the intention of choreographer Wang Xin Peng. He wants to focus on the the relevance of the story for our present age. The third act shows Chinese history from the Emperor time up to today: The cosmic stone seeks the experience of eternal love. Since eternal is the essence of life as a whole, the stone goes through not only one human life, but through the lives of 300 years in history. This time-journey through 300 years in history from the middle kingdom up to today is shown in the 3rd act as well through videos and costumes. Without any valuation but rather as a reflection of the history of Mr. Wang's home country, this final part of his work is essential and makes it complete.
The Hong Kong Ballet denied that any political censorship was involved and insisted that the decision to change the Cultural Revolution costumes and remove the projection of 12 minutes of Chinese history was based on artistic and technical consideration.
However, an audience member who had attended the pre-opening rehearsal disclosed that the Cultural Revolution scene was included in the pre-opening show. She described what she saw to inmediahk.net on the evening of 24 October 2013, just one day before the opening [disclosure – the report at inmediahk.net is written by author of this article]:
In the rehearsal of October 24, in the latter half of the ballet performance, the background of the stage was Tiannanmen and Mao Tsedong's portrait was hanging on the wall. Some dancers dressed as Red Guards appeared on stage, they had the little red books in their hands and waved them to Mao's portrait. The next episode was “destroy the four olds”, dancers were tearing apart paintings, burning old books that represent feudalism, denouncing the capitalists etc.
Under the comment thread of the House News’ story in Facebook, Joey Kong pointed out that art groups in Hong Kong, because of the government's direct sponsorship policy, are easily manipulated by political forces:
HK ballet，以至 香港舞蹈總會，以至香港整體藝術發展資助政策：都很腐爛、很親中很紅。＜明報＞香港芭蕾舞團原由藝發局提供資助，2007年起，與其他八大藝團一同歸入民政事務局的資助之下，資助額明顯增加，例如07年藝發局資助1346萬元，08年民政局資助2491萬元，到2012年資助額為3158萬元，該年度的盈餘為833萬元。 〜「民政事務局的資助」？？曾德成 wor! 統戰部黎架！
Hong Kong Ballet and even Hong Kong Dance Federation Limited, as well as the direct sponsor policy of arts development, are very rotten, pro-Beijing government. According to Ming Pao [a local newspaper] Hong Kong Ballet was sponsored by the Hong Kong Arts Development Council (ADC). But in 2007, it was put under the direct sponsorship of Government Home Affair Bureau among 8 other performing arts groups. The funding amount has increased under the new policy. For example in 2007, ADC only funded Hong Kong Ballet HK 13,460,000 dollars [US 1,736,083 dollars], the amount was raised to 24,910,000 [US 3,212,915 dollars] in 2008 and 31,580,000 [US 4,073,219 dollars] in 2012. The company made 8,330,000 [US 1,074,411] profit last year. – “Funded by HAB”? Tsang Takshing is in charge! It is like a defacto unit of the United Front Work Department of the Chinese Communist Party.
Compelling piece, Oiwan. If I understand correctly, while there is not direct censorship of artistic works in Hong Kong, indirect censorship and political pressure through control of funding does occur. How common is this kind of pressure? Is it the norm, or the exception?