There is good news for those worried that the current wave of racism, which is gusting through a number of countries, has somehow missed Hong Kong.

Homegrown racists will be delighted to see that one of their number has managed to concoct a row over the appointment of the West Kowloon Cultural District Authority’s new performing arts director. It’s a row that has brought local racists crawling out of the woodwork.

Alison Friedman. Photo: WKCD.

As ever the racists try and hide their vile views under a number of guises, in this instance they talk about cultural sensitivity, a well known code word for racial prejudice.

The problem for them is that Ms Friedman is not Chinese and her lack of a ‘correct’ racial identity turns out to be the sole grounds for objecting to her appointment.

Leading the charge against Ms Friedman is the redder than red performer Liza Wang Ming-Chuen, who claims that the new director is incapable of understanding Xiqu, a traditional form of Chinese music on the grounds, and these grounds alone, that she is not Chinese.

However Ms Friedman, who has spent a decade living in Beijing and happens to be a fluent Putonghua speaker is also internationally recognised as an expert on contemporary Chinese performing arts and has been lauded for her achievements in bringing this art form to the attention of international audiences.

Even if this were not the case, only one part of her job relates to Chinese performing arts but little details of this kind can be brushed aside by the self-righteous Ms Wang and her colleagues who demand racial purity for advocates of Chinese art in all its forms.

Liza Wang Ming-chuen performing Cantonese opera. Photo: Wikicommons.

This dismal approach to culture is unnervingly similar to the idea, now thankfully long abandoned, that black Americans could not, for example, take part in ballets because ‘negro culture’ was somehow inimical to this art form. Then, of course, there is the grim history of the Nazis banning Jews from participating in German cultural events because of the fear that they would contaminate the ‘purely Aryan’ arts.

Can someone please explain the difference between these vile historical precedents and Ms Wang’s objections to the appointment of Ms Friedman?

Like all tin pot racists Ms Wang will probably swear on a stack of Basic Laws that she is nothing of the kind and that her concerns are purely of a cultural nature.  But we’ve heard these protestations far too often in the past. Indeed her lack of self-awareness and lack of historical knowledge would be staggering were there the slightest indication that this kind of thing even bothers her.

Were Ms Wang alone in spewing out this racist bile, it could be shrugged off; however she is not alone, not least in Hong Kong’s so called cultural community where in some quarters concern over race seems to have precedence over other considerations such as ability and cultural commitment regardless of ethnicity.

The upcoming Xiqu Center at WCKD. Photo: WKCD.

Strangely, Ms Wang has not denounced the superlative Chinese pianist Li Yundi for his great interest in Chopin, the Polish composer who, confusingly for numbskulls, was an avid Francophile and spent much of his life in Majorca. Then there is ‘magic fingers’ Yuja Wang, who I had the great pleasure of listening to recently. She stands guilty of mastering the work of Ravel, who, apparently, is not even Chinese.

Some people will say why bother with lowlifes like Ms Wang? The answer is that racists should never go unchallenged because, although they thrive on the oxygen of publicity, they need to be confronted precisely because when they are not their vile views can gain currency and move from the sphere of annoying to positively dangerous.

Just in case a very small brained person thinks that a Westerner, for that is what I happen to be, has no right to talk about Chinese racism when other forms of racism are rampant in the West, let’s be absolutely clear that a justification of the unjustifiable on grounds that others are involved in unjustifiable practices is dimwitted in the extreme. But, for the avoidance of doubt, I should add that I was an active anti-racism campaigner when I lived in Britain and I can assure you that British racism is every bit as odious as other forms of racism.

Stephen Vines

Stephen Vines is a journalist, writer and broadcaster and ran companies in the food sector. He left Hong Kong with great reluctance in July 2021 following the crackdown on freedom of expression. Prior to departure he had been the host of the RTHK television current affairs programme ‘The Pulse’, a columnist for ‘Apple Daily’ and a contributor to other outlets. He continues to be a columnist for ‘HKFP’. Vines was the founding editor of 'Eastern Express' and founding publisher of 'Spike'. In London he was an editor at The Observer and in Asia has worked for international publications including, the Guardian, Daily Telegraph, BBC, Asia Times and The Independent and, during Hong Kong’s 2019/20 protests, for the Sunday Times. Vines is the author of several books, the latest being Defying the Dragon – Hong Kong and Worlds’ Biggest Dictatorship