Thu, Aug 05, 2004 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: Profiting from cross-strait politics

This week, the popular singer Chang Hui-mei (張惠妹), also known as A-mei (阿妹), finally gave a concert in Beijing. This is both worrisome and joyful. Worrisome, because China continues to use A-mei's performance of Taiwan's national anthem at the 2000 presidential inauguration as a target for its inflated nationalist vitriol. Joyful, because despite this A-mei's fans embraced her. Once these fans met face-to-face with ultra-nationalists outside the venue, reports say that at least one nationalist was slapped in the face during the ensuing pushing and shoving.

It was expected that Chinese nationalists would continue to make a big deal of A-mei's "green credentials." With Chinese authorities continuing to encourage or tacitly allow extreme nationalism, these people will continue to find scapegoats against whom to vent their nationalist sentiment. A-mei is just one of their targets. So long as the Chinese government continues to foster nationalism, similar incidents will continue to occur -- and these future incidents may be even bigger and more violent.

Other groups in China also dare to make themselves heard, and clashes occur between these groups and nationalists. That this occurs in China, a highly oppressive authoritarian country, is something that inspires further thought. Does it mean that Chinese officials, following market reforms, are beginning to tolerate dissent? Or was the recent clash the result of official support for nationalists?

Then there is A-Mei herself. Because of the huge profits and market possibilities of performing in China, since the national anthem incident she has frantically sought to disassociate herself from Taiwan's pan-green camp. She has kept her distance from politics, and when interviewed in China went so far as to suggest that singing the national anthem at President Chen Shui-bian's (陳水扁) inauguration wasn't even her decision.

The statements she has made in order to be able to perform in China again may disappoint the Taiwanese public. But to resist the temptation of money and her fans in China could only be expected of a saint. There is no reason to make such demands on A-Mei, who is only an entertainer and not some model of civic virtue. In order to develop her career, she has indeed compromised her principles and attitudes. But as long as this doesn't hurt the national interest, she is free to do as she pleases.

The irony of the national anthem incident is that if China hadn't boycotted her performances, she would never have drawn the attention of the international news media, or made it onto the cover of Time. A-Mei wouldn't be such an influential figure or be used as an index of cross-strait relations. So although A-Mei may have lost some business because of the boycott, this "disaster" has actually brought her considerable good fortune. It's made her one of the Chinese-speaking world's foremost entertainers.

To be more specific, it is her "green credentials" that have made A-mei famous. Without these credentials, she would probably be just another singer who, seeing the end of her career in Taiwan, has no choice but to try to develop in China.

In recent years, Taiwan has been the index of a performer's popularity in the greater Chinese-speaking region. If the singer is well-received in Taiwan, he or she is very likely to be popular in China. Failure in Taiwan's market predicts the same result elsewhere.

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