Dozens of Taiwanese celebrities endorse Beijing's claim on island

More than 70 repost a state media comment about 'unification' between Taiwan and China.
By Hsia Hsiao-hwa for RFA Mandarin, Alice Yam for RFA Cantonese
2024.05.27
Dozens of Taiwanese celebrities endorse Beijing's claim on island Taiwanese celebrities from left to right: journalist Patty Hou, singer and actress Nana Ouyang, TV host and actress Dee Hsu are pictured in this combination of file photos. (Photos by AFP and AP)
Photo: RFA

Dozens of artists and actors from Taiwan have been lining up on social media to endorse Beijing's territorial claim on the island by retweeting a Chinese state media post in support of eventual "unification."

More than 70 artists and celebrities including journalist Patty Hou, singer and actress Nana Ouyang and TV host and actress Dee Hsu reposted a statement from Chinese state broadcaster CCTV on the Weibo social media platform which said that independence for Taiwan, which has never been ruled by Beijing, was "a dead end."

"The unification of Taiwan with China cannot be stopped," said the May 22 statement, local media reported, citing a social media spreadsheet.

CCTV's post was in response to the inauguration speech of Taiwan's elected President Lai Ching-te, who called on Beijing to stop threatening his country, and respect the will of its 23 million people, the majority of whom have no wish to be ruled by the Chinese Communist Party.

"Taiwan has never been a country and will never become one,” the post said, adding “Taiwanese independence is a dead end. Unification with the motherland is unstoppable! China will eventually achieve complete unification.” 

Other artists appeared to be offering their support less directly, by claiming a "Chinese" identity, a view that isn't shared by most of their compatriots.

Lead singer Ashin of the Taiwanese band Mayday told fans at a concert at Beijing's Bird's Nest stadium on Saturday that "We Chinese, when we come to Beijing, must eat roast duck! What else should we eat?" in a statement similar to the saying, "When in Rome."

And singer Jolin Tsai, who has had an LGBTQ+-themed song deleted from her concerts by Chinese censors, told concert-goers that residents of "our Chinese city of Nanchang" were the most passionate fans.

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Ashin of Taiwanese band Mayday performs in Kuala Lumpur in 2013. (Lai Seng Sin/AP)

One fan commented on Nana Ouyang's re-post that they were unhappy about her support for Beijing.

"I’ve been your fan for a long time, but I love Taiwan more," the fan wrote in comments reported by the Taiwan News. Another told Ouyang to go live in China: "Don't come back to Taiwan."

Some Hong Kong artists also followed suit, including martial arts star Donnie Yen, who sparked controversy when he was a presenter at last year’s Oscars despite protests over his pro-Beijing stance on the Hong Kong protests of 2019.

Resisting pressure

Not everyone piled onto the bandwagon, however.

Taiwanese actor Yang Hsiu-hui told reporters on Sunday that she identifies as Taiwanese, and doesn't want to make money from China.

"Some people told me I would lose access to the market in mainland China," Yang said, adding that she had turned down jobs in China for political reasons.

"I gave up on that market a long time ago," she said.

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Taiwanese singer Jolin Tsai is pictured in Milan in 2017. (Marco Bertolrello/AFP)

President Lai expressed empathy for the artists in a statement on Sunday, saying he could understand how much pressure they were under "in another person's house," and that they may privately feel very differently.

Ruling Democratic Progressive Party Mayor of Kaohsiung Chen Chi-mai said China should honor freedom of speech rather than coercing Taiwanese entertainers into taking a political stance, while the Kuomintang, the largest party in Taiwan's parliament, said putting pressure on Taiwan's artist doesn't "build goodwill across the Taiwan Strait," local media reported.

The island's Ministry of Culture said the artists were forced into taking a position by "unavoidable circumstances," and that such coercion would never happen in democratic Taiwan.

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Taiwan President Lai Ching-te wears a hat given to him by Rep. Michael McCaul, a Texas Republican, in Taipei on May 27, 2024. (Taiwan Presidential Office via AP)

"To the artists taking a public stance under unavoidable circumstances, we extend our understanding," the ministry said in a statement on Sunday. "Taiwan ... will never ask anyone to take a public stance, nor will anyone be punished for taking, or not taking, such a stance."

"The lack of political coercion is the most valuable thing about a free Taiwan," the ministry said.

‘Divide and conquer’

Chinese dissident Gong Yujian, who now lives permanently in Taiwan, told RFA Mandarin that the artists' statements are part of a campaign to wage "cognitive warfare" on Taiwan.

"I am certain, and can say without hesitation, that this is a case of the Chinese Communist Party's divide-and-rule tactics and cognitive warfare being waged against Taiwan," Gong said.

"The aim is to split supporters of independence, with the ultimate aim of benefiting the Chinese Communist Party and its 'fifth column' in Taiwan," he said.

Kang Kai, chairman of the Taiwan Performing Arts Union, told RFA that he had no problem with President Lai's approach. 

"Everyone has their own opinion," Kang said. "The most important thing is that they work hard to support their families and do a good job."

"I don't like to see artists getting involved in politics. Neither side wants a war," he said. 

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Chinese dissident Gong Yujian poses for a photo in New Taipei City in 2015. (Pichi Chuang/Reuters)

A spokesperson for a foundation run by former Kuomintang President Ma Ying-jeou, who recently met with Chinese President Xi Jinping on a trip to Beijing, told RFA Mandarin that "bullying" can work both ways.

"It seems that you are expected to say you're Taiwanese and not Chinese, if you want to be respected ... in Taiwan," Ma Ying-jeou Foundation CEO Hsiao Hsu-tsen said. "That's just another form of suppression and coercion."

But Taipei Mayor Chiang Wanan said there would be no repercussions for the Taiwanese artists who supported Beijing's claim on the island.

"We are a free and democratic country, and Taipei is a diverse and open city, so how can we stop them from performing?" Chiang said.

Translated by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Malcolm Foster.

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