There is something about art and symbols that really gets under the skin of Chinese Communist Party officials and makes them behave in ways that even they must know is against their self-interest.
This is exemplified by the deplorable decision made during the London Olympics this summer to take down the Republic of China flag from Regent Street after Chinese representatives in the UK pressured British officials to do so. Chinese officials apparently could not bear the idea that a symbol of Taiwanese nationhood, disagreeable though it may be to some Taiwanese, could flutter alongside the flags of other nations. However, rather than strengthen China’s interests, the move damaged its image while bringing into full contrast the reasons why Taiwan is not — and cannot be — part of China. The controversy received substantial coverage in the media, especially after hundreds of young people bearing flags gathered on Regent Street for various photo ops.
Over the years, Chinese officials, sports coaches and students have constantly lost their senses over art, images, films and other manifestations of freedom, ripping flags, boycotting festivals and sometimes resorting to physical violence. It is hard to tell whether this instinctive reaction to symbols stems from growing up in a society where propagandistic images played such a powerful role in cultivating nationalism, or from the realization that symbols can spark an emotional response in people.
The best example of this occurred earlier this month, when two officials from the Chinese Consulate General in San Francisco attempted to intimidate David Lin (林銘新), a Taiwan-born American who erected a large mural depicting Chinese repression of Tibetans and Taiwanese, by writing letters to and then visiting the mayor of the town Lin lives in: Corvallis, Oregon.
Surely, as representatives to the US, Vice Consul Zhang Hao (張浩) and Deputy Consul-General Song Ruan (宋如安) should have known a thing or two about the First Amendment of the US Constitution, which among other provisions guarantees freedom of expression. Maybe poor training at China’s diplomacy school failed to inform them of this, though this would not explain why their political masters back in Beijing, whose permission they must have sought before launching their tirade, would agree to such a course of action.
Perhaps they thought they could get away with it, as governments sometimes do allow themselves to be bullied by China, and the Oregon town needs China more than China needs it. However, Corvallis Mayor Julie Manning defended the Constitution and appropriately lectured the two messengers on the virtues of the First Amendment, which enshrines rights and responsibilities.
Here again is a case of Chinese officials undermining their reputation and that of their country by attacking art and trying to impose the censorship regime that stifles freedom of expression in China (but does not censor jingoists like Sina Weibo microblogger @sunshineGaoyang, the purported editor-in-chief of the Cross-Strait Economic Cooperation Weekly and self-styled “Taiwan expert,” from rejoicing at the “wonderful” news of the assassination of the US ambassador to Libya, or the Beijing Evening News’ calls for Japan to be “nuked”).
Whatever the cause, this trait among Chinese officials is a weakness that Taiwan’s supporters should exploit. Taiwanese have an uncanny ability to translate ideas through visual art and proliferate them via the Internet. If artistic expression forces Beijing to reveal its true colors, then more art, murals, films, banners and flags should be put out there to tell not only Taiwan’s story, but by its reaction, that of China as well.
Starting today through Sept. 22, a series of activities — outreach events, photography shoots, a marathon, music concerts, roundtables and a rally — will be held in New York to support Taiwan’s bid to join the UN. Go check it out (www.un4tw.org), and keep an eye out for Chinese reactions.
The People’s Republic of China (PRC) has over the past few months continued to escalate its hegemonic rhetoric and increase its incursions into Taiwan’s air defense identification zone. The US, in turn, has finally realized how its “strategic ambiguity” is increasingly wearing thin. Similarly, any hopes the US had that the PRC would be a responsible stakeholder and economic player have diminished, if not been abandoned. Taiwan, of course, remains as the same de facto independent, democratic nation that the PRC covets. As a result, the US needs to reconsider not only the amount, but also the type of arms
Taking advantage of my Taipei Times editors’ forbearance, I thought I would go with a change of pace by offering a few observations on an interesting nature topic, the many varieties of snakes in Taiwan. I will be drawing on my experiences living in Taiwan five times, from my teenage years in Kaohsiung back in the early sixties, to my last assignment as American Institute in Taiwan Director in 2006-9. Taiwan, with its semitropical climate, is a perfect setting for serpents. Indeed, one might say serpents are an integral part of the island’s ecosystem. Taiwan is warm, humid, with lots of
China constantly seeks out ways to complain about perceived slights and provocations as pretexts for its own aggressive behavior. It is both victimization paranoia and a form of information warfare that keeps the West on the defensive. True to form, China objected even to the innocuous reference to Taiwan at April 16’s summit meeting between US President Joe Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga. Neither leader’s prepared remarks even mentioned Taiwan, out of deference to the Japanese side. Biden’s opening statement was modest: “Prime Minister Suga and I affirmed our ironclad support for US-Japanese alliance and for our shared security.
Determined to keep a permanent grip on power, Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) has abandoned former paramount leader Deng Xiaoping’s (鄧小平) dogma of “hiding our capacities and biding our time” along with the “peaceful development” line that prevailed under former Chinese presidents Jiang Zemin (江澤民) and Hu Jintao (胡錦濤). Instead, he is treading a “wolf warrior” path of diplomacy that resorts to coercion, debt entrapment and hostage-taking. Externally, Xi’s China has claimed that it would never seek hegemony, yet it challenges the free, rules-based international order wherever it can. While insisting that it will not export its ideology, it has