Beijing (dpa) – In Beijing’s main entertainment district, few people spending a recent afternoon shopping and snacking were able to name more than a few currently active Hong Kong actors or singers. Most could only name Hong Kong stars popular back in the 1990s.
Hundreds of thousands of people in Hong Kong have protested Beijing’s encroachment on the semi-independent city’s freedoms over the past several years, but people in mainland China are generally uninterested.
Heavy censorship of political news from Hong Kong may be a factor, along with the real risk of getting arrested for speaking out in support of protesters.
But, in its heyday, Hong Kong produced movies, television shows and pop hits that were wildly popular on the mainland. Most mainland residents do not speak the Cantonese dialect, but many learned lyrics to Hong Kong songs in order to sing along.
With those glory days over, Hong Kong’s cultural influence is also waning on the mainland.
“I think Hong Kong artists are a lot less influential than before. After all, who would watch Hong Kong TV series when there are American TV shows available?” asked Xue Cheng, 35, a psychotherapist who lives in the eastern Chinese city of Nanjing.
Streaming services are now affordable and widely available in China, offering a wealth of international programming with Chinese subtitles – defying Chinese government censors’ efforts to limit the influence of international entertainment.
Li Jieying, a director at Shenzhen Television in southern China, asked: “Do you still hear anything about Hong Kong popular culture? You can actually keep a tally of how many Hong Kong talents have made any impression in mainland China.”
“Most of them assimilate to the mainland entertainment market … speaking Mandarin when acting or singing,” Li told dpa.
Local Hong Kong film production has fallen from 200 movies a year in the mid-1990s to 55 movies in 2005 and 59 in 2015, according to the Hong Kong Theatres Association.
Collaborations between Hong Kong and mainland Chinese production companies are becoming more common. Those were rare when the mainland entertainment industry was less developed.
“Hong Kong talent depends on the mainland market much more than the other way around now,” Zhang Yufei, a Beijing-based documentary producer, told dpa.
Chinese companies are not just focusing on dominating in Asia. In November, China’s Wanda Group continued its shopping spree in Hollywood by taking over US production company Dick Clark Productions for “approximately 1 billion” dollars.
Wanda Group is the world’s biggest private property developer and owner as well as China’s largest cinema operator.
In September, Wanda and Sony Pictures Entertainment announced they would team to market Sony’s films in China. Earlier this year, Wanda purchased American movie producer Legendary Entertainment for about 3.5 billion dollars, which was paid in cash.
Meanwhile, Chinese citizens are complaining on domestic social media sites about pro-independence rallies in Hong Kong.
“What is wrong with Hong Kong? They were happy to reunite with China and now a lot of them want to be independent? The colour revolution in the West must have brainwashed them,” said blogger Jiang Hu.
“I hope media can cover more positive stories from Hong Kong. Now all we see is conflict and confrontation. It gives us a feeling that Hong Kong is going to be completely overthrown [by Beijing],” said blogger Ren Hu.
Pictured: Scene from Chungking Express, directed by Wong Kar-wai