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Anthony Wong Yiu Ming (left) and Denise Ho Wan-see in white t-shirts, holding mics and addressing an audience
Anthony Wong Yiu Ming (left) seen here with fellow Hong Kong singer Denise Ho Wan-see at a protest in 2019Image: Alvin Chan/SOPA/Zuma/picture alliance

Anthony Wong: Singing the wrong song

Brenda Haas
August 2, 2021

Beijing has accused the pop star of misconduct after he sang at a 2018 rally for a pro-democracy candidate. But Wong is a seasoned and undaunted dissident.


Hong Kong's Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) has charged singer and pro-democracy activist Anthony Wong Yiu-ming with "corrupt conduct" for his live performances on a campaign trail during the Legislative Council by-elections back in 2018.

The anti-graft agency said in a statement that Wong had provided "entertainment to induce others to vote" for pro-democracy candidate Au Nok-hin, adding Wong had breached the Elections Corrupt and Illegal Conduct Ordinance, Reuters news agency reported.

If convicted, the 59-year-old could be jailed for up to seven years and fined HK$500,000 ($64,000, € 53,847), the ordinance says. Au, who went on to win the election, has also been charged. Both men are due to appear in court on Thursday. 

Songs about choices and difficult questions

A video of Wong's 2018 performance that was posted on Au's Facebook page shows the former introducing a song entitled "A forbidden fruit per day" by saying, "This song is about choice, whether society has a choice."

Renowned for his poignant lyrics, Wong was a strong supporter of Hong Kong's 2014 pro-democracy "Umbrella Movement" and the 2019 anti-China protests. As only the second high-profile Hong Kong singer to come out as gay, he is also a vocal advocate of LGBTQ rights and founded the non-profit Big Love Alliance in 2013 to promote LGBTQ equality and freedoms. 

The popular Hong Kong singer, songwriter, actor, record producer and political activist first rose to prominence in the 1980s as one half of the Cantopop duo Tat Ming Pair, before embarking on a solo career. He would however reunite with his band partner, Tats Lau, sporadically in the following years.

For instance in May 2019, the Tat Ming Pair released the song "Memory Is A Crime" to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square pro-democracy crackdown and honor its victims.

Despite topping Hong Kong's iTunes chart, the song was immediately banned in mainland China, where discussion of the protests and the violent military crackdown is forbidden. 

Back then Wong said that the song asked difficult questions as to what might constitute a crime of remembrance and commemoration under China's authoritarian one-party communist regime.

"Holding a candlelight vigil or just remembering what happened in the past could be a crime," Wong had said during the screening of a documentary on the 1989 crackdown by local broadcaster RTHK.

"Writing an article and singing a song could be a crime. One day, anything could be a crime," Wong had said then, dressed in a white T-shirt emblazoned with the words "Down With Big Brother."

Other Hong Kong entertainers were not spared either. For instance, various music streaming services, including Apple Music, removed a song by Jackie Cheung that had also referenced the 1989 crackdown. 

The price of protest songs

However, speaking out ― or in Wong's case, singing out ― against the Chinese government has extracted a high price. 

Wong actively supported the 2014 Umbrella Movement protests by performing for and camping with the protesters. Together with other popular local singers, he performed the song "Raise the Umbrella" in support of the protests. 

Consequently, two of his performances were canceled, which eventually led to a total performing ban in mainland China. In 2017, all of Wong's music was removed from mainland Chinese streaming sites and his name blocked from mainland China's search engines. In 2019, Tat Ming Pair's music was also removed from streaming services. 

People holding up yellow umbrellas at a protest in Hong Kong
The original Umbrella Revolution of 2014 demanded free elections and other democratic reformsImage: AFP/Getty Images/A. Wallace

Undaunted, Wong remains a vocal supporter of democracy and freedom of expression in Hong Kong and also participated in the 2019–20 Hong Kong protests. 

Hong Kong's Beijing-backed government says that the pro-democracy protests threaten stability in the former British colony and that the action taken against various people is necessary to uphold the law.

Many pro-democracy advocates have been detained, jailed or forced into exile. In June, pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily shut down following the arrest of several senior editors on national security grounds.