Recently, an official Chinese paper, the International Herald Leader, carried a report on “sharpening contradictions” in various areas of Chinese society, including standards of living and culture. The report lists 50 types of what it calls “seriously strange phenomena.” For example, it mentions frequent mining accidents, wrongful convictions, adulterated food products and the way many women are becoming increasingly obsessed with money and willing to do anything to get it.
One of the more interesting things on the list is the trend for Chinese television programs to be made more and more like Taiwanese ones. In fact, the paper lists this as No. 1 among what it calls “strange” cultural changes.
The report says that Taiwanese entertainers have started pouring into China. Singers, actors, talk show hosts and even producers are going over there. The report also says that Chinese people have welcomed this, with ratings for such shows going through the roof. It notes that primetime television is now dominated by Taiwanese people who speak the softer version of Mandarin, referred to as Guoyu (國語), as opposed to the “real,” “standard” Chinese, meaning Beijing-accented Putonghua (普通話).
At almost the same time, at the end of last month, Taiwan’s Business Weekly magazine carried a cover story about how “China is going mad for Taiwan.”
Chinese television shows becoming more “Taiwanese” is of course a cultural phenomenon. The report says that China is “going mad” for Taiwan and that Taiwan is becoming extremely popular and trendy in China. It describes how people are lining up to eat Taiwanese dumplings at the Expo in Shanghai and how Beijing is going to build a “Taiwan Street” where food, drinks and clothing from Taiwan will be sold and are sure to be popular just because they are from Taiwan. The report also says that Taiwanese products like Ganso cakes, Johnson exercise machines, SunIsland Coffee, Giant bicycles, Uni-President drinks, Formosa-Optical eyeglasses and Wantwant snacks are are all becoming leading brands in China.
Stanley Yen (嚴長壽), president of Taipei’s five-star Ritz Landis hotel, has said that lifestyle and culture, rather than technological wizardry, are the true core values of Taiwanese brands. That is to say, Taiwanese manufacturers are selling not just products, but Taiwan’s brilliant culture.
Even better proof of this cultural phenomenon is the way Taiwanese chain stores such as 85˚ Coffee are mushrooming all over China, along with wedding photo studios, luxury stores and gift shops, while Chinese television is becoming more like Taiwan’s.
Words like “strange phenomena” and being “mad” about something usually refer to abnormal and undesirable things, and Chinese media did use this phrase to refer to how Chinese culture is being ruined and how this is a bad thing.
However, when the issue was discussed in Taiwan’s Business Weekly, going mad was used to refer to a good thing — an extremely good thing, in fact.
These are two vastly different ways of looking at the same issue.
US academic Joseph Nye once stated that the best proof of US “soft power” can be seen from the popularity of US popular culture around the world, including pop music and Hollywood movies.
Ever since the Cold-War era, from the time of Teresa Teng (鄧麗君) up to A-Mei (張惠妹) and more recently Jay Chou (周杰倫), Taiwanese pop songs have been popular all over China, and now drama shows from Taiwanese stations such as SET TV and TTV are all the rage too.