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Combat boogie: British pianist takes a stand for Taiwan

02/08/2024 08:57 PM
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British pianist Brendan Kavanagh holds Taiwan tourism mascot OhBear and Winnie the Pooh during an interview with CNA in London on Wednesday. CNA photo Feb. 7, 2024
British pianist Brendan Kavanagh holds Taiwan tourism mascot OhBear and Winnie the Pooh during an interview with CNA in London on Wednesday. CNA photo Feb. 7, 2024

London, Feb. 7 (CNA) British pianist Brendan Kavanagh has been on a quest to promote freedom of expression since a group of Chinese confronted and tried to pressure him to stop filming at London's St. Pancras station last month.

To drive his point home, he held up a large Taiwanese flag at the station on Feb. 5, and in doing so became an overnight sensation in Taiwan.

Kavanagh, also known as Dr. K, runs a YouTube channel where he uploads videos of himself playing boogie woogie -- a style of blues music that heavily influenced rock 'n' roll -- on the piano at St. Pancras station.

In an exclusive interview with CNA, the shades-donning musician played a frolicking boogie-woogie improvisation for audiences in Taiwan before discussing how his clash with alleged "little pinks" -- rabid young Chinese nationalists -- on Jan. 19 highlighted the importance of having freedom of expression and standing up to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

Kavanagh said his problem was never with the Chinese people, but with the people who are controlling them, who are the same people trying to control Taiwan.

British pianist Brendan Kavanagh plays a piano at St. Pancras station during an interview with CNA in London on Wednesday CNA video Feb. 8, 2024

In a viral YouTube video documenting the incident, Kavanagh was jamming with a friend on the piano when he was approached by a group of Chinese, who had been standing in the background holding Chinese flags. The Chinese asked Kavanagh not to film them.

One Chinese woman told Kavanagh that they were filming a project that was supposed to be embargoed, while a Chinese man from the group told him to make sure not to share the video he was filming because they had image rights.

Kavanagh disagreed, telling the Chinese that image rights did not apply in public spaces in the United Kingdom. The exchange descended into an altercation when the man threatened to take legal action against Kavanagh if he shared their images and accused Kavanagh of being "racist" when the musician asked him whether he was a member of the CCP.

The Chinese man later started shouting at Kavanagh when he reached out his hand and briefly touched the Chinese flag his female friend was holding, warning Kavanagh to "stop touching her."

Two police officers later came to the scene, one of whom tried to persuade Kavanagh to stop filming, but Kavanagh stood his ground until the group finally left.

Source: Brendan Kavanagh's YouTube channel

After the incident, Kavanagh told CNA, he asked a Chinese man to share his thoughts about it and give him a "message of support" in a video he shared online. Shortly afterwards, Kavanagh said, the man contacted him in a panic, asking him to delete the video, saying there could be repercussions for his family in China.

He was actually scared to go public on YouTube and voice a minor criticism of the CPP, Kavanagh said. "So this concept of the CCP as a benign entity in which communism supports everyone is not true. People are frightened."

After the incident on Jan. 19, the piano was briefly cordoned off by British authorities before it was again made available to the public.

He said the piano, donated by legendary singer Elton John to the station in 2016, has become a CCP-free zone.

"Music, I think is one way to undermine this authoritarian regime, the CCP, and all those who seek to stifle freedom of expression."

CNA photo Feb. 8, 2024
CNA photo Feb. 8, 2024

Asked what the Taiwanese flag symbolized for him, Kavanagh said the flag stood for self-autonomy, independence, freedom, and "standing up against the bully."

"It symbolizes that you are not going to be taken over by someone who is trying to impose an authoritarian regime on you, so the flag in that sense, particularly if it's suppressed and not allowed to be used, becomes a symbol of defiance," he said.

He said after he held up the Taiwanese flag at the piano on Monday, many people in Taiwan, including high-ranking government officials, sent him messages of support and offered for him to visit the country.

He said he felt so much love from Taiwan, it was like he was a Taiwanese citizen.

"The generosity and warmth of the Taiwanese people has been mindblowing," he said.

"I think they've seen what happened here with the CCP and the piano, [and] they kind of see me as a little parable about what's happening in their own country... they've got this threat hanging over them and they want to be free," Kavanagh said.

After the incident, Mengying Liu (劉夢穎), one of the Chinese who allegedly confronted Kavanagh, said in a video on Sina Weibo -- a Chinese microblogging website -- that they were scheduled to film a "Happy New Year from China" video that day.

She also wrote on X (formerly Twitter) that a "Christine Lee" could be seen in the background of Kanavagh's video. Since the altercation on January 19, several independent online investigators have linked the filming project to Anglo-Chinese lawyer Christine Lee (李貞駒), who in 2022 was named by MI5 as an "agent of influence" for the Chinese Communist Party after she allegedly used CCP money to buy influence from those holding high positions in the U.K. political establishment. Lee denied the allegation and brought a lawsuit against MI5 in 2023.

Although Liu later took down the video on Sina Weibo and her post on X cannot be viewed due to her account being suspended, they have been backed up by netizens and re-uploaded on other social media platforms.

(By Chen Yun-yu and Sean Lin)

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