Cultural cut of China and Taiwan

China is reducing the cultural exchange between China and Taiwan, in order to which China has objected on many basic books of Taiwan.

This is only to be expected, as Beijing has been reducing cultural exchanges and activities with Taiwan for the past few years. These actions range from drastically reducing the number of tourists allowed into Taiwan to boycotting the Golden Horse Awards in 2019, after a director’s comments about Taiwanese sovereignty set off a media storm.

However, Taiwan has managed without Chinese tourists, while local talent, as well as Chinese-speaking filmmakers from smaller countries such as Malaysia and Singapore, had more room to shine at last year’s awards.

With its huge population sharing an official language with Taiwan, China has long been a lucrative market for Taiwanese trying to expand their creative reach. Chinese consumers were interested in Taiwan over the past few decades, eager to soak up the music, films, books and other content it produced. Celebrities also went to China after their popularity waned at home and enjoyed continued success.

While cross-strait relations have been tense since president Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) was elected in 2016, Beijing has also been growing increasingly paranoid in the past year, and forceful in its bid to rewrite history and erase Taiwan’s existence from the international sphere. It is no surprise that it is cracking down on publications that even imply the existence of Taiwan as a separate entity.

Iris Chiang (江學瀅), who is featured in the article, was hoping to market Play With Art (玩藝術,酷思考) to wealthy Chinese parents, banking on China’s gradual relaxing of its one-child policy. Of course she was asked by the publisher to revise some parts — that is something that an author has to come to terms with if they want to tap into Chinese money — but the book was never published.

Unfortunately, cross-strait issues are pervading every sphere of interaction between the two nations. Before, there was still room for cultural activities, as long as no sensitive topics were broached, but today, there seem to be fewer ways for Taiwanese and Chinese to interact regarding purely cultural or commercial interests. The situation is likely to worsen as China continues in the direction driven by Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平), and the public consciousness will only follow. The Taiwanese books are a case in point; they did not make it to Chinese shelves largely due to publishers’ self-censorship rather than a direct government ban.

In this environment, which is growing harsher by the day, Taiwanese need to seriously weigh the increasingly heavy shackles that are put on them if they want to succeed in China. It is one thing to make concessions to earn money, but what about an author or performer’s integrity regarding their work? There is no winning with China’s ruthless “Little Pink” Internet army, who will pounce on anything slightly sensitive — just look at what happened to certain Taiwanese celebrities during the Olympics.

Of course, this is not a black-and-white situation, as Taiwan also has to protect itself against China’s aggressive information warfare and “united front” campaign. Last year, the government caused quite a stir when it pulled a Chinese children’s book that allegedly promoted Chinese Communist Party ideology.

It is tricky because Taiwan prides itself on its democratic ideals, such as freedom of speech, which greatly separate it from authoritarian China, but it is also obvious that no freedom is absolute, especially when it comes to the survival of a nation.