Taiwan’s Problem is Not the Communist Party of China

Sometimes I wonder: do those on the mainland realize just how despised they are?

Meet Chou Tzuyu (周子瑜). She is 16. She is a part of the K-Pop group TWICE. One of these days I will have to write about what one must to do to succeed on the Korean pop scene. Today I’ll be brief: you must do a lot. Making it in the K-Pop world is an impressive accomplishment for any young performer. It is an especially impressive accomplishment for performers who are not Korean. Chou Tzuyu is Taiwanese.

Miss Chou made the mistake of appearing on a Korean television show with a pair of mini flags in hand. One was South Korea’s. The other was Taiwan’s. I expect she wanted to show that her success in Korea was evidence of the two countries coming closer together. Maybe she did not expect to show anything–the clip is a few seconds long; she waves the two flags in greeting from her bunk, a place where personal items and trinkets are often stored. But why she did it really does not matter. Thoughtlessly or not, Chou Tzuyu appeared on a Korean television show with a Taiwanese flag in hand.

This was a sin. Or so it would seem. It did not take long for the Chinese internet to blow up. A hash tag campaign to boycott Twice was launched. It grew into an effort to boycott all musicians and groups from JYP, her label. Chinese television channels dropped scheduled concerts; Chinese companies have dropped merchandising offers. I haven’t seen any evidence that the CPC has actively supported this, or that the government put any overt pressure on JYP. But they certainly have done nothing to blunt the nationalist social media crusade, as censors often do when tensions with Japan or South China Sea claimants are on the rise. JYP, for its part, tried valiantly to fend off the wolves, but they could not keep them at bay for long. This week JYP asked (read: forced) their little 16 year old star to issue a public apology, to be released on all of its social media channels. The video for the apology is embedded above. [1] Here is what she said, first in Chinese, then in English:

大家好, 我是周子瑜. 對不起, 本人應該早先出來道歉. 因為(我)不知道如何面對現在的情況, (我)一直不敢直接面對大家, 所以現在才站出來中國只有一個, 海峽兩岸是一體的 我始終認自己是一個中國人而感到驕傲. 我作為一個中國人, 在國外活動時, 由於言行上的過失, 對公司, 對兩岸網友的情感造成了傷害. 我感到非常非常地抱歉, 也很愧疚.我決定終止目前(在)中國一切的活動, 認真反省. 再次再次地向大家道歉, 對不起.

Here is my translation of this into English:

Hello. I have something to tell everyone.

Hello, I am Chou Tzuyu. I am sorry, I should have apologized earlier. Because I did not know how to deal with this situation, and I didn’t dare to face everyone, I am only saying this now: there is only One China. Its two parts are one. I have always been Chinese–here she stops reading for a moment–and am proud of this. As a Chinese person, during my overseas activities, my irresponsible words and actions have damaged my company and have offended the feelings of people on both sides. I am incredibly, incredibly sorry and ashamed. I have decided to stop all activities in China and will earnestly search my conscience [in the meantime].

Once again, I apologize to you all. I am sorry.

In the two days since it was published, the video has been viewed more than 4 million times, by both Koreans and Taiwanese. It will undoubtedly be seen by many more. If my Facebook feed is anything to go by, this apology has created larger stir in Taiwanese society than the election of Tsai Ing-wen. I don’t imagine it will sate the nationalist masses of the Chinese net, however. For them it will never be enough to hear her claim “我是中国人“ (I am Chinese). Miss Chou must also mean it. But how could she mean it? She read her apology from a script.

That is how the internet crusaders will spin this video. But I am sure they are right. Chou Tzuyu probably does not mean it. You cannot watch her pitiful performance and think she would ever do this if she was not being coerced into to doing so. But that is the entire point, isn’t?

I did not realize until quite recently just  how many people here in Taiwan despise mainland Chinese. In China people often deride the Taiwanese as spoiled, girlish, and trouble making, but they do not hate them. [2] In Taiwan things are different. I was not quite prepared for this. I have met hundreds of Taiwanese before I moved to Taipei, but most of my close Taiwanese friends I met through Church.  There the warm feeling of brother and sisterhood that attends the saints wherever they gather dampened nationalist tensions a great deal. Most Taiwanese are not Mormon, however, and even those who are do not go to church every Sunday with mainlanders, as they would if they were living in America. Here there is no respite from the anger. The hate is real, especially among the young.

I did not get it. I love China. I love Chinese people. Honestly, I get along with the average mainlander–especially mainlanders from the North–better than I do the average Taiwanese. Their derision did not fit my experience.

But now I get it.

See, there was always this idea that the Chinese people have been fooled–a people indoctrinated, or brainwashed, but salvageable if only you could get the truth to them . The Chinese people are not the Chinese government, folks would say, and what the Chinese government does is not what the Chinese people want. And in some realms that is true. But not here. It was not the Chinese government that forced Chou Tzuyu to renounce her country. No one in Zhongnanhai condescended to ban TWICE concerts or curb their ticket sells. The feelings of the Chinese people were offended, and the Chinese people retaliated. The government did not need to get involved.

To restate the point: Taiwan’s problem is not the Communist Party of China. Taiwan’s problem is the billion Chinese men and women who would rather a 16 year old girl debase herself in front of the world than wave a flag on Korean television.

Now, with twenty years of internet contact and unhindered cross strait travel behind them, the Taiwanese have begun to realize this. They have seen the enemy for themselves. They know that it is not the Chinese Party, but the Chinese people. And so they despise.

There is danger here of falling prey to sentimentalism, thinking that feelings matter more in the course of world affairs than power does. In the long run I do not think it will matter much how much the rising generation of Taiwanese despise those who live across the straits. Taiwan’s independence will not be decided on Taiwanese emotion alone. But still I wonder. Do they know? Do those on the mainland realize how hated they have become?


[1] I have pieced this story together from Kevin Fox, “TWICE Halt Promotional Activities In China Due To Political Controversy Surrounding Tzuyu,” K-Pop Starz (14 Jan 2016);  ; Adrienne Stanley, “2PM’s Chinese Activities May Be Canceled Due To Tzuyu’s Scandal: Is This The Reality Of K-Pop In China?,” K-Pop Starz (15 January 2016); Jeremyn Chow, “K-Pop Winner Apologizes in Video For Holding Taiwanese Flag,” Straight Times (16 January 2016).

[2] If you wish to see how this plays out in popular entertainment, I would direct you to the 2014 film Women Who Flirt (撒娇女人最好命), whose Taiwanese antagonist manages to combine all three traits.

Leave a Comment


"See, there was always this idea that the Chinese people have been fooled–a people indoctrinated, or brainwashed, but salvageable if only you could get the truth to them."

"The feelings of the Chinese people were offended, and the Chinese people retaliated. The government did not need to get involved."

Well one of these doesn't necessarily preclude the other — just because their government didn't get involved in this particular incident doesn't mean the sentiments of the angry citizens weren't the product of their governments' previous indoctrination — one could say that just showed such indoctrination worked.

It depends on how much agency you attribute to the people having arrived a view on their own thinking rather than inculcated into them as what they think is "patriotic" to their nation, especially if they don't have access to all the information and views that outsiders have. How does one distinguish from either case (eg. Would you say that Ukraine's problem was Russia's government itself or Russians?).

Also, I wonder what would have happened had the pop star been gutsy enough to refuse to apologize. Could they have done anything to her?

1. I attribute a great deal of agency to the Chinese people, and find the view that they a mass of brainwashed fools to be silly. I say this for several reasons. One is that he vast majority of Chinese I have met abroad, even those who hate the CPC, are hardliners on this issue. Many are even more of a hardliner on this than their fellows back at home. These folks are well aware that they are despised, and have access to all of the same information you or I do. But still they are solidly against independence.

Secondly, there is a great deal of evidence that the Chinese population is far more nationalist than the Communist Party of China is. I'd refer you to the sources I list at the bottom of this post for more on that. You are more likely to be censored for overly rabble rousing and nationalistic portrayals of any crisis issue than you are for voicing moderation and mutual understanding.

Nationalism of this sort long precedes the CPC. The CPC harnessed it, perhaps even hijacked, but they did not really create it. It poses a constant danger to their rule. If the CPC fell away tomorrow and a Chinese democracy was born, Taiwan would face the same dilemma it does now. It might even be worse.

2. Yes. Korean pop stars are slaves to their record labels. See here for a taste: http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2012/10/08/factory-girls-2

I don't see how this phenomenon is any different from other ethnic hatreds that exist in the world. I'm sure Koreans and Japanese nationalists hate each other just as much. Or Pakistanis and Indians for the matter. And most Middle Easterners hate the USA to the extent I doubt Americans will ever truly ever understand. The only reason why China gets more news over this kind of stuff is because China is just currently more "important" than other countries. The idea that the CCP is Taiwan's only problem and that mainlanders are not nationalistic, only the product of CCP brainwashing is so ridiculous it's hard to take anyone who thinks so seriously. Reminds me of the utter confusion of western press over why Russians supported Putin so much after the takeover of the Crimea.

As for the apologizing thing, "capitalism" can be blamed just as much as hardcore nationalist mainlanders. There's always China Watchers on twitter complaining about how Hollywood studios should "take a stand" against Chinese censorship. But companies simply don't work that way. Hollywood is willing to censor films shown to American audience as well if they think Americans are too stupid to understand it (see Snowpiercer). If the Chinese market was not important for Kpop, there's no way in hell that girl would have been made to issue an apology. There's nothing interesting or new about this phenomenon, merely the logical conclusion of how the world currently functions.

Regarding the second paragraph of my last post:

It is unfortunate for the girl that she has been forced to apologize. But qualitatively, it is no different from this story: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-21299324. The essence of the two stories are the same, because the companies need to stop their fans from becoming enraged, they forced the girls to apologize humiliatingly for doing nothing wrong (At least to an observer with common sense. Hardcore nationalists/otakus don't have common sense). Because of Korea's focus on the Chinese market and the political nature of Taiwan and China, this event took on a political tone. Otherwise, it is essentially the same story.

I'm a kpop fan so I followed this from the beginning.
A few things I want to add:
– the entire scandal was started on Weibo by a taiwanese singer named Huang An that lives mainly in China. He has gotten taiwanese singers banned from China before;
– JYP Ent, Tzuyu's label, has initially refused to offer an apology saying that they don't want to choose sides. The owner and founder, JYP, is generally considered a nice guy amongst kpop company owners and very protective of his girls (this is him https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kUGQ7Tz4os0 ) ;
– Anhui TV and Hunan TV banned first Twice then other JYP Ent artists, including those from HK and mainland China;
– PRC state council office for Taiwan affairs released a statement regarding this issue http://news.sina.com.cn/c/gat/2016-01-16/doc-ifxnrahr8383113.shtml that seems to blame Tzuyu
– after the apology Twice music videos appeared again on chinese Tv;
– there was a lot of backlash towards China on korean internet for picking on Tzuyu and banning a popular korean company.

These things make me think that this scandal was at least allowed, if not initiated, by the chinese leadership because I doubt they allow Huang An, Weibo mobs and tv stations to do whatever they want.
Tzuyu is a real life Katniss (from Hunger Games) who will lead a rebellion against Beijing on reality tv and win a mandate from Heaven to become empress of China.
Seriously now, I feel bad for her. She and her group have debuted in October with a lot of success and she was becoming quickly very popular, even getting individual sponsorships from companies like LG, a huge thing for idols, only to have her career derailed by becoming a political football between countries. Not fun for anyone, but must be extremely confusing for a 16 years old.

@Anon (Jan 17th)–

I agree, the two events are quite similar. Had the girl more bargaining power–that is to say, was she less dispensable a star–she could have avoided this. But in addition to capitalism, I suppose we might blame social media for these ritualized apology videos.

In any case what enraged the Taiwanese was not the form of the apology, but why it was necessary. It took on a political tone because her apology was a political statement.

The interesting thing about Taiwanese-Chinese perceptions of each other, I think, is that the hate is uneven. The Taiwanese, in my experience, take a far harsher view of the average Chinese than the reverse. I'm reminded of the events surrounding Taiwan #1. The mainlanders were initially confused that the Taiwanese players were back stabbing them and outting the videos online as trophies–they assumed the two groups would naturally work together in the game, as they speak the same language. The Taiwanese started that feud.

There are a few other personal stories I could tell in this vein, but they aren't really fit for a public forum. But I've seen the same pattern again and again. Mainland Chinese naively assuming the Taiwanese (and even more so, the Hong Kongers) identify in some way with them… only to be proven wrong rather quickly.

The Taiwanese despise the mainlanders mostly because of their weakness. Nothing engenders hatred and contempt more in people than a sense of superiority coupled with a sense of powerlessness. The mainland attitudes towards Taiwan are in sum provincial stereotypes such as those directed towards Sichuanese or Dongbeirs. Emergent Taiwanese attitudes are not as complicated as most think. It is simply basic contempt for material poverty and social backwardness married to a identity narrative defined singularly as being not Chinese.

Democratic liberalism is not and never will be the defining point of divergence between Chinese and Taiwanese. It simply serves as a convenient media talking point and a font of sympathy from the Trotskyites in Washington.

Why are the Chinese not aware that the Taiwanese dislike them, even going so far to think that they would show solidarity with each other as co-ethnics above and over all the other countries when it's so well known that Taiwan tries to ally itself with other countries precisely because of the threat of China?

Do many Chinese imagine that the Taiwanese themselves deep down do want to reunify or something, no matter what their politics are, because of a "blood is thicker than water" kind of mentality, believing that in the end, "racial" identity trumps all else?

If they do not lack information about the outside world as mentioned (including what the westerners and the Taiwanese themselves are saying about them), wouldn't they already have figured out that the Taiwanese have already started to define an identity in opposition to themselves, even if it's "civic nationalism" rather than ethnically based?

Most Chinese are indifferent to Taiwan beyond the political issue. Outside of that and the stream of island celebrities trying to make it big on the mainland, it may as well be as Puerto Rico or Canada is for most Americans. Who really cares or pays attention to what they think?

Blood IS thicker than water and race does trump trump most other factors but when your societies are near 99% mono racial, the small differences become all the more accentuated and amplified. What has developed in Taiwan in the past two decades isn't actually civic nationalism at all, but rather a new ethnic nationalist identity that at its heart denies its Chineseness. Its about as shameless as the Austrians rewriting their role in the Anschluss, but it exists none the less. Civic nationalism is primarily an American philosophy that is not native to old world polities of Eurasia that are more naturally Volkisch in their orientation.

This new ethnic identity that has been fomenting on Taiwan is probably incomprehensible to the 50 and 60 year olds that make up the Politburo or even the KMT for that matter for a myriad of reasons analogous to the uselessness of fluent Uzbek speakers. I think some younger more culturally savy Chinese are already aware, but they aren't in a position to either affect policy or simply do not care. History is littered with the fragments of destroyed nations. Chinese nationalism judges victory as a moral good in and of itself and if some hipster separatists have to beaten into submission by force of arms then so be it.

"See, there was always this idea that the Chinese people have been fooled–a people indoctrinated, or brainwashed, but salvageable if only you could get the truth to them."

"The feelings of the Chinese people were offended, and the Chinese people retaliated. The government did not need to get involved."

To respond to this, for TW people to believe in above statement = massive brainwash of TW people by their own media. And as the believe turns out to be false, massive cognitive dissonance results. The first step in dealing with cognitive dissonance is usually denial.

Just as Chinese people has been brainwashed (which I think a certain of degree for sure). Isn't TW people are just as easily pron to brainwashing of their own as well for believe that? As well as Taiwan's media keep telling its people that their type of government is far superior than mainlands, as well as their "free media" so that the information they receive in the media must be correct.. because they are "free"? Isn't this even a better form of brainwashing than the very crude mainland censorship brainwashing?

Over time, this mindset developed a sense of TW superiority over the poor mainland Chinese that has actually been proven to the correct for many decades. Because you can argue that all government's legitimacy on earth is by its ability to provide for its people, so from a materialist point of view since KMT went to to TW, China has failed miserably until recently, TW people can easily correlate that my government is better than yours, so what my government told me must also be true. However this breaks down when Mainland government also starts to delivers. (Same situation in HK)

I think what you are seeing is not as much as "hate" as in massive cognitive dissonance of TW population. They have been told China's inferior government is doomed to failure, but yet, year after year they see mainland getting stronger and wealthier.

This would also explain why there is far less emotion of mainland people towards the TW people, no cognitive dissonance.

In the short term it will get worse, but in the long term (If China don't mess it up by going to war) it will get better as cognitive dissonance collapse, I say this because at least in the Long Angeles community you see this whole process play out during the past 25 years. The early TW immigrate to LA would settle down, open up business, and became wealthy, then come the mainland Chinese who had little assets, there was fights between TW and mainlander in school, discrimination at work etc… but it didn't last time as they began to interact, today the relationship is pretty normal overall.