Little thoughts: Tibet, China’s influence, and Katy Perry

There have been a few things on my mind lately, each strangely linked to each other.

The Nepal earthquake occurred a few days after a swarm of earthquakes occurred off the east coast of Taiwan. The news reported the need for rescuers to act quickly, but also fears of strong aftershocks. Since Taiwan has earthquake rescue experience, it wasn’t a surprise that crews were preparing to depart for Nepal. Until they were told they weren’t needed, which sparked articles with titles like “China Rushes Aid to Nepal After Deadly Earthquake; Taiwan Is Turned Away” [time.com] and “Nepal is accepting earthquake aid from countries around the world—but not from Taiwan” [Quartz]. After hearing these reports, I started wondering, what about the Tibetan refugees in Nepal? Which took me to the story “Fears for Nepal’s ‘invisible’ Tibetan refugees” [BBC]. Politics is a constant issue if China is involved, even in a time of crisis.

Around the same time, I read about a campaign, by Students for a Free Tibet, against Confucius Institutes. I haven’t had direct interaction with any institutes, but to see them popping up on campuses worldwide is rather disconcerting. I’ve also heard of stories where scholars need to be extra careful of their research since their funding comes from China. I watched this video of a discussion about the institutes:

The description at 9:40, of a student wearing supposed Tibetan clothing, and the cultural misappropriation of minority culture from China, reminded me of minority dances from China. Dances of ethnic groups (such as 傣族 Dai, 維吾爾族 Uyghur, 蒙古族 Mongolian, 苗族 Miao, 藏族 Tibetan, 苗族 Miao, 回族 Hui, etc.) are considered Chinese ethnic dance. In China, these minority groups are considered part of China (and Chinese) because that’s what the PRC government dictates. (Even in Taiwan in the late 1980s, I learned that these groups belonged to the greater ROC, back when the ROC had a stronger stance on governing greater China.) But what I don’t understand is why it still happens in dance groups outside of China, don’t they know that these dances marginalize minority cultures? It’s also appropriation since hand gestures and movements have been taken from traditional dances, yet the PRC (majority 漢族 Han) oppresses people from these ethnic groups, especially in 西藏 and 新疆. It would be better to say those dances are inspired by the dances of minority groups, but are not the true authentic dances.

I suppose there are Chinese outside of China that can justify learning ethnic minority dances, and maintain their political leanings and continue spreading the propaganda of a peaceful and unified China. The dance 千紅 is accompanied by “Happy Valley”, an overture performed at the 1997 Hong Kong reunification ceremony. In some versions online it is labeled as a 漢族 (Han) dance. A search on YouTube came up with dance groups outside China performing it. One group seemed to be inspired by the choreography and used elements of it, but selected different music. If one group thought it best not to perform the original, I wonder about the decisions made by other groups. Perhaps they were appropriating the dance as Chinese dance, without understanding the political sentiment behind the music. I also wonder if anyone watching in the audience (or online) understood.

Katy Perry had been in the news in the past about cultural appropriation, but her latest concert in Taiwan has set off a different discussion. But it does involve the same song (“Unconditionally”) that was called out for cultural appropriation at the 2013 American Music Awards. The costuming and concert set for the song involves sunflowers. At the concert in Taipei, she also wore the ROC flag like a cape. The concert audience saw it as support for an independent Taiwan, as sunflowers became a symbol of last year’s protest movement. The latest headlines read “Katy Perry’s latest crazy concert outfit is too pro-Taiwan for China” [Quartz] and “Katy Perry’s Sunflower Dress Stirs Up Controversy in China: Political Statement or Style Snafu? Get the Details!” [E! Online]. It’s only controversy for netizens in China. It’s pretty interesting seeing the entertainment news sources navigate the situation. Some reporters seem confused about the difference between Taiwan and China. There’s even a long discussion in the comments section of the article on Billboard. I suppose it’s good that news about Taiwan is going beyond the international news section, and more people may learn about Taiwan. However, I don’t think wearing the ROC flag is a statement. This would have been a better statement to make.

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