July 21, 2013

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中國台北屏東 "Zhongguo Taibei Pingdong" Scandal

An aboriginal Taiwanese singer named Uni (葉瑋庭, Ye Weiting) appeared on the Chinese singing talent show The Voice of China (中国好声音) yesterday and caused a lot of anger among young Taiwanese. The show which originated in Holland in 2010 is popular almost all over the world, also in China. That Taiwanese singers are joining Chinese TV shows is nothing new, and usually doesn't cause any major discussions. So why is the internet abuzz over Uni's appearance you might ask? When she introduced herself in the preview to her performance, she enthusiastically said "she was coming from China Taipei Pingtung District" ("我來自中國台北屏東區"). After she finished singing and faced the jury, she said again "she was coming from China Taipei Pingtung" ("我來自中國台北屏東").

Making Taiwan lose face

There are two problems with this statement. First she implied that Taiwan is part of China by saying "China Taipei" ("中國台北", not to confuse with "Chinese Taipei" or "中華台北", Taiwan's name used for participating in international sporting events). Secondly, the term she used is not common in China, instead the media usually refers to Taiwan as "China Taiwan" ("中國台灣"), here an example. And Pingtung is a county (縣), not a district (區), so there's another small faux-pas. Patriotic Taiwanese are very sensitive to semantics (which I already noted a while ago). It didn't take long before her video went viral, and her official Facebook page was flooded with angry comments. You can check the video here:

It's amazing how much emotion can be stirred up by wrongly placed characters 中 and 國.

Reactions in Taiwan

When I saw the original video yesterday, it had only few hundred views and less than ten comments. Today it's already over 260k views, and it's noon. Every big and small news site has reported on it, Facebook, PTT and other Taiwanese forums are abuzz. Even a FB hate page popped up today. Most people used words like "可悲" (pathetic), "可恥" (disgraceful), "爛" (rotten), "滾出台灣" (get out of Taiwan), or "丟台灣人的臉" (made Taiwanese people lose face) to vent their anger. Here are some examples in the form of screen caps:

This girl pointed out that the show's Weibo introduced her as "coming from Taiwan", not "China Taiwan", yet she still said she's coming from "China Taiwan Pingtung".

This netizen multiplied the phrase "終於紅了" (finally red) which means "finally famous". He's implying that she used "China Taipei" only to get more popular in China at the expense of angering Taiwanese.

This netizen pasted a flag of communist China and sarcastically remarked that "he knows she must be crying now because of all the attacks". He suggested "she should cry with this flag and he's sure that her Chinese fellows will sympathize with a Taibazi like her". Taibazi (台巴子) is a derogatory term for Taiwanese used by Mainlanders.

This netizen of aboriginal roots has asked her several provcative questions, implying that she betrayed her aboriginal roots, her family, her tribe. Aboriginal Taiwanese are supposed to be more pro-Taiwan than Han. His comment received most likes on that thread.

Meanwhile Uni came back to Taiwan and was shocked at the sheer magnitude of the reactions. To counter the accusations she told the media that the producers asked her to say "China Taiwan Pingtung" ("中國台灣屏東"), but because she was too nervous she said "Taipei" instead of "Taiwan." It's no big news to Taiwanese that their fellow countrymen are forced to imply Taiwan was part of China when they appear on Chinese TV, but many people accused her that adding "China" was voluntary and unnecessary, because a week ago a contestant from Taoyuan introduced himself without adding "China." She's said to be the first ever Taiwanese contestant to do so, therefore most Taiwanese didn't believe her. This Taiwanese contestant appeared a week ago, let's see his introduction:

"I come from Taiwan Taoyuan" he said. The show added "area" (地區) to imply that Taiwan wasn't a country, but that's not the contestant's fault. You can see the video here.

Reactions in China

For most Chinese this is a non-troversy, because Taiwanese are expected to say Taiwan was part of China, so Uni said nothing wrong in their eyes. There were some discussions on forums like Tianya, where people anticipated a strong reaction by Taiwanese netizens, and worried about her and her family's wellbeing. Some commented sarcastically things like "綠毛龜被戳了" ("the green turtle was poked", green turtle is here representing the Taiwan independence supporters) or "PTT已經高潮了" ("PTT has an orgasm, PTT is Taiwan's biggest online forum). The discussion on Douban was short and mostly intelligent, some where surprised that she said "China Taiwan" twice. On FYJS and Baidu nothing noteworthy was said so far, while on Xici they pasted screen caps from PTT to see the reactions of Taiwanese netizens. It's hard to say how open the discussion about this issue can be in China where the internet is censored, and government sponsored trolls always try to interfere.

Reactions around the world

No major (or minor) foreign news website has reported on this, Taiwan is once again far away from the global public's eyes, while the whole country is shaken up. We'll see what happens after my post is passed around. I wrote about it, because it highlights how complicated the Taiwan-China relationship is on so many levels, not only between politicians, scholars, and historians, but also in the hearts and minds of young people - those who have never known anything else but a democratic, self-governing, and highly-developed Taiwan.


  1. Taiwanese people haven't had a problem with Harlem Yu and A-Mei being judges on "The voice of China" and hilariously neither of them had absolutely no reaction to this girl denigrating Taiwan like this. It seems like if you're a Taiwanese person going on one of these shows, its almost a requirement for your admission to say something stupid about the political status of the country. A-Mei, an aboriginal herself also seems to have forgotten the years her music was banned in China because the color of the RMB is filling her bank accounts is much more attractive than her old political views.

  2. Exactly...who are most of these Taiwanese people to judge this girl? When was it a requirement for a TV show contestant to be politically correct...if she made it big in China then good for her...it's not like any of these Taiwanese "fans" were rooting for her anyway. See Taiwanese and the Chinese are very close...in overreacting on trivial things...

  3. Oh and some of us Taiwanese seem to forget they're Taiwanese when they went across the strait to enjoy the various "special" establishments and making large amounts of RMB...lol

  4. Thanks for this blog. It makes the political (and also human) problem very clear.

  5. I find it quite hilarious that so many Taiwanese get angry because of this phrasing, but they tolerate to be governed by a party that calls itself 中國國民黨 (Chinese Nationalist Party, or KMT).

  6. Not only tolerate Aris, but vote for. The people get the govt. they deserve...

  7. Thank you Aris and les, exactly what I was thinking. KMT doesn't even acknowledge Taiwan and people vote for them, so how can they complain? I suspect this is just a distraction from the Hung investigation. Oh how easy it is to lead the sheep astray.

  8. @les, Derelict: Guys, a lot of these young people had no right to vote in 2012, so why do they deserve the current government? And it's not like Ma won a landslide victory, over 6 million people have not voted for him which accounted for 45% of all voters, among them many young patriotic people that are upset over semantics like this. Regarding "tolerating" the KMT as the governing party, that's a too simplistic way to look at it. Frankly, I find these kind of comments boring.

    It's not that I want to condone the reaction (to the contrary, I believe people went too far), but if you gonna argue against it, use some sold arguments, or let it be.

  9. @MKL

    please, avoid using words like "simplistic", "boring" etc. Be a respectful host and avoid polemic language. Provocative language and personal attacks are banned by your comment policy, as I understand. Otherwise, let me know if the comment policy is valid for your readers but not for yourself, and I shall be glad to stop commenting. Thank you.

    Back to the point. My comment was not a "master thesis", if I may quote you, I was just pointing to the contradiction of a country where some people get so angry if a singer talks about China's Taipei 中國台北, while the ruling party is called "China's Nationalist Party" 中國國民黨. People who criticise this singer should just realise that there are in Taiwan people who either support unification with China, or who accept many compromises with China for their personal advantage. No country can achieve 100% agreement on collective identity, and Taiwan is and will in the foreseeable future be split between Chinese and Taiwanese identity. I find it unfair to blame this singer in such an aggressive way and treat her as a traitor, not only because the current president of the ROC and the ruling party believe that Taiwan is a province of China (which means that a large part of the Taiwanese population is at least not completely alien to this party's Chinese nationalism), but also because in a democracy individuals have the right to decide upon their identity, even if they might do it for personal gains.

    People should not vent their anger on somebody who expressed a view different from their own. Even if it's hard for people who believe that Taiwan is a country to accept the opposite opinion, I think they should calm down and not overreact. In a democratic and tolerant system, it is fair to accept other people's views.

  10. @Aris Teon: What's wrong with calling a way of looking at things "simplistic," or thinking a "comment was boring"? If this is offensive, then I really don't know. What's for me offensive is implying that I used personal attacks when I didn't. I shall be glad, if you stop commenting here, or on any other website that I own, because I find your attitude inappropriate.

    Back to the point. The contradiction you mentioned is already so common that people don't take it as such. ROC=Taiwan or Taiwan=ROC, people don't care about the legal interpretation of these two entities on daily basis, the terms are mostly conflated in the hearts and minds of people, especially young ones. People also don't think Britain rules over Australia and Canada, because Elizabeth II is queen regnant of these countries. You're taking Taiwanese as a homogenous block, that shall behave one way or the another, while there is so much diversity and complexity, and you're too legal about patriotism and nationalism, which are matters of the heart, not mind, and therefore irrational.

  11. @ MKL: I bet if I had written a comment only to say "your post is boring", or "your argument is simplistic", without even explaining in detail why, you would have deleted it or criticised me. I don't like double standards and I think you as a host should treat your readers (and not only me, because I saw many cases of provocative behaviour on your part in your comment section) with due respect. I do not think that demanding that the comment policy be applied to both readers and host is "inappropriate".

    Having said that, I would like to clarify one point about my comment. I do not view Taiwanese people as a homogeneous block, quite the contrary. In fact, in my comment I pointed out that there are different, contrasting identities within Taiwan itself. Some Taiwanese view themselves as only Taiwanese and want Taiwan to be recognised as a country. But there are also Taiwanese who either see Taiwan as a province of China (and that's the opinion of Ma Yingjiu and of large sections of the KMT), or who are willing to make compromises with China, especially if their own economic interests are involved. My point was that these contrasting views do exist and in a democratic, open and tolerant society people should accept this variety of opinions and identities. Pro-independence Taiwanese often seem to regard their opponents as 'traitors'. In my view, both considering Taiwan as a country and considering it as a province of China (like the ROC constitution and the KMT do), is as to this day a legitimate political view in Taiwan.

    Besides, criticising so harshly a singer seems to me a disproportionate overreaction. For example, a while ago the Taipei Times reported: "Rejecting the term “Taiwan” as the nation’s name, former premier Hau Pei-tsun (郝柏村) said [...] that Taiwan is not an independent, sovereign nation and that unification between Taiwan and China would eventually happen" (http://www.taipeitimes.com/News/front/archives/2013/06/30/2003565974). I find it quite absurd that people get so worked up because a singer in a non-political song contest says "China Taiwan", but if the former premier of Taiwan openly says that Taiwan is not a country, there seems to be barely any strong reaction on the part of the public. In this way, people trivialise politics. Maybe watching a song contest and getting angry at a singer is easy, while following serious party politics is less fun. Many Taiwanese do not even know their own Constitution, which explicitly talks about 'reunification'. It's not this female singer, it's politicians like Hau Pei-tsun and Ma Yingjiu who are deciding the future of Taiwan.

  12. @Aris Teon: I bet if I had written a comment only to say "your post is boring", or "your argument is simplistic", without even explaining in detail why, you would have deleted it or criticised me.

    How do you know that? It's a completely baseless accusation. And I still haven't seen any proof of a double standard. You're the only one complaining about this in the history of this blog. Every time you comment here you turn the discussion on me. Some people call this trolling. Why not just ignore me like I'm ignoring you? I see you on social media, and other blogs, but I'm not interested in what you write, say, or do. I only responded because you started to lecture me on my blog. This is also the last time I'm responding to you.

  13. Back to the topic. I agree that people were overreacting, but as I mentioned before, those were kids on Facebook, PTT, and other online forums, not people across all age groups. Kids these days have a different understanding of Taiwanese identity (I wrote about it in the past), so quoting Hau Pei-tsun here is really irrelevant. He was born in 1919 in China, he's 94 years old, an ROC career politician and military man - people expect that he will hold such pro-Chinese views, but they don't expect the same of someone from their age group or generation, hence the overreacting. You have to make a distinction between generations, young people are leading the way these days with all the protests against corruption and nuclear power. These young people are deciding the future of Taiwan, not the old dreamers.

  14. @Aris Teon: The latest poll shows 75%+ identify themselves as Taiwanese. This number increases each year. So I do not believe this identity is what comes into question, especially among the younger generation. It is acceptable for the older generation to identify themselves as Chinese because this is what they were taught in school during the KMT Authoritarian Regime. For example, World War II is taught from the viewpoint of the Mainland and not from the viewpoint of Taiwan, when Taiwan was still a Japanese colony at this point in time.

    Regarding the KMT winning the latest election, well...if you look at the biggest manufacturing companies from Taiwan, in one way or another, they are tied economically to China. This does not mean Taiwan is ready to accept reunification. Countries like United States or Japan...who historically do not have amicable relations with China (and still don't) also have strong ties economically to China as well. Taiwan is simply following suit to take advantage of what they can. The KMT was seen as the party that can provide better relations with China to open up the Chinese market, then so be it. But as time passes we are seeing China lose it's edge. Apple's manufacturer, Foxconn is already moving away from China, opening their newest factory in Brazil instead. Taiwan's economy has also not benefitted from the latest Economic Cooperation Framework. In my opinion, KMT are on their way out because we have not seen the benefits the KMT have touted when they signed this agreement. President Ma's approval rating is also absolutely ABYSMAL.

    After this fact, you have to factor in international relations with Japan and United States. While both countries acknowledge Taiwan is not a "country," both countries are keen to keep Taiwan out of China's hands. As much as I hate to admit this but Taiwan is in the middle of a tug of war between China and the US/Japan. As we see Taiwan siding closer to China in recent years, we are seeing a concerned US and Japan to not let anything slip away.

  15. @Kade Lai: Thanks for explaining the basics of Taiwanese identity in such a nice and easy way, so that even people with less knowledge about Taiwan will understand it. To some people the complex issues are a little bit too hard to comprehend, even if they are living here. I think your comment is a great conclusion to this thread. I hope it won't be your last comment on my blog. Thanks again.