SLATE via the Financial Times
Nixing In China
A Hong Kong opera faces censorship from Beijing.
Posted Sunday, Oct. 9, 2011, at 9:32 AM ET
For months, public structures in Hong Kong have been draped with dreary sepia-coloured banners, some as large as a small building, publicising a new opera about Sun Yat-sen, the father of the Chinese Republic, the architect of the revolution of 1911 that brought down the Manchu dynasty. But the Hong Kong premiere on October 13 of a modern opera about a historical figure had created scarcely a musical ripple in the city, whose attention was turned towards upcoming concerts by the Vienna Philharmonic and a sold-out recital by the pianist Murray Perahia.
Then, on September 30, the Beijing premiere of Dr Sun Yat-sen at Beijing’s National Centre for the Performing Arts was abruptly called off for “logistical reasons”, which pitchforked the issue on to the front pages of Hong Kong newspapers amid a plethora of conspiracy theories. The reasons mooted for the cancellation run from reported complaints by the National Council of Performing Arts in Beijing that the music was either not ready or “too modern” to be performed, to speculation that the love story of Sun and his third wife, Soong Ching-ling, who was 26 years his junior, was too racy for Beijing’s censors. Inevitably, there have also been plenty of hypotheses put forward in this technicoloured soap opera that the political content worried the cultural commissars in Beijing. Although Sun is feted in both Communist China and democratic Taiwan, his life is a minefield of sensitivities for Communist Chinese government censors – not least his support for pan-Asian co-operation with Japan, long seen as an enemy of China, his request in 1923 to the US and European governments to take over China’s provincial capitals to modernise them and his attempt towards the end of his life to curry favour with brutal Chinese warlords.
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