Reuters/Arthur Tsang
A very sensitive anniversary.
CANCELED

China is censoring these songs 30 years after the Tiananmen Square crackdown

By Vivienne Chow

In a year of particularly sensitive anniversaries which includes 30 years since Chinese troops cracked down on student protestors in Beijing on June 4, authorities are taking no chances.

Eagle-eyed fans recently found (link in Chinese) that one 1990 Cantopop song—the genre of Cantonese-language songs synonymous with Hong Kong’s music industry—sung by local legend Jacky Cheung called “Human’s Path” had recently been scrubbed from Chinese music stores online, including Apple Music. It remains available in the Hong Kong store.

The song cannot be found on other music streaming platforms in China. A quick search on Qian Qian Music (link in Chinese) shows that the song was removed from Cheung’s 1990 album You (Are) In My Dreams. The same happens when searching for the song on Alibaba’s Xiami Music (link in Chinese), though the song’s title is still visible in the description of the album.

“Human’s Path” was released as the theme song for the film A Chinese Ghost Story 2 (1990), a romantic fantasy set in ancient China which stars the late Hong Kong actor Leslie Cheung. Coming a year after the Beijing crackdown, some critics at the time interpreted the film as a political metaphor as the story revolved around the killing of devils by the righteous warriors, though the song itself had never been seen as particularly political.

The song’s late writer James Wong, however, once admitted (link in Chinese) that he saw it as a channel to express his feelings about the Tiananmen incident. The lyrics do not mention the event directly but they address young people’s anger and frustration through lyrics such as “the motherland is flooded with a sea of blood.”

The removal of “Human’s Path” is the latest in a string of Cantopop songs or singers that have been deemed too sensitive by the Chinese Communist Party, and erased from China. Denise Ho, one of Hong Kong’s best known singers who was at the forefront of (paywall) Hong Kong’s Umbrella Movement in 2014 and continues to be politically outspoken, is now seen as persona non grata on the mainland. Anthony Wong, who is close to Ho and also openly advocates for gay rights, has faced the same fate. Apple Music has now gone one step further by removing not just Wong’s solo music, but also music from his band Tat Ming Pair, a progressive electronic music duo founded in the 1980s that produced many songs discussing politics and LGBT issues.

However, legendary Hong Kong rock band Beyond’s classic “Boundless Ocean, Vast Skies”—seen as the de facto theme song (paywall) of the Umbrella Movement—still lives on in China’s digital music universe (link in Chinese).