Why a Hong Kong Star Is Throwing Away His Canadian Citizenship

As China’s power keeps growing, stars are under pressure to prove their loyalty.
September 7, 2021, 10:54am
Nicholas Tse Hong Kong celebrity
Nicholas Tse says he is relinquishing his Canadian citizenship, as Chinese pop stars face criticism for holding foreign passports. Photo: Li Buluan / Imaginechina via AP

Hong Kong star Nicholas Tse announced he is relinquishing his Canadian citizenship, as  rising nationalism and a government crackdown on the entertainment industry fuel criticism of Chinese pop stars who hold foreign citizenships.

Tse, a singer-actor and celebrity chef, told the Chinese state broadcaster CCTV that he felt uncomfortable seeing comments calling him a Canadian after his recent action film Raging Fire became a hit in China. 

Advertisement

“I was born in Hong Kong, so I have always been a Chinese person,” the 41-year-old said in the program broadcast on Sunday. “Actually, I’m in the application process of relinquishing my Canadian nationality.”

Tse moved to Canada with his family at the age of eight, but his entertainment career took off in Hong Kong, where he released hit songs and acted in award-winning movies. He has in recent years won legions of younger fans in mainland China by appearing as a judge in the talent show Voice of China and hosting the food travelogue Chef Nic.

“No matter if it’s food, music or action films, I indeed feel I have the will and the responsibility to bring to the world these great things from our homeland,” he said in the CCTV interview. 

China does not recognize dual citizenship. In the former British colony of Hong Kong, many people hold multiple citizenships, although the government has said those born in the city would be treated as Chinese nationals.

In mainland China, many rich people, including pop stars, have also obtained foreign citizenship for themselves or their children, which gives them options to live, study or invest in developed societies with greater civil liberties. With rising nationalism, celebrity emigrants profiting from the Chinese market are expected to toe the Communist Party line or risk being ostracized.

Advertisement

In recent months, the government has stepped up cracking down on what it deems as “chaos” in the entertainment industry, such as pop stars’ perceived moral decadence and their excessively high incomes. Celebrities have had their online presence erased after they were accused of sexual abuse, tax evasion, or simply expressing political opinions unacceptable to the Chinese government.

While no rule on the nationality of pop stars has been made public, some celebrities have relinquished foreign citizenships or publicly stated their Chinese nationality to demonstrate their political loyalty. 

Chen Feiyu, an actor and son of famous director Chen Kaige, triggered controversy when he starred in a highly-anticipated drama adapted from a boys’ love novel. In July, Chen said he had renounced his U.S. citizenship and become a Chinese national. His studio said in a statement that Chen had always loved China and would contribute to the “great motherland.”

The drama Chen starred in has no release date yet. The Communist Party’s propaganda department this month criticized boys’ love dramas, despite being subtle, for allegedly misleading the Chinese youth, signaling its tightening control over the genre.

Internet users have made lists of other celebrities believed to have foreign citizenships, including Mulan star Liu Yifei, martial arts actor Jet Li, and Taiwanese-American singer Leehom Wang. “Mulan is a Chinese national heroine. How come an American is playing her?” said a recent comment on the microblogging site Weibo. 

Stars who took the step to give up their foreign passports have won praises from online commentators. Following Tse’s announcement, internet users have speculated if more celebrities would follow suit as China becomes more powerful. 

But not everyone is convinced or pleased. Some commentators said Tse should have renounced his Canadian citizenship earlier if he really loved China. 

In Tse’s home city Hong Kong, where Beijing’s crackdown on the pro-democracy movement has fuelled discontent with the Communist Party’s growing influence, his decision has prompted a wave of ridicule from democracy supporters. Many people have even accused Tse of kowtowing to the party in order to make money in mainland China.

Follow Viola Zhou on Twitter.