- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 30, 2019

American luxury goods purveyors, tech giants, universities, auto manufacturers, and — perhaps most infamously these days — sports leagues, are increasingly beholden to the Chinese market. Twenty percent of Apple’s sales come from China; roughly the same percentage as for Starbucks. Nearly a quarter of Intel’s revenue is generated in China. And Texas Instruments could pretty much change its name at this point: Nearly half of its sales come out of the Middle Kingdom.

China’s growing economic weight extends to more esoteric spheres as well. Take classical music: As orchestra revenues have fallen in their home markets, many have begun touring in China, a relatively new and hungry market for the genre. So the Eastman School of Music, in Rochester, New York, was not so unusual in planning a tour for a student orchestra in China later this year. Some eight student musicians would have visited eight Chinese cities over the holidays.

Then a contretemps reminiscent of the recent NBA brouhaha erupted. The People’s Republic denied entry visas to three of the group’s musicians, who are South Korean citizens. Had the banned musicians tweeted support for the Hong Kong protestors, as Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey did? No. The crime of the South Koreans was…being South Korean.

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In 2016, South Korea installed the US-owned and operated- THAAD missile system, which protects it (and the American troops stationed there) from missile attacks. Ever since then, China has been sanctioning the wrong Korea — boycotting South Korean businesses, strictly curtailing Chinese tourism to Korea (many South Koreans joke that this is hardly a punishment), and banning various Korean musicians from entering the country. Its decision to bar three classical music students from visiting China was of a piece of Beijing’s general strategy to bully its prosperous, democratic, and fall smaller neighbor.

At first, Eastman decided it would go ahead with the trip anyway. This was a disgraceful acquiescence to what was essentially a racist policy imposed by the Chinese government. Imagine an integrated group of musicians in the early part of the 20th century agreeing to tour the segregated south without its black performers. Indeed, in the 1940s, many white jazz musicians refused to play venues where black musicians were barred.

Eastman initially decided not to cancel because it “would be tremendously unfortunate to 80+ students who have been highly motivated by this opportunity,” Eastman’s Dean, Jamal Rossi, wrote in an internal email. “We know that families have altered holiday plans and have already made travel arrangements to enable their students to participate on this trip. Cancelling would likely have a negative impact on Eastman’s reputation within China, and potentially limit other opportunities to recruit, perform, and tour for our faculty and other ensembles.”

Mr. Rossi also claimed that no profits were at stake in the orchestra’s decision to keep touring. A spokesman for the school declined to answer a question from the Washington Times regarding what kind of revenue the tour would have generated.

Late Tuesday night, Mr. Rossi reversed his decision. “[I]n consultation with many individuals, including University and Eastman leadership and our Chinese tour organizers, we have decided to postpone the tour until all members of the orchestra can participate,” he wrote to Eastman students and faculty in an email obtained by the Washington Times. “I am grateful to the many individuals who took the time to share their thoughts about this matter.”

There was a widespread backlash to Eastman’s decision among the school’s students, faculty, students, and alumni. And unlike in the case of the NBA, where superstars like LeBron James objected that the league wasn’t punitive enough on those who dare to stand up to Beijing, in this case, classical music aficionados objected to the school’s too solicitous attitude towards Chinese despotism. These classical musicians and their fans have more bravery — and far more devotion to values like freedom — than do the “heroes” of the NBA. You may want to trade in your NBA tickets for a plum seat the next time the Eastman orchestra comes to town.

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