Wed, Dec 28, 2011 - Page 8 News List

Setting confused ‘Time’ straight

By Dan Bloom

While many Western publications often get their Taiwans mixed up with their Thailands, when writing about the two countries, periodicals published overseas such as Time, Newsweek and National Geographic often get Taiwan mixed up with China on the maps they publish in connection with stories.

Recently, Time magazine ran a story about the future of the rivalry between China and India, and in its illustration of China’s geography, Time published a map alongside the article that showed Taiwan as being a part of China.

Of course, everyone in the civilized world knows that Taiwan is not really a part of China, but since the map department of Time magazine is still living in the dark ages of mapmaking, its cartography editor put Taiwan on the China map. Not only was this wrong and geographically illiterate on the part of Time, which should know better, the erroneous map rendition caused a US expatriate in Taiwan to sit down and write a letter to the editor of Time, explaining in a few short sentences that it had made a terrible mistake and one that needed to be corrected in future issues.

Jesse Chalfin, who has lived in central Taiwan for more than 15 years, wrote a letter to Time’s editors that was printed online and in its Dec. 12 Asia edition print issue. In it, he said:

“The map displayed in ‘The Chindian Century’ [article in Time’s Nov. 21 issue] erroneously shows Taiwan as a part of China. Taiwanese just celebrated their country’s 100th birthday, and on Jan. 14, 2012, they will hold a presidential election. Taiwan has a distinct and vibrant culture that differs in many ways from China’s. It’s also free and democratic. Please don’t hurt the feelings of 23 million Taiwanese by perpetuating this myth of Taiwan as belonging to China.”

Did Time offer an editor’s note to explain why its map wrongly included Taiwan as a part of China? No. Did Time send an e-mail to Chalfin in Changhua to explain what happened and to thank him for his letter? No.

At least his letter was published, though, and that’s better than the alternative. With Time receiving more than 1,000 letters per week, it is not easy for anyone in Taiwan, Taiwanese or non-Taiwanese, to get their letters published.

So Chalfin deserves a round of applause for taking the time to set Time straight and to set the record straight. And Time magazine deserves credit for at least publishing a letter that flies in the face of its standard editorial policy regarding Taiwan.

Chalfin told a reporter that his letter marked the first time in his life he had ever written to Time and knowing how many readers’ letters it receives each week, he didn’t think it would be published — but it was.

While his letter did not appear in Time’s other international editions for North America and Europe, at least editors in the Hong Kong bureau of Time — where the magazine’s Asian editorial offices are located — know a bit more about how to draw a map correctly. Will Time make the same mistake again? You can count on it, Chalfin’s very good letter notwithstanding.

The head of the magazine’s Hong Kong office, Zoher Abdoolcarim, has visited Taipei several times, most recently last month, and yet he still has his head in the sand regarding Taiwan’s true standing in the world. Will he heed Chalfin’s call to not “hurt the feelings of 23 million Taiwanese by perpetuating this myth of Taiwan as belonging to China”? No, it’s business as usual in Time’s bureau in Hong Kong and most readers didn’t even notice the map gaffe, but Chalfin did.

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