Tag Archives: Taiwan

Another Lesson in How to Fail at Soft Power

I came across this story a couple days ago, and found it mildly amusing, but eventually decided it was worth sharing here because it’s indicative of the larger trend. First of all, here are the basics for those that haven’t already read the article:

Citing “strong resentment from the local Chinese community,” the Chinese government has asked the city of Corvallis to force a Taiwanese-American businessman to remove a mural advocating independence for Taiwan and Tibet from his downtown building.

But city leaders say the mural violates no laws and its political message is protected under the U.S. Constitution.

Taiwanese artist Chao Tsung-song painted the 10-foot-by-100-foot mural last month on the side of the old Corvallis MicroTechnology building at Southwest Fourth Street and Jefferson Avenue. The work was commissioned by property owner David Lin, who is renovating the space for a restaurant and has rechristened the building Tibet House.

In vivid colors, the painting depicts riot police beating Tibetan demonstrators, Buddhist monks setting themselves on fire to protest Chinese rule and images of Taiwan as a bulwark of freedom.

In a letter dated Aug. 8, the Chinese Consulate General in San Francisco formally complained to Corvallis Mayor Julie Manning about the mural’s content and asked for her help in having it removed.

“There is only one China in the world,” the letter reads in part, “and both Tibet and Taiwan are parts of China.”

Now, I can’t be too sure about the quality of the reporting here, because the article refers to Tibet as a “country” and as a “breakaway province” (it most certainly is neither, though some might like it to be). But I’m guessing the basic facts of the case here are true.

Let’s think about this from the perspective of the local Chinese consulate general. A business owner in your area of the US has put up a mural that you find offensive. If this were China, of course, you could have it taken down, and maybe have the guy beaten or tossed in jail for a little while to teach him a lesson. But you don’t have those powers in the US, so your only real options are to ignore it or make a big stink about it. Why in hell would you ever choose the latter?

If you ignore it, the only people who ever hear about it are the people who happen to visit or drive by that building, most of whom probably aren’t even going to understand its meaning. If you make a big stink about it, on the other hand, you turn it into a news story. What’s more, you turn it into a news story that the local government has an active interest in promoting because it makes them look awesome. ‘We stood up to pressure from the Chinese government and defended the first Amendment rights of an American business owner’ — what US government official wouldn’t want that story on the front page of every newspaper? That is exactly why what could have been a tiny non-story is now being discussed on this blog and elsewhere despite the fact that I don’t even know where Corvallis is.

The other question is what the hell did Chinese consular officials think they were going to gain from sending that letter? Surely Chinese diplomats are given at least some basic training in US laws, so they ought to know the local government wasn’t even going to consider taking the mural down. And while I understand this is probably the sort of thing that has to be done from time to time to please the overseers back in China, I can’t imagine anyone in China would have heard of this mural either of the Chinese consulate general hadn’t broadcast it to the world by formally making a complaint about it.

The complaint makes the Chinese government look petty and weak even as it draws attention to two issues the Chinese government doesn’t want anyone talking about. The publicity helps ensure that more Americans are going to come down on what the Chinese government would consider to be the “wrong” side. Sure, consular officials may have scored some points with their buddies at home, but they did so by putting yet another scratch in China’s already-battered international reputation and by setting the country back even further on its increasingly unrealistic-looking quest to wield some kind of measurable cultural power outside its borders.

StarCraft 2 in China: “We Gamers Really Suffer”

China may be [insert phrase about economic development here], but in terms of video gaming, it is very much still a third world country, from an official standpoint. A mix of protectionist import regulations and overzealous self-censorship on the part of some gaming companies has given the outside world the impression that Chinese gamers exist in some kind of bizarre gaming hell.

In fact, as anyone who has set foot on the mainland knows, anything available outside China is available here too, and thanks to intellectual property theft, it’s probably cheaper, too. Consoles may be technically illegal, but in actuality, they’re everywhere. The summer’s hottest release, StarCraft 2, was available in China the same day it was available everywhere else, even if it wasn’t officially released here. (In fact, it was even possible to legally purchase the game and download a digital copy from China, which is how I got mine).

Of course, the lack of official support certainly causes frustration. And the perceptions of Chinese gamers outside of China has led to strong prejudices, especially in Taiwan, whose servers are often populated with large numbers of Mainland players looking to get in on the action. One of our commenters was kind enough to point me in the direction of a few BBS posts that discuss these issues; I have translated selected comments below.

Prejudice against Mainland gamers

[A word of explanation: since games are online, Mainland Chinese gamers are usually identified by Taiwanese gamers because they use simplified rather than traditional characters to communicate.]

Original post: “I was cursed at by Taiwanese players for no reason at all! How many others have had similar experiences? For example, being called ‘Mainland dog’ or ‘communist [agongzi] ((阿共仔, which is apparently rude slang for “communist” in this context.))’? And I used to really like Taiwanese people…”

“This happens quite often. Just ignore them, there’s no point in arguing with the brain-damaged. I’ve heard things like ‘Mainland dog’ hundreds of times.”

“There are extremists everywhere; just ignore them, there’s no need to implicate everyone from the same place as the extremist.”

“We go to Taiwanese servers to play games, not to look for people to curse us. And when we get into the games, we don’t talk, because it’s not easy to communicate as you [Taiwanese people] don’t recognize some simplified character forms. PS: I have also been cursed before [on Taiwanese servers].”

“If you’re playing WoW and you go to Taiwanese servers you will definitely be cursed at.”

“As soon as someone Taiwanese spots a simplified character, they just yell ‘Mainland dog’ over and over.”

“Yes, but in someone else’s territory you must swallow your anger, it’s all because we don’t have our own battle.net”

“Just use the Sougou pinyin input method to type in traditional characters.”

Many posters also pointed out that most Taiwanese are not so prejudiced, and urged the original poster not to lump them all together with the bad eggs.

Frustration over censorship and slow official releases

Original post: “Starcraft 2 is out. When will Netease release the official version? They won’t make us wait too long, right? Anyway, battle.net already requires a monthly fee, so how could they see such a big cake and not feel hungry? [i.e., doesn’t Netease want to make money from people playing Starcraft?]”

“Don’t bother waiting. Even if you manage to wait for it, it will just be river-crabbed [censored].”

“Netease: Don’t ask us, we want to put it up online tonight, please go ask the relevant government departments!”

“This user’s post has already been deleted.”

“In the year 3000-something.”

“[Riffing on the official patch that removed all skeletons from WoW] Look at the zerg and their zombies, our goal is to keep there from being any bones at all in the game, so just imagine the Queen of Blades in the background with two meaty wings [in the game, the Queen of Blades has bones for wings].”

“[The official Chinese version] will be out when Starcraft 3 is released.”

“Don’t even hold out hope, if you want to buy it just buy [an unofficial version].”

“In addition to waiting, we will also have to wait some more. We gamers really suffer.”

New on ChinaGeeks

  1. We’ve made a few tweaks to the blogroll, so check that out, and are always looking for more suggestions, especially for Chinese bloggers to follow.
  2. There’s a new post on ChinaGeeks Chinese: 关于矿难的一些思考. Check it out!

Breaking with Tradition

Hillary Clinton is back from China and in some ways things haven’t looked rosier for US – China relations in the entirety of the CCP’s rule over the mainland. Questions about human rights in China are out of fashion in Washington and other, seemingly-less controversial issues that both parties are keen to cooperate on are on the table.

In the spirit of mutual cooperation, the US conducted a round of military talks with China, which a top US representative said were the best he’d ever seen. Topics of mutual interest like anti-piracy took center stage. At this rate, a truly peaceful rise for China may just be in the cards.

China Daily has reported that “whether it is in methods of contact or how issues are formulated, everything is very different from before….On a diplomatic level, China and the United States are becoming quite balanced.” This is, of course, what China has always yearned for – the diplomatic respect and international political clout that one would expect from a country as large and populous as China.

Of course, no discussion of US—China relations are complete without mentioning Taiwan, and the more things change the more they stay the same. Taiwan is the 800 pound gorilla in the room whenever officials from either side of the Pacific meet – especially, one would imagine, military officials, and US has recently confirmed it will continue to sell arms to Taiwan in accordance with its longstanding stated defense obligations to said gorilla. This anachronistic policy goes beyond new attitudes towards China and strikes a deep nerve in both Washington and Beijing, going back farther than the Obama Administration and the Hu regime. This is tradition and tradition can admittedly be hard to break.

Relations between the US and China have shifted dramatically in the last decade. With the reality of cross-straits flights, relations between the mainland and Taiwan have never been better since Manchu emperors ruled the island from afar. While no one is suggesting that the US should withdraw its commitment to aid and defend Taiwan, there is wisdom in changing the tone and intensity of American cross-straits involvement. The United States cannot play referee forever.

While this idea may sound like it came from the mouth of a CCP spokesman denouncing American meddling in internal-Chinese affairs, a US shift away from focusing on Taiwan in cross-straits relations brings as much responsibility as breathing room to the mainland government. Should the US take a smaller and smaller role in cross-strait affairs, Beijing would be forced to learn to grow into its new role as a supposedly-responsible global power and throw out the on-again-off-again saber rattling that has become characteristic of cross-straits tensions. This includes curbing excessive and dangerous rhetoric regarding Taiwan that inflames local political opposition on the island and makes the job of moderates in Taipei just that much more difficult.

The Sino-American feud over Taiwan is a tradition as old as the PRC itself. Now that there has finally been some real progress made between Taiwan and the mainland and the US has room to step down, China must carefully consider its next move. The world is watching to see what a “peaceful rise” really looks like.