The Théâtre Ducepe struggled to hire actors of Chinese descent for its new play, which opened in Montreal on Wednesday and deals with the Tiananmen Square massacre, because many actors feared reprisals from the Chinese government.
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It is difficult to find a more concrete example of the effects of Chinese intervention on Canadian citizens. “We don't know to what extent the Chinese regime still has a place in life [des Québécois d’origine chinoise] And influence their decisions, even if they don't live in China,” says Théâtre Ducepe David Laurin, co-director.
The latter was present during the 2020 auditions of the play chimerica, On display in Montreal for a month. Twenty Quebec actors of Chinese descent were brought in, and the play was performed in French, English and Mandarin.
«At lunchtime, we noticed that between half and a third of the cast didn't show up for auditions, something that never happens. [dans le milieu du théâtre]. I can confirm that there are some auditions in Quebec and the actors are traveling! He said magazine.
A translator on site told the director and director that some actors had already been reluctant to come to auditions for days, fearing reprisals from Beijing because of the play's subject matter (See below)
“It was this translator who made us understand that these people are in a lot of danger […] Thousands died by bringing these words to the stage and saying yes, Tiananmen, this was indeed a massacre. [comédiens] Go against what the Chinese regime wants people to know,” explains David Laurin.
A real danger
Ultimately, the six actors needed to stage the play were hired, some of whom indicated that they were willing to do so because they planned not to return to China.
“This [pendant le processus d’auditions] We understand how serious it is, and it is not a myth when talking about spying on Chinese nationals. It is very real. The average salary of an actor in Quebec is not very high. “If you refuse to audition because you feel there is a risk, that means the risk is serious,” says Mr. Laurin.
Actor Alexandre Goyette also lamented the situation on the show's microphone Because you have to wake up Thursday mornings on 98.5 FM. “It's revolting, but it's true. We talked about Chinese secret police stations located across Canada […] Asian actors in this show […]It's very brave of them.”
This fear of retaliation doesn't surprise pro-democracy activists like Benjamin Fung, a McGill cybersecurity professor and spokesperson for Action Free Hong Kong Montreal.
“I'm not surprised at all. Even in Canada, people are afraid of China. The same applies to the Hong Kong community. When we started organizing events in 2019, we had 200 participants. Today, less than ten people come. They are afraid to be photographed. [par des gens qui travaillent pour le régime chinois]”, he said.
Reached for comment, the Artists' Union said the fear of reprisals was “oversensitivity”, but pointed out that its means of action were limited as the situation involved a foreign country.
Why are they afraid?
We asked Artur Wilczynski, a former senior national security official now at the University of Ottawa, about what drives some Chinese's fear of displeasing Beijing.
K. Do actors of Chinese descent who refused to participate in the play have reason to fear reprisals?
R. A drama depicting what happened in Beijing at Tiananmen Square is really problematic for the Chinese government. He did not want this historic event to be recognized, especially by members of the Chinese diaspora. I understand why some actors want to avoid taking risks.
K. Why is the Chinese government so reactive to mentioning this historic event?
Editor's Note: Student and worker demonstrations in the spring of 1989 resulted in the deaths of thousands of Chinese.
R. This historical event proved two things: First, a section of the Chinese people is fighting against the government and for democracy. This terrifies the Communist Party, for whom the most important thing is control. However, what happened in Tiananmen Square was precisely the lack of control that led China to resort to its military. Thousands of people have been killed by their own government. The government wants to deny and hide this at any cost.
K. Does Beijing care what its nationals say and do abroad?
R. It depends. A demonstration or play commemorating the Tiananmen Square massacre is important enough to displease the government of the People's Republic of China. It wouldn't surprise me if a play with this profile would attract the interest of the Chinese government. […] There are formal and informal networks of monitoring. In this case, someone in the community would no doubt make a statement and send a message to members of the Chinese government.
K. How can a Chinese national in Canada who doesn't like Beijing respond?
R. If one wishes to return to China, the visa may be rejected. It is not possible to return to see the family, they will face negative consequences. As all aspects of life in China are controlled by government decisions, this can affect children's admissions to Chinese universities, employment opportunities, etc.
- Piece by British Lucy Kirkwood.
- Associated with the famous photograph of a man standing alone in front of a column of tanks crossing Beijing on the second day of the bloody crackdown in Tiananmen Square.
- Presented at the Duceppe Theater until February 17.
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