Kimberley Chen sang her way into the hearts of millions of fans across Asia, but China’s censors want her kept quiet.
- Chinese nationalists are carrying out an online trolling campaign against Chen in China
- The lyrics contain controversial words related to China’s policies, including “re-education” in Xinjiang
- The song was soon censored on China’s internet, before Chen’s official Weibo account was taken down
The Chinese-Australian singer has been banned by Beijing, but she has no regrets about her new song, Fragile — or Glass Heart in Chinese — which has been accused of insulting China.
Her social media account on Weibo, where she has more than one million followers, has disappeared along with her albums on China’s music streaming platforms.
It comes two weeks after her new song — a Mandarin pop music collaboration with Malaysian singer-songwriter Namewee — went viral in Chinese-speaking regions across Asia.
The controversial song, which includes lyrics about breaking a fragile heart, is believed to use symbolism and metaphors to not only criticise China’s nationalists, but also mock Chinese President Xi Jinping and his policies in Xinjiang, Taiwan and Hong Kong.
Speaking with the ABC in an exclusive interview, Chen said she was overwhelmed by an online trolling campaign against her in China.
Why is the song so controversial?
While Chen and Namewee’s satirical song was recently banned in China, it topped the charts in Hong Kong and Taiwan on YouTube.
The music video for the song has received over 18 million views within two weeks, and many commented the lyrics mocked the China’s authoritarian government.
The video heavily features the colour pink, which netizens believe refers to pro-Beijing nationalists who are known as Little Pinks.
The lyrics contain controversial words related to China’s policies, including Mr Xi’s latest call for “common prosperity”, “re-education” in Xinjiang, and China’s ban on importing “pineapple” from Taiwan .
The song was soon censored on China’s internet, before Chen’s official Weibo account was taken down.
“I guess that is just a sign — that’s what happens when sensitive topics are brought up or talked about,” Chen said.
When asked if she was worried about her career and security after releasing a song touching on several politically sensitive topics, Chen said she was grateful that she was living in Taiwan.
“Although maybe one door closes, I have so many other doors that have opened,” she said.
“Everyone has a right to their own opinions. And if they choose to troll me online, I guess that’s their choice, too.
“So I feel like I just tried to look on the bright side of things. As long as you know, people don’t get hurt. I feel like that’s something that I’m okay with.”
Who is Kimberley Chen?
Growing up in Australia’s cultural capital Melbourne, Chen is a proud daughter of a Malaysian-Chinese migrant family.
She was the Young Nala in the Broadway production of Disney’s The Lion King at the Regent Theatre in Melbourne and the Shanghai Grand Theatre in Shanghai, before being selected to sing the national anthem at the AFL Grand Final in 2007.
“I’m really grateful to the childhood and the environment that Melbourne gave me,” she said.
“I remember getting out of school and rushing to my dad’s car, and he would buy me a happy meal.
“And we would go to ballet class, or a tap class. And it was just great memories.”
Chen came to be known by millions of Chinese-speaking audiences at the age of 16, after singing in a talent show on Taiwanese screens in 2010, a year after her family relocated to Taiwan.
At that time, she could barely say a sentence in Mandarin, or even count to 10.
So she spent four hours a day studying to overcome the language barrier.
“I feel like Chinese is such a beautiful language. And there are so many characters and so many [idioms] I don’t know yet. But I am on the way,” she said.
Learning Mandarin enabled her to soon establish a successful music career in Asia.
Her debut single Love You went viral in Taiwan, China, Singapore and Malaysia; it was streamed over 106 million times on YouTube alone.
“It took a long time to kind of process. I had to get used to a lot of things because I was very not ready to be an artist,” Chen said.
“I was very non celebrity-like, so that was quite funny.”
She has now released six full-length studio albums, and won more than a dozen music awards in Asia.
‘No regret’ for doing the right thing
Chen has been known for advocating for animal rights and human rights, even though she frequently travelled to China.
Her name become more widely known in the country after she joined a Chinese reality show called Produce 101 China in 2018.
Chen said it was challenging because she couldn’t speak her mind.
“I was trying to be myself, [but] it wasn’t always accepted. In some situations, it was very hard,” she said.
“I never regret speaking up for something that I believe is the right thing to do.”
As an Australian who is famous overseas but little known at home, Chen said she hoped Asian Australians could get more opportunities and representation back home.
“I hate to say this, but I feel like maybe when I was growing up, there wasn’t a lot of Asian presence in the Australian industry,” she said.
“I really hope that in the future, Australia will [provide] more opportunities for Asian actors and singers and celebrities in general.
“I feel like there’s so much talent out there. And I hope that everyone has a platform and an opportunity to express and show their talent.”