Ma-Xi meeting and the media coverage

The minute I heard about the Ma-Xi meeting, I knew it was going to be a field day in the media. Everyone would want to cover it. But was anyone going to get it right? Probably not many. Of course the academics and people study and follow Taiwanese politics would have their own opinion, and that would be published. What would everyone else see?

The reports from the AP and the like. Reporting the status quo and giving minor concern to the protests happening in Taiwan. The words “Republic of China” are no where to be found, as wiping away decades of history and refusing to acknowledge that the Republic of China took over an island of people. The common words “the 1949 split” further dilutes history. A “split” did not occur – the Republic of China fled China, took over Taiwan, and imposed martial law. A “split” also implies that something was whole and can be put back together, which pretty much just follows the old stance from the PRC and the ROC.

The report from the New York Times was better. It outright calls Ma “the leader of the Republic of China.” It also took quotes from academics and opposition leaders and provided background to different points of view. I think there was also an equal emphasis on the protests in Taiwan that happened before Ma left for the meeting.

The KMT could not fall further than it already did, but it looks like this meeting is making it more and more unpopular. The KMT has had internal issues for the past couple of years, leading to a drastic fall during the last election, which was in late 2014. Ma then resigned as party head and the newly elected mayor of New Taipei City, Chu, became the head of the party.

If there’s anything similar between the two heads, it’s that they have a habit of reversing previous statements. Ma said in 2011 that he would not meet with the heads of state from China during his presidency if he was re-elected. Now, with seven months left of his presidency, he’s meeting the highest leader of China. When questioned about this statement shortly after the Ma-Xi meeting was announced, Ma said that he only meant not in China, and this meeting would be in Singapore. After Chu was elected mayor, he made a promise that he would fully serve as mayor and not run for president. That promise did not last long. The previous KMT candidate for president was ousted; Chu has taken the spot, and has now taken a three month leave to tend to election duties. Some mayor!

These few things summarize the issues with the KMT in a nutshell. None of their politicians can keep their word. The latest decisions, from the cross-strait trade agreement to the Ma-Xi meeting, have all been done behind closed doors. So how can we trust them with the future of Taiwan? We cannot. I thought a really clear message was sent during the 2014 election, but the KMT seems either completely deaf to it or feels that it is completely above it.

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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.

Wu’er Kaixi, when asked “What do you want to see in the future between China and Taiwan?”

I am not a nationalist. I’m an anti-nationalist. I have big problems with nation-state politics. I’m a victim of nationalism, as a Uighur [the mostly Muslim, Turkic-speaking ethnic minority native to the western Chinese region of Xinjiang]. Many people in the world who are victims of nationalist oppression become nationalist themselves. I see that, and I try to prevent that. For me, the way to prevent that is to have a bigger principle, bigger guidelines to make sure that when you have to take a side on unification or independence, when this kind of issue is proposed, you know how you’re going to cast your vote.

So on the question of Taiwan and mainland China’s unification, or [Taiwan’s] independence, for me the answer is whatever is better for people’s freedom. It’s as simple as that.

If we had to choose today, if Taiwan is independent or unification, it is very clear. I would join the majority of Taiwanese people here for independence. The reason Taiwanese people say we aren’t sure, we want to maintain the status quo, is that the status quo is that the mainland’s missiles aren’t dropping on our heads. That is the status quo they want to maintain.

It’s not that they like the idea that Beijing claims Taiwan as part of them. It’s not so much that they like that China prevents Taiwan from entering any international arena. It’s not that they want to reserve a chance to one day go back to China. It’s not that. It’s just that we don’t want war.

(From “Q. and A.: Wu’er Kaixi on Tiananmen’s Hopes and Taiwan’s Achievements”, NY Times)

Modern Chinese art at the Cantor Arts Center

The Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University currently has an exhibit titled “Within and Without: Transformations in Chinese Landscapes” that will run through January 12, 2015. It is a great opportunity to view modern art from Chinese artists.

There were a few paintings that I really liked. One was a large piece by Gu Wenda (谷文達) called “遺失的王朝G十六,” with a large character and a mountain landscape. The character took up most of the scroll, overpowering the landscape on the bottom. It is the opposite of classical scrolls, where the landscape is the main focus and words play a supporting role. “午夜的太陽” by Liu Guosong (劉國松) is an example of his “space paintings.” The sun or celestial being is much larger than land. In this case, it was the sun. The main focus of the painting is on a bright orange-red sun rather than the land below.

A painting by Qui Shihua (邱世華), called “untitled (landscape no QSH 22)” looks like white canvas, but then a landscape starts to appear. I wondered if my eyes were seeing beyond white or if was I imagining a landscape. “Sky Moat” by Lu Fusheng (盧輔聖) consisted of clean lines forming a mountain. However, it played on traditional paintings because it was blue all over. The ratio of white (paper) to blue (mountains) favored the mountains.

I also had the opportunity to attend a lecture by lecture by Gu Wenda. I first became familiar with Gu Wenda’s work when I read about his installation “forest of stone steles”. Through the lecture, I became more aware of his exploration of the juxtaposition between east and west, and of language. In “the mythos of lost dynasties”, a fabricated seal script explores the understanding of these characters. As it is, seal script is only legible to calligraphers or scholars; people who know Chinese might know basic ones that are taught as examples. Gu created a script that is completely illegible, whether one knows Chinese or not. It might look like seal script and has the style of seal script, but it is not.

The “forest of stone steles” is another one of my favorites in the exploration of language. Many of the celebrated works of calligraphy come from steeles. However these stone steeles that Gu has made is another play on words. Tang dynasty poems were translated to English, then the English was transliterated to Chinese. The written Chinese characters are supposed to sound like the English translation. But, as with all transliterations, the sounds are not exact, especially since multiple characters put together make up one English word. Again, it’s a poem that is not understood in that particular language – the characters put together do not make any sense.

Evan Osnos, on his forthcoming book “Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth, and Faith in the New China”

In the end, I decided not to publish my book in mainland China. (It will be available to Chinese readers from a publisher in Taiwan.) To produce a “special version” that plays down dissent, trims the Great Leap Forward, and recites the official history of Bo Xilai’s corruption would not help Chinese readers. On the contrary, it would endorse a false image of the past and present. As a writer, my side of the bargain is to give the truest story I can.

From “China’s Censored World”, NY Times