Some of communist China’s most prominent rappers, many who faced threats of censorship from the regime for their individualistic music, shared a pro-Hong Kong police meme this week created by Beijing.
The meme – created by the People’s Daily, the official publication of the Chinese Communist Party – features the slogan, “I support Hong Kong police, you can hit me,” in Chinese and, “What a shame for Hong Kong,” in English text over a red background. It shifts the blame for widespread police violence against peaceful pro-democracy protesters in the city from the perpetrators to the victims.
Millions of people in Hong Kong have taken to the streets since early June following the proposition of a law that would allow the Communist Party to extradite anyone present in Hong Kong if accused of Chinese crimes. Protesters argue that the law would allow Hong Kong police to enforce China’s repressive laws on political speech and religious worship, a violation of the “One Country, Two Systems” policy China agreed to when it acquired sovereignty over Hong Kong in 1997.
Protesters have been peacefully assembling against the extradition law for nearly three months. They are also demanding the government withdraw its description of the June 12 protest in which police attacked peaceful protesters with tear gas as a “riot,” an independent inquiry into police brutality against protesters, and the right to directly elect their lawmakers.
Radii, a Chinese pop culture outlet, noted on Wednesday that several notable Chinese rappers had taken the side of the Hong Kong police over the protesters, sharing the People’s Daily meme. Vava, an acclaimed artist who rose to prominence on the reality television show The Rap of China, shared the above image on Instagram with the words “Hong Kong is part of China forever” – a stark departure from her typical posts of fashion photo shoots and clips of her music videos. Her post following the declaration of loyalty to the Communist Party was a more typical post: a selfie with a comment joking that her eyes are set so far apart “my left eye needs to take a taxi to get to the right eye.” Commenters nonetheless flooded it with statements in favor and against Hong Kong.
Vava signed a record deal with Warner Music last week.
Gai shared the post with a Chinese language hashtag reading “I also support Hong Kong police.” PG One’s comment read, “Support the Hong Kong police and resist violent atrocities! ! ! I hope everyone is safe!”
Outside of the Rap of China world, several other Chinese rappers shared anti-Hong Kong memes on their platforms. The rap group Higher Brothers posted a Chinese flag with one of its members commenting, “Once again. I’m proud I’m a Chinese.” Rapper After Journey posted the People’s Daily meme, writing, “Compatriots, remember this day, remember this moment.”
The effusive support for violent police activity against pro-democracy protesters in China flies in the face of the history of rap music, which was born from the frustrations of the American black community, particularly with police treatment of their community. Decades of rap hits have accused police officers of abuse and demanded nationwide changes in policing that place a higher value on the lives of civilians.
That history has made rap difficult to control for the Chinese state.
The Rap of China was a blockbuster hit for the Chinese streaming service iQIYI when it debuted in 2017, featuring a wide assortment of underground Chinese rappers competing for the opportunity to achieve mainstream success. At the time, hip-hop in China was heavily inspired by the genre’s origins in the United States and featured common tropes of the hardships of poverty, the thrills of wealth, personal boasts, and capitalist aspirations.
The Communist Party viewed The Rap of China as a threat, especially given that it had spent much of 2017 attempting to promote “patriotic,” government-created hip-hop songs about bureaucratic reform and resolutely promoting the goals of “Xi Jinping Thought.” China banned hip-hop and rappers with tattoos from broadcast television in January 2018.
The regime personally forced PG One to apologize after winning the competition for a 2015 song he wrote referencing cocaine and referring to a woman as a “bitch.” In his apology, he blamed “black music” and the allegedly inferior culture of black Americans for misguiding him and vowed to promote the “core values” of the Communist Party in the future.
The ban on rap music on television spooked businesses seeking to cash in on the popularity of the genre in China and has impacted the gritty appeal of The Rap of China. Now in its third season, Radii noted during audition season in March, “as far as we can tell, far fewer established rappers have shown up for the auditions, especially compared to last year.”
The outlet blamed, among other factors, the effective mainstreaming of rap music in the past two years, the birth of several Rap of China competitors, and some underground rappers’ avoidance of the spotlight to avoid becoming less “real” for the show’s decline. Regardless of which explanation seems most likely, the reality is that the Communist Party-approved 2019 version of The Rap of China is far less popular than the original. But its compliance ensured its survival.
“Unlike Western markets, in order for Chinese rappers and creators of other popular culture products to be successful, they must align the content of their creations and their public lifestyles with the values of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP),” the outlet Taiwan Insight explained. “In return, the CCP provides rappers with the necessary distributive and promotional tools to become successful and well known.”
The Hong Kong protest movement has faced extreme police violence. Last weekend, officers disguised as protesters began attacking other demonstrators, beating them and arresting them without identifying themselves as officers. Police are suspected of blinding a woman and shattering her face with a bean bag pellet; video published by the outlet Apple Daily appeared to show the pellet, an item not available outside of police anti-riot equipment stock. Police have used so much tear gas in confined spaces that journalists covering the protests have complained of coughing up blood.
Attorneys for imprisoned protesters say their clients have been mocked and forced to drink toilet water.