14 June 2019 | Viola Zhou | Inkstone
A Hong Kong celebrity has been compelled to declare her love for China after she “liked” an Instagram post showing protests against Beijing.
The internet attacks against her on mainland Chinese social media after she “liked” the video highlight the political tightrope that actors and other performers in Hong Kong must walk. Mainland China has overtaken the city as the main income source for many of them.
Those who have defied Beijing’s official line have been punished by boycotts and other commercial snubs, a fate that has befallen Hong Kong musicians such as Denise Ho, a vocal supporter of the city’s pro-democracy movement and the recent protests.
Many Hongkongers worry the extradition bill would erode freedoms in the former British colony, which was promised considerable autonomy from the mainland before it returned to Chinese rule in 1997.
While it may be fair game for consumers to shun brands and personalities they dislike, Beijing’s system of information control has compounded the equation.
In the mainland, state media have reported that the protests this week in Hong Kong were backed by “foreign forces” with an intention to harm China, while photos and discussions about the controversy were heavily censored.
Earlier this week, Sheh was found to have liked an Instagram post of Sunday’s huge protest, which came with the hashtag #NoChinaExtradition. It was not clear whether she sympathized with the cause.
Instagram is blocked in the mainland, but after the screenshot began to circulate on the Twitter-like Weibo, some users accused Sheh of supporting Hong Kong independence, which wasn’t at all what protesters had called for.
On Friday, Sheh said on Weibo that she liked the friend’s post accidentally.
“I was shocked when I later realized what was in the post,” she wrote. “I retracted the ‘like’ immediately. I, Sheh Sze-man, love the country and love Hong Kong!”
The seasoned actress spent most of her career starring in Hong Kong Cantonese dramas. But she recently got a new popularity boost thanks to her role in the mainland mega-hit drama Story of Yanxi Palace.
Allegations of supporting separatism could potentially ruin it all.
Supporting the Chinese government is a must for performers, online influencers and even foreign companies hoping to make it big in the increasingly lucrative mainland market.
And for those from Hong Kong and Taiwan, which have seen pro-democracy and pro-independence movements, choosing which side to take can make or break their entertainment careers.
Those who do not stand with Beijing have already paid the price.
Denise Ho, for example, has been blacklisted by Beijing for supporting Hong Kong’s pro-democracy campaign and the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader Dalai Lama.
Chinese state media called her a separatist, and nationalists boycotted companies sponsoring her. She has lost commercial sponsorships and is banned from performing in the mainland.
Most other celebrities in the Chinese-speaking world have chosen to side with the Communist Party, which has stepped up ideological controls throughout society.
On Weibo, performers frequently share official government posts celebrating the party’s achievements, patriotic holidays and China’s territorial claims.