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Taiwan in Time: Twelve days of fame

As the only members of their delegation to make it to Taiwan on Aug. 12, 1991, Fan Liqing and Guo Weifeng were closely scrutinized during their trip as the first Chinese reporters to visit Taiwan since 1949

By Han Cheung  /  Staff reporter

Fan Liqing, left, and Guo Weifeng wave at the crowd after landing in Taoyuan International Airport on Aug. 12, 1991.

Photo courtesy of National Central Library

Aug. 7 to Aug. 13

The media frenzy began as soon as Fan Liqing (范麗青) and Guo Weifeng (郭偉鋒) stepped off the plane at Taoyuan International Airport. A large group of local reporters mobbed the pair, with one even displaying his bleeding arm, injured during the pushing and shoving, insisting that they answer his questions.

“We thought it would be like Beijing or Hong Kong where we would be led to a room for a group interview,” Fan writes in her memoir, First Step in 40 Years (四十年第一步). “But it was just chaotic. We did not know whose questions to answer, so we just remained silent and smiled.”

One Taiwanese reporter explained that this group had obtained special permission to enter the restricted area, while there were even more reporters waiting in the main hall. They needed to conduct the interview right away to scoop their competitors. Fan and Guo obliged and started fielding questions.

The two Chinese nationals were not supposed to be the stars of the day. But they received all the attention since they were the only people in the original delegation to make the trip. It was nevertheless a historic moment, as they became the first Chinese reporters in 42 years to set foot in Taiwan.

ACCIDENTAL CELEBRITIES

Fan was chosen for her position as deputy editor for Xinhua News Agency’s Hong Kong and Taiwan division, while Guo held a similar position with the China News Service. A native of Xiamen, Fan’s hometown language was similar to Hoklo (also known as Taiwanese).

Fan stated that it was about time Taiwan allowed Chinese reporters to visit, as more than 1,700 Taiwanese reporters had already made the opposite journey since Lee Yung-teh (李永得) and Hsu Lu (徐璐) traveled to Beijing in 1987.

The pair was initially approved as accompanying reporters to a “humanitarian trip” by Chinese Red Cross officials to visit a group of Chinese fishermen who were detained in Taiwan after several disputes with their Taiwanese counterparts over fishing rights. But the officials’ entry was delayed due to a governmental dispute while Fan and Guo landed at Taoyuan Airport on Aug. 12, 1991.

“Our mission was to cover the trip, but now we’ve become the spotlight,” Fan told reporters at the airport. “This has already compromised my work.”

The madness continued throughout their stay, as Fan writes that the Taiwanese reporters even found out which hotel room she was staying at by knocking on all the doors. As they entered the Taichung Detention Center to visit the detainees, more than 100 reporters followed them in, resulting in the shattering of a photographer’s flash and almost another brawl.

It wasn’t just the reporters — even people on the street would recognize them and start speaking to them, giving them gifts and requesting photos. The driver who took them to Keelung even requested autographs for his son.

Fan soon came to respect the Taiwanese reporters, writing that she was impressed with their perseverance and fearlessness. On the last night, she and Guo sang karaoke with them until the sun came up.

It was a fruitful visit in the end, with each of them writing numerous articles not just about the fishing boat dispute, but also about life in Taiwan, ranging from tea and Chinese culture to Taiwanese hospitality and the insanity of local politics.

Both noticed how bad the traffic was and how private cars would park on the side of the narrow roads, worsening the congestion. Fan writes that the neon signage in Taipei’s East District was even more impressive than that of Hong Kong and was surprised that one read, “Opium KTV.” She found it amusing that entire families would ride on one scooter, none of them wearing helmets.

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