What did Lang Lang Do Wrong?

Jun 04, 2011
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Chinese netizens have lambasted the China-born pianist for refusing to play a piece for the victims of the 1989 Tiananmen uprising. Are they justified?

(Ed's note: Lang Lang had initially agreed to play “Candle in the Wind”, but changed his mind, after the audience member making the request said it was for the victims of June 4.)

922 Pianist Lang Lang at the 2010 World Economic Forum in Davo (Photo: World Economic Forum at Flickr)

In England, a man called Guo unsuccessfully requested for the pianist Lang Lang to play a piece of music for the victims of June 4. On the Internet, many criticised Lang Lang.

It's very strange. Why must Lang Lang play?

He was a concert. Could he have fulfilled the request of an ordinary person?

What does it signify, if he didn’t play?

He didn't play it in public, but who is to say he would not do it in private, in his mind, or in his heart?

Because he didn't grant the request, is it enough to say that he is abiding by and supporting totalitarianism?

Everyone has his or her reason for remembering June 4. Similarly everyone has his reason not to remember June 4, or to mark it in a different way.

Not showing it or because the timing or place is inappropriate, does not mean that he is taking the official stance on the matter.

Maybe he remembers it in his heart, but as a public figure, because he has too much burden, he could not play;

or maybe he lacks awareness about June 4;

or maybe he simply doesn't care;

If any of that is true, they can say perhaps he is ignorant, but they cannot accuse him of betraying his conscience.


You have many friends who are similarly unmoved about June 4, but the furthest you will go is accuse them of political apathy, and would never accuse them of surrendering to authoritarianism, or being without a conscience. The only difference between them and Lang Lang is that the latter is a world renowned concert pianist. So why should he be so condemned?

He doesn't have to account for it to anyone, or make an official statement about it.

There will be people, who will think that because of an individual's identity, he must be like themselves, and care about the things that are most important to them. They neglect that precisely because of the difference in their identities, they will have different ways of dealing with things.

About June 4, Lang Lang can have his own opinions and a way of expression that he considers appropriate. He doesn't have to account for it to anyone, or make an official statement about it. It is dangerous to appoint someone as a role model, when one knows nothing of that person, apart from his fame.

In your anonymity, you can of course wax lyrical, but these public figures have much at stake, so of course they have to be cautious. No one has the right to demand for another person to make a self-sacrifice.

It is good enough that artists do not build walls for or add bricks to authoritarianism.

The fate of a public figure is not only that of a warrior or a traitor.

Unless one day Lang Lang comes out in public and makes a case for the massacre, or slavishly pledges loyalty to perverse arguments, then this will be criminal. Otherwise with regards to this matter, I do not know what Lang Lang did wrong.

There is no need to stir up emotions with this.


This post was originally published on 義憤填櫻 - 嚴櫻 (1982-2010) in June 2011.