The Sunflower Movement – what Taiwan students call their recent protests, marked a sharp escalation as hundreds of protesters stormed Taiwan’s cabinet offices on Sunday, which has resulted in several waves of clashes between anti-riot police and angry protesters, and inevitably, injured students.
The escalation came after days of the occupation of the Taiwan legislature by students in protest against a trade pact with mainland China, in which both sides agree to open up dozens of service sector industries to companies from either side. Opponents of the trade pact fear that Beijing will tighten its grip over Taiwan through growing influence over the self-governed island’s economy.
So far, media in mainland China seem to have relative freedom in reporting what is likely to become Taiwan’s own moment of “1989 student movements.” China’s leading social media Weibo has been filled with real-time updates from outside the Taiwan government buildings, where anti-riot police have been “clearing out” protesters.
Most Chinese netizens, after seeing the news, took the position of an onlooker because they believe that these Taiwan student protesters are “too young and naive” to achieve anything. After all, in their minds, the trade pact is meant to benefit Taiwan at the cost of the interests of mainland Chinese businesses.
One netizen 火山石烤鱿鱼 commented: “I don’t want Taiwan to pass the trade pact, either, because I don’t want Beijing to use our hard-earned money to save Taiwan’s economy. We should wait until Taiwan’s economy collapses.”
Mainland netizens seem to be much angrier at a few Taiwan stars who openly voiced support for the student protesters and publicly showed their disparage of mainland audiences. Among them are popular singers Yoga Lin, Deserts Chang, and rock band Mayday.
Earlier last week, Yoga Lin posted a paper titled “How the pending Agreement on Trade in Services between China and Taiwan would impact Taiwan’s economy and sovereignty” on his Facebook page. In response to a comment that Lin may risk being banned in mainland, one of his fans said: “What is there to fear? I dear Beijing to ban all Taiwan singers. Let’s wait and see who’d cry out loud if no Taiwan singer goes to China to perform.”
This particular massage soon went viral on Weibo, and right now, #Kick Taiwan stars who support independence out of China# is trending.
Most of the anger lies in the belief that these stars condemn mainland Chinese as a faceless whole, while at the same time cashing in on mainland market. “While in front of us, they pretend that they care about us mainland fans…for our money. At our back, they speak ill of all mainland Chinese,” commented one netizen 昕埝whyhong.
Many netizens hold that they are first a Chinese citizen then a fan. One long-time fan of Yoga Lin 李磊 said: “I have been your fan since 2007. I’ve purchased most of your albums and been to your concerts, but I won’t keep supporting you starting now. Bye bye, Yoga. Best of luck. Please don’t ‘lower’ yourself to perform in mainland China any more.”
Also trending on Weibo is #Prevent Chapman To from coming to mainland China#. Chapman To is a popular Hong Kong actor best known for his comedic roles. As a Hong Kong star, he threw himself into the current controversy by calling his Taiwan celebrity friends to “ignore mainland netizens” because “they are truly barbarous.”
Flooded by Chinese netizens’ fury, he continued to point out that the criticism and anger from mainland netizens exactly proved his point. To make things worse, he went on to “declare war”: “Stop telling me to not to visit mainland China if I have the guts. I say to you: ‘I dare you guys to have the guts to keep me from performing in mainland China.’”
And thus the trending hashtag. While there are netizens who said they can understand Yoga Lin’s stance as a Taiwanese, no one stood out in defense of Chapman To.
As one netizen 星光背影 commented: “I respect these celebrities’ perspective given their unique background. But it’s a big no for an actor to put himself above his audiences from an entire country. Chapman To, you are free to express your opinion, I’m also free to boycott all your works.” Another pissed mainland netizen 左晓雯vian commented: “I may not be powerful enough to keep you out of mainland, but as a mainland Chinese, I will never pay a single penny to watch your movies.”
Many netizens actually urged China’s SARFT (State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and TV) to permanently ban him.
Even worse news for Chapman To is that he pissed off not only mainland audiences. 陈砺志, CEO of Beijing Maite Media, vowed to never use To in his production: “I will never use Chapman To in movies that I invest in. My company will also never join any project that Chapman To is in.” Popular Chinese director 高群书 also followed suit.
This is not the first time when Taiwan or Hong Kong celebrities get involved in the complicated politics between mainland China and the two islands. A-mei, famous Taiwan singer who was banned from visiting mainland China in 2000 for supporting Taiwan independence, only made a full return in recent years. Deserts Chang, who held a Republic of China flag during her concert, even brought the confrontation to England.
At the heart of the conflict is mainland Chinese’ belief that “celebrities should stay away from politics.”