And the band played on

China is the current 'go to' destination for classical musicians as it combines a 'super tiger' economy with a market of 1.8 billion people. The latest classical ensemble to travel there is the BBC National Orchestra of Wales (BBC NOW) with Chinese-American conductor Xian Zhang. Their tour starts on December 15 with two concerts in Beijing followed by appearances in Changsha, Wuhan, and finally Shenzhen. The classical PR machine is spinning at maximum revs, so I thought I would join in with some background on the cities hosting the BBC NOW tour.

Beijing - As proof that classical music is now an irony free zone, Xian Zhang and the BBC NOW have chosen Beijing for a performance of Shostakovich's Fifth Symphony, a work the composer subtitled 'A Soviet Artist’s Response To Justified Criticism'. In July 2015 a nationwide police operation targeted Chinese rights attorneys, law firms and dissidents. More than 300 legal personnel involved in human rights actions were detained and questioned in the crackdown. Among the law firms raided was Fengrui in Beijing where staff were detained. Fengrui was a partnership of more than 60 lawyers working on 'sensitive' cases including the the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement, and dissident artist Ai Weiwei. An amendments to the Chinese Ministry of Justice's 'Administrative Measures for Law Firms' came into effect on Jan. 1, 2016 specifically targeting lawyers handling rights abuse cases. In 2018 officials at the Beijing Municipal Justice Bureau, which overseas the legal profession, revoked Fengrui's license to practice law and, as a result, the law firm has now ceased to exist. The forced closure of Fengrui is just one example of China's despotic attitude towards human rights. A recent overview by respected independent monitor Freedom House summed up this attitude as follows:
'China’s authoritarian regime has become increasingly repressive in recent years. The ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is tightening its control over the media, online speech, religious groups, and civil society associations while undermining already modest rule-of-law reforms. The CCP leader and state president, Xi Jinping, is consolidating personal power to a degree not seen in China for decades. The country’s budding civil society and human rights movements have struggled amid a multiyear crackdown, but continue to seek avenues for protecting basic rights and sharing uncensored information, at times scoring minor victories'.

Changsha - In November 2017 a court in Changsha sentenced Jiang Tianyong, a prominent civil rights lawyer whose clients include many activists, to two years in prison. The court proceedings were denounced as political theatre by critics of the Chinese authorities and described as a 'travesty' trial in the Guardian story seen above. Human rights advocates claimed any admission of guilt was likely to have been coerced. A researcher representing Chinese Human Rights Defenders commented:
'Today’s guilty verdict is the final act in this carefully managed play. Chinese authorities subjected Jiang to a litany of due process violations, including being forcibly disappeared and denied access to a lawyer and he was likely tortured to confess'.

Wuhan - In September this year the Association for the Defense of Human Rights and Religious Freedom reported that police in Wuhan beat and detained protesters at a demonstration against the proposed siting of an electricity sub-station in a residential area. The report states that an unknown number of protesters were detained and that there were many injuries.

Shenzhen - Classical music is fixated on digital technologies; so it appropriate the BBC NOW and Xian Zhang end their tour in Shenzhen where giant Chinese corporation Foxconn manufactures Apple iPhones. In 2010 working conditions at the Shenzhen plant prompted 14 confirmed suicides among Foxconn workers. In July 2018 Amnesty International reported that 30 workers had been detained for peacefully protesting in support of an attempt to form a trade union at another technology factory in Shenzhen. An Amnesty spokesperson commented:
'The charges against many of those detained by police are nothing more than an attempt to restrict their rights of freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association. All those involved in the protest should be released immediately and unconditionally unless there is evidence that internationally recognized crimes were committed'.

Would a refusal by the BBC NOW musicians to tour China make any difference to China's lamentable human rights policies? No, of course not. But that should not stop a solitary voice pointing out that classical music's access to a market of 1.8 billion people comes at a price that makes the possible humanitarian cost of Brexit look insignificant.

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Pliable said…
And still the band plays on -
mathias broucek said…
Apparently, the artistic community considers a totalitarian,oppressive country (with money) but is fine to point the finger at Trump....
Pliable said…
Yes indeed Mathias. The root of the problem is that only three people are concerned about classical music snuggling up to China, you, Lyle and me. Classical music's biggest problem is that no one cares -
This is interesting - had no idea It was brewing - thinking my Tibetan friends will be heartened their cause hasn't been completely forgotten - though sadly the first few pages searching for this story include zero US publications - Tibet is no longer "trending" I guess:

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