Expat caught out for 'yellowface' antics

Central Station | Nury Vittachi 10 Aug 2020

Aha! A Caucasian activist from the United States has been confirmed to be doing a "yellowface" act, posing as a leading Hong Kong Chinese protest cheerleader, an investigative journalism agency says.

The expat, presenting himself as a Hong Kong local named "Kong Tsung-gan," was repeatedly quoted by the world's biggest media throughout last year's protests, and his books and columns were a prominent element of the anti-government online news outlet Hong Kong Free Press.

But in reality, Kong was Brian Kern, an American former staff member of Amnesty International, said The Grayzone, an award-winning US investigative news agency.

"Kong" was first exposed by The Standard in an exclusive report in December last year. Tom Grundy, editor of Hong Kong Free Press, sent legal threats demanding it be removed from The Standard's archives. We refused.

A followup in May caused this columnist to be temporarily banned from Facebook.

But this weekend, a study by Grayzone reporters confirmed the details of our report. "The Grayzone spoke to several locals outraged by a deceptive stunt they considered not only unethical, but racist," said chief reporter Max Blumenthal.

UK media analyst Alan MacLeod expressed shock. "This is a crazy story," he said.

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Separately, a Hong Kong youth journalism team called The Third Degree also investigated the Hong Kong Free Press writer and came to the same conclusion.

The group's spokeswoman said neither Grundy nor Kern responded to their questions about false ethnicity, but the evidence was solid. "You can't do this in the Black Lives Matter era," she said.

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Incidentally, this newspaper found one piece in which the nonexistent "Kong Tsung-gan" wrote that he had spent his childhood at a Hong Kong government Band One school. Using a pen name is acceptable in some cases, but faking an identity is a whole different thing.

More amusingly, several sources confirmed that self-published Hong Kong novelist Xun Yuexang was the same American expat. Xun's novel is about brave activists ill treated in China.

An internet search reveals that author Xun Yuezang appears to have been interviewed by a print journalist only once - in an article bylined "Kong Tsung-gan!" I'm sure he was entirely impartial, as he interviewed himself.

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Latest symptom of the virus: my local dai pai dong has reduced its menu so much that you can now go in and say: "One food please."

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People often say Hong Kong's retail scene contains too many cartels. I wonder if that includes this Wan Chai shop called Kartell.

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Asia-based journalists were shocked to find that Twitter has forcibly added the words "state-affiliated" to the accounts of numerous media accounts. But it is has mysteriously not got around to doing the same thing for the state affiliated media outlets from America or the UK. Funny that.

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Readers were puzzled by reports that Disney's new Mulan movie (which got rave reviews at advance screenings) will be launched on September 4 exclusively on Disney Plus. That's a Netflix-type subscription system that Hong Kong cannot access. No worries. The buzz says that the movie will be launched the traditional way in cinemas in Asia, which has been less hard hit by Covid-19.

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From Harri Weinreb on Twitter: "I have no Covid-19 symptoms, which from what I hear, is a symptom of Covid-19."

Yep. That's what makes it tricky.

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