Walking through the protests on Qingdao East Road last weekend, music people were everywhere. One music festival organizer was inside the Legislative Yuan running the occupy movement’s live Web stream. Another had rushed the doors of the Legislative Yuan on March 18 and helped to hold the chamber as police tried to remove him four times. Others were in the crowd, or drinking beer at 7-Eleven. After the police action of Monday morning, many of these turned their Facebook profile pictures black in solidarity with the student protesters of the Black Island Nation Youth (黑色島國青年), the group spearheading the protests now widely known as the Sunflower Movement.
The protests present an extremely awkward position for many young pop stars, whose friends and former classmates are protesting on the streets of Taipei, but whose income relies on concerts and music sales in China. Many could not help but support the protesters, if only in oblique statements on Facebook. Though the site is blocked in China, Chinese Internet mobs still find out almost immediately, and they have not taken the statements lightly.
Several artists and groups under 40, including Mayday (五月天), Deserts Chang (張懸), Crowd Lu (盧廣仲), Yoga Lin (林宥嘉) and William Wei (韋禮安), were banned from airplay on China’s largest radio station, Music Radio (音樂之聲), beginning last Saturday, according to several media reports. On Internet chat sites, the phrase “pro-independence celebrities get out of the Mainland” now has its own hashtag on Weibo, the Chinese micro-blogging site. As of Tuesday, the tag was attached to more than 125,000 posts.
Mayday was first to ignite the flames on Chinese message boards last week, when the band’s bass player Masa (瑪莎) left a note on the window of his Taipei cafe, saying he was closing the shop because he was not willing “to sacrifice Taiwan’s future.” The note invited patrons to hurry to “the Legislative Yuan with us and express our concern for Taiwan.” The band also posted a music video for their song Rise Up (起來) on Facebook.
THE ‘MAINLAND’ CASH COW
The group’s vocalist, Ashin (阿信, aka 陳信宏), or possibly some music industry handler posting for him, ventured onto Weibo to make clumsy attempts at damage control, saying the band was not in fact against the cross-straight service trade agreement and that he “looks forward to the day when the young generations on both sides of the Taiwan Strait can attain a more friendly mutual understanding.” Chinese netizens called this a pile of male bovine feces. Many accused the band of “using the people of the Mainland as a cash machine.”
Pop singer William Wei, a 24-year-old graduate of National Taiwan University, posted his own analysis of the pact conflict on Facebook, and you can pretty much guess how that went. His Taiwanese fans couldn’t click “like” fast enough, but they still couldn’t keep up with China’s haters.
Before the violence of Sunday night, the 32-year-old singer Deserts Chang exhorted her fans, saying, “let them hear your voice. Resist all political parties and manipulation, so that once we are together with the students, the political parties will reflect and change.”
Then on Monday, after the violence, she declared, “What happened today in Taiwan is our history. In any country where institutions and implementation require a fundamental review, whether today or tomorrow, such things will occur.” Perhaps feeling the need to explain herself to Chinese fans, she continued, “These are the kinds of choices our young people have made as they face these times…. Suffering slowly changes the old evils. It is a price the people of this land willingly pay.” The post, which has so far gathered more than 50,000 “likes” on Facebook, opened by saying that she would not tolerate anyone expressing hate on the basis of “ethnicity, nationality or national identity.”
Chang closed the statement with the exhortation, “Do not accept hatred.” But of course that referred both to the police violence of that morning in Taipei as well as the continuing, malicious attacks generated by China’s message boards.
CROSS-STRAIT YOUTH POLARIZED?
Are the youth of China and Taiwan really so polarized? One should remember that China’s media is controlled and that its Internet is policed. One wonders how many of the angry Chinese posts were made by “50 centers,” Chinese netizens who are paid half a renminbi for each post that supports Beijing’s policies? Many Chinese are swayed by this incredible propaganda apparatus, but not all.
One can certainly find counter examples online, but the most obvious has to be the two mainland Chinese exchange students who were camped out inside the Legislative Yuan with Taiwan’s student protesters for the first week of the occupation. There they were, standing shoulder to shoulder with their Taiwanese classmates, and for at least a week bunked out with them on the Legislative Yuan floor. There are also occupiers from Hong Kong and very likely from other Chinese-speaking territories. The ideological divisions between Taiwanese and Chinese youth are not so clearly cut, though there is certainly a huge gulf of understanding between them.
Given the above, it’s not hard to guess why Sodagreen has declared a media blackout. The band’s official reason is that members are in closed door rehearsals for their upcoming world tour, though one can also be sure that a single word about the protests could be toxic to their plans for concerts in Beijing on May 1 and May 2. Last November, Deserts Chang had her Beijing concert canceled after displaying a Taiwanese flag at a performance in Manchester in the UK.
Still, a Sodagreen lyric was printed on a post-it note distributed outside the Legislative Yuan. Thousands of protestors added personal messages and stuck the notes onto the barbed wire of the police barricades around the Legislature. The lyric reads: “Come with us and gently overturn this world, and make it that the world is ours.”
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