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Theatre in democratic Taiwan stages Hong Kong play about Tiananmen square

Tan KW
Publish date: Sat, 03 Jun 2023, 08:09 PM
Tan KW
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TAIPEI A Taiwan theatre is showcasing a Hong Kong play about Tiananmen Square to mark the 34th anniversary of the crackdown in Beijing, saying almost as much about shrinking freedoms in the former British colony as it does about the 1989 bloodshed.

Taiwan's Shinehouse theatre group, with the support of rights group Amnesty International, is putting on six performances of "35th of May" in Taipei from June 2-4. The play is about parents grieving for their son killed in Tiananmen Square.

Restrictions on dissent in Hong Kong have all but snuffed out what were once the largest vigils marking the crackdown on pro-democracy protests in Tiananmen Square, leaving cities like London, New York, Berlin and Taipei to keep the memory alive.

"It's not only talking about June 4 in 1989, it's talking about all kinds of authoritarian and totalitarian situations," Shinehouse’s director, Chung Po-yuan, told Reuters, explaining the importance of bringing the play to Taiwan.

The last time the play was shown in Hong Kong was in 2020 before the enactment of a national security law that Beijing imposed on the city later that year. It was shown online because of Covid-19 restrictions.

The theatre group that staged it, Stage 64, disbanded in 2021, citing pressure under the national security law.

The play has not been officially banned in Hong Kong but few doubt that authorities in a city where the Tiananmen crackdown has become taboo would move to block it.

An alliance of Hong Kong activists that used to organise the annual Tiananmen vigil was disbanded after the arrest of several of its leaders in 2021. Three were charged with inciting subversion and face up to 10 years in prison.

"May 35th", by playwright Candace Chong, is about a husband and wife dealing with the loss of their son who was killed when troops opened fire on democracy protesters in and around Tiananmen Square 34 years ago.

'Important platform'

Even in democratic Taiwan, which Beijing claims as its territory, actors have been nervous about taking part in the play, Chung said. Some worried about their careers or the fate of families and friends in China.

"Everyone has an invisible fear. The actors are actually quite brave," Chung said.

Some actors will use stage names and two Hong Kong actors will wear masks.

"On the one hand, we want to safeguard the freedom of performing this show, on the other, we need to ensure that everyone's safe, including families in Hong Kong," said Chiu E-ling, secretary general of Amnesty International Taiwan.

The founder of Hong Kong's Stage 64 theatre group, Lit Ming Wai, is working on an English version of "35th of May" to spread its message and keep it alive.

"After facing some difficulties in Hong Kong, now we can re-enact this story in another place," said Lit, who is now based in Britain but was visiting Taiwan to see the performance.

"Taiwan has become an important platform. Works banned in different places can be published here, everyone has the opportunity to exchange ideas," she said.

Chung, like everyone in Taiwan mindful of Beijing's vow to take the island back, by force if necessary, said the play had a simple message: "Freedom and democracy should not be taken for granted."

 


  - Reuters

 

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