Former Tiananmen leader Wang Dan joins growing outcry over Donnie Yen Oscars invite

Tens of thousands sign a petition calling on the awards organizers to uninvite him over his support for Beijing.
By Cheryl Tung for RFA Cantonese and Kai Di for RFA Mandarin
2023.03.07
Former Tiananmen leader Wang Dan joins growing outcry over Donnie Yen Oscars invite In a magazine interview, actor Donnie Yen said of the 2019 Hong Kong protest movement: “It wasn’t a protest, okay, it was a riot.”
Credit: Reuters file photo

A former student leader of the 1989 democracy movement on Tiananmen Square has joined growing calls on the organizers of the Oscars to revoke an invitation to Hong Kong martial arts star Donnie Yen to present an award, after he took Beijing's side over the 2019 protest movement in Hong Kong.

Yen, a member of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference of non-government advisers ranging from party elders, intelligence officers and scholars to movie stars, CEOs of major companies and other celebrities, had “slandered the popular resistance movement” in Hong Kong when he called it “a riot” in a recent media interview, Wang said in a statement emailed to Radio Free Asia on Tuesday.

“Donnie Yen’s remarks ... represent a challenge to mainstream civilization and universal values,” Wang said. “He ... may be able to make a fortune in an autocratic country like China, but it would be extremely inappropriate for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to have him present an award.”

“It would trample on the concepts of freedom and democracy, and would be kowtowing to the Chinese dictatorship,” he said, calling on the Oscars organizers to revoke Yen’s invitation.

Yen told GQ Hype magazine in a recent interview after being asked about the boycott of his movies and his view of the 2019 protest movement: “It wasn’t a protest, okay, it was a riot.”

“A lot of people might not be happy for what I’m saying, but I’m speaking from my own experience,” said Yen, using very similar language to official descriptions of the protests.

Wang's comments came after tens of thousands of people signed a petition on Change.org calling on the Oscars' organizers to take a stand for “human rights and moral values, rather than support for actions that violate them.”

“Donnie Yen is a supporter of the Chinese Communist regime and has made several remarks in support of the Chinese government's policies, including supporting the implementation of the National Security Law in Hong Kong and accusing Hong Kong protesters of being rioters,” the petition text said.

“These remarks not only violate the spirit of freedom of speech but also deny the rights of the people of Hong Kong to fight for their freedom and democracy,” said the petition, which had garnered more than 68,000 signatures by 2000 GMT on Tuesday.

The decision to invite Yen to take part in the awards ceremony “shows contempt for the people of Hong Kong,” the petition said.

“We demand that the Oscars Committee reconsider this decision and cancel the invitation of Donnie Yen as a presenter for the Oscars,” it said.

ENG_CHN_OscarsDonnieYen_03072023.2.jpg
Wang Dan, a former student leader of the Tiananmen democracy movement in 1989, says “Donnie Yen’s remarks ... represent a challenge to mainstream civilization and universal values.” Credit: AFP file photo.

Many Hong Kongers started boycotting Yen’s movies over his pro-Beijing stance during the 2019 protests against the erosion of Hong Kong's promised freedoms and judicial independence that saw pitched battles between protesters armed with bricks, Molotov cocktails, catapults and other makeshift weapons against fully equipped riot police who fired huge quantities of tear gas, rubber bullets, chemically treated high-pressure water cannon and occasionally live rounds of ammunition at protesters and journalists.

Rights groups criticized the unsafe and indiscriminate use of tear gas and other forms of police violence during the months-long protest movement that left nearly two million adults suffering from post-traumatic stress symptoms and depression, according to The Lancet medical journal.

Police violence against young and unarmed protesters early in the movement brought millions onto the city’s streets and prompted the occupation of its international airport, while unarmed train passengers were attacked by armed riot police at Prince Edward MTR and by white-clad mobsters at Yuen Long MTR, who laid into passengers and protesters with rods and poles while police took 39 minutes to answer hundreds of distress calls from the scene.

Comments under the Change.org petition said Yen was not a good choice for the Oscars.

“He doesn’t stand up for freedom and democracy, which could violate the values of Oscar prizes,” user Jenny Lam wrote, while Matthew Leung said Yen was a “CCP clown” who would “contaminate the show.”

“A hypocri[te] who supports the totalitarian state to exploit people’s freedom does not deserve to be a representative of the Oscar ceremony!” added Kwok Shun Ng, while Cindy Au commented: “Against those who ... support dictatorship.”

Taiwan-based petition co-author Tong Wai Hong, who was acquitted of “rioting” charges linked to his role in the 2019 protest movement, said that what unfolded in that year couldn’t be described as “rioting.”

“For me and for a lot of other people, it was a fight against tyranny,” Tong told Radio Free Asia. “He has gotten this wrong. The Chinese Communist Party has carried on restricting our freedoms and suppressing our human rights ever since the 2019 protests.”

Tong cited the banning of documentaries and other cinematic works linked to the protests, under a draconian national security law imposed on Hong Kong by Beijing from July 1, 2020, which ushered in an ongoing crackdown on peaceful dissent and political opposition that has seen dozens of former pro-democracy lawmakers stand trial for “subversion” for taking part in a primary election to maximize their seats in the Legislative Council.

Translated by Luisetta Mudie.

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