Cancelled: Advertising material from the commemorative event. Photo: SuppliedBeijing: A planned concert series glorifying the life of Chairman Mao has been cancelled in Sydney and Melbourne after strong backlash within the Chinese community prompted police concern over public safety were it to go ahead.
The tribute to Mao Zedong, marking the 40th anniversary of his death, touched a raw nerve among many Chinese-Australians, whose families suffered under the former Communist Party’s brutal legacy, with the Cultural Revolution and Great Leap Forward contributing directly to the deaths of tens of millions.
Demonstrations had been planned for outside the Sydney and Melbourne town halls, where the concerts were to be held next week.
“The International Cultural Exchange Association’s booking at Sydney Town Hall on 6 September is not going ahead due to concerns over public and patron safety,” a spokesperson for the City of Sydney said, adding it had concerns over the “potential for civil disturbance” after consulting with NSW Police.
“The organiser’s plans for ticketing are also of concern to the City, with many tickets already having been distributed for free through community networks, with no standard controls such as numbering, bar-coding and/or counterfeit prevention and no specified conditions of entry.”
The Melbourne concert has also been cancelled by organisers.
The row has highlighted the widening divide within the local Chinese diaspora, with some seeing the Mao concerts as the culmination of an increasingly pro-Beijing tone in their community brought on by an influx of Chinese migrants and business interests in recent years.
The schism is broadly between two camps: those who migrated in the 1980s and 1990s with the spectre of the Tiananmen Square crackdown of 1989 fresh in their memories, and more recent emigres who have been enriched by China’s economic development and are emboldened by their country’s rise as a major international power.
“As Australian-Chinese, we see this trend happening as Chinese-language media in Australia become largely influenced by Chinese government with all sorts of commercial linkages; pro-China groups emerge in Sydney and Melbourne; the incoming of Confucius Institutes in our universities which have spread to high school and primary schools in the name of teaching Chinese,” Embrace Australian Values Alliance spokesman John Hugh said.
“We are not here to be against certain groups, we are here to protect our Australian values. We choose to live in this country so we need to protect our home.”
The concert organisers, the International Cultural Exchange Association Australia (ICEAA), was also behind a high-profile commemorative event last year marking the 70th anniversary of China’s war against Japan, coinciding with a massive military parade in central Beijing.
But Christina Wang, chief executive of the ICEAA, denied any links with the Chinese government and said all key organisers had been in Australia for decades. “We are artists, we just want to put on a good display of song and dance,” she told Fairfax Media.
Just as there was freedom to protest in Australia, she said, people had the right to choose whether to like Chairman Mao. She said she had filed a police report after her car was vandalised.
“We don’t want there to be a split in the Chinese community. If this does cause a divide we are willing to abandon the performances.”