Mon, Dec 17, 2012 - Page 8 News List

Changing perceptions in China

By Fan Shih-ping 范世平

For a long time now the Chinese Communists Party’s (CCP) Taiwan policy has been informed by the concept of “placing hope in the Taiwanese public” to influence the situation from the ground, as opposed to through Taiwan’s leaders. The same is not true the other way around.

There have been very few attempts by Taiwanese politicians to appeal to the Chinese public. This is because there has been a general assumption that because China is an authoritarian state that lacks democracy and pays little attention to what its people actually think, public opinion is unlikely to have a discernible effect on the Chinese government’s Taiwan policy.

As it is widely believed that the Chinese have almost universally immutable, entrenched ideas when it comes to Taiwan and cross-strait issues due to the Chinese political education system and media indoctrination, there is little point in trying to change their attitudes. The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), in particular, has long been regarded as anti-communist and anti-China and appears to lump the Chinese and the Chinese authorities into one amorphous entity, that it views with a mixture of trepidation, enmity and derision.

However, recent reports that former DPP chairperson Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) Thinking Taiwan Foundation intends to arrange seminars between Tsai and Chinese students in Taiwan suggests that this situation is starting to change.

Tsai’s performance during the presidential election earlier this year has already overturned existing impressions that people in China had of the DPP. For many years, the people believed the DPP to be a byword for Taiwanese independence and unreasonable demands. This impression was entirely negative.

The image Tsai projected was different. She is a woman, for a start, and her more approachable, professional and rational demeanor gave people on the other side of the Taiwan Strait cause to look anew. Her gracious concession speech following her defeat, and the democratic values of which it echoed, won her favourable opinion.

Another factor is the rapid and deep penetration of Internet access in China. This is giving people the ability to obtain more information and to express their views about it. The variety in the views expressed demonstrates that public opinion is no longer the monolithic creature some assume it to be. Many Chinese officials have fallen foul of questions raised by Chinese netizens.

Tsai evidently has faith in “placing hope in the Chinese public” strategy, with the intention of spreading the DPP’s message on democratic ideas and cross-strait issues in order to obtain the attention, interest and ultimately support of the Chinese public. The hope is that, over time, quantitative change will lead to qualitative change and that this will influence the CCP’s attitude toward the DPP. However, there are also figures within the DPP that are proving not to be so forward-thinking.

For example the future of the Golden Horse Film Awards was recently called into question because Taiwan is winning fewer awards than China. A number of DPP legislators said this is a product of China’s attempts at cultural unification. They want the awards to stop.

The winner of the Best Film award, Beijing Blues, made with an unknown cast on a modest budget, had not done well at the box office in a Chinese market preoccupied with big name actors. However, since it received approval in Taiwan the film gained popularity.

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