Asian pop: China’s new power confrontation

Asian pop: China’s new power confrontation

China’s heavy-handed approach towards a young flag-waving Taiwanese pop star may have influenced the recent Taiwan election result

The recent Taiwanese election resulted in a landslide victory for the Democratic Progressive Party. From May, the Taiwanese ‘separatists’ will have the majority in the legislative assembly for the first time ever.

Although Tsai Ing-Wen’s victory in the presidential election was expected, the double victory of her party gaining the majority in parliament was a sweet bonus. A strong factor in achieving this could be the controversial ‘forced’ apology made by 16-year-old pop star, Chou Tzu-Yu, who is still too young to vote.

Asian pop stars are big. They are big in their own country as well as in other neighbouring countries. For example, AKB48, which delivers kawaii ‘cute’ aesthetics from Tokyo to every corner of East Asia, has created its sister groups in four Japanese regional cities as well as in Jakarta and Shanghai. Furthermore, well-publicised performers of K-Pop—a musical genre originating in South Korea that is characterised by a wide variety of audiovisual elements—sing in multiple languages such as Korean, Japanese, Chinese and English. National borders mean less in the world of Asian pop music (similar to Western pop music), so they are expanding their horizons to appeal to Asia’s ‘trans pop consumers’.

Unlike the West where pop stars are mostly idolised by teens and tweens only, Asian counterparts can be a lot more iconic. In restrictive (and family-dependent) Asian society, in which parents prioritise children’s success over happiness, pop stars are a symbol of success and happiness. The stars have achieved an ‘impossible’ combination. There is one teenage girl who joined the exclusive club in 2015. Chou Tzu-Yu, of Taiwan, was not just selected as a member of multinational K-pop girl group TWICE but also became the world’s thirteenth most beautiful face. She gained what almost every Asian teenager dreams of. Out of the blue, however, she upset China—because she waved a Taiwanese flag.

Made to apologise

Under China’s official policy, Taiwan is regarded as a province of China. The media in China thus has the same view. After Chou’s unconscious action, Chinese television stations decided to cancel schedules for her group as well as other performers from the same promotion company. Chou was made to apologise; she said she ‘endorses the One-China policy, and has always been proud of herself as a Chinese’. Her apology was announced a day before the Taiwanese polling.

Was Chou guilty of any wrongdoing? Obviously not from Taiwan’s point of view. Chu Li-Luan, the pro-China Kuomintang’s (KMT) presidential candidate, even posted his sympathy for Chou on his Facebook within hours. But the unexpected turbulence from the other side of the Taiwan Strait was too great. In a population of 23 million people, 1.34 million young Taiwanese voters decided to raise their voices after the controversial apology. Many tertiary students who were unable to vote because they were studying away from home decided to jump on the free buses organised by pro-Taiwan factions to go home to vote.

For the last 120 years, since Taiwan’s separation from China due to Japanese imperialism, Taiwan has had a unique history. The KMT’s cultural ‘re-Sinicisation’ after the end of the Second Word War was successful in restoring the Chinese language—but tokens of democracy and pro-US diplomatic policy were always present in postwar Taiwan, creating a different ideology and identity to China’s.

Twenty years ago, when Taiwan’s first democratic presidential election was held, one in three people saw themselves as Taiwanese. Today, more than 60 per cent identify as Taiwanese, and the number is inspected to continue to increase.

China is rich in the hard power assets of its military and economy. But, by misreading the cultural power of pop music, it demonstrated its inability to practise soft power. It made a young girl say sorry, but coercion cannot move the sentiment of people who live in the democratic world.

Photo: Wikimedia commons

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