Taiwanese singer irks mainland Chinese fans in flag row

Pictures of singer holding Taiwan flag on stage published online

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 06 November, 2013, 5:19pm
UPDATED : Friday, 08 November, 2013, 11:28am

Taiwanese singer and songwriter Deserts Chang, also known in mainland China as Zhang Xuan, 32, has recently been caught in a controversy over cross-strait relations after pictures of the singer holding a Taiwan flag on stage were published online.

Her performances for the rest of the year in the mainland, including an 18,000-seat concert in Beijing on December 30, have now all been postponed, according to Chang's agent and mainland Chinese organisers. 

Chang also wrote in an blog post that she might cancel the December 30 concert herself. 

“Without seeing what really happened or discussing [it] with me, some have already reached [their own] conclusions. I am willing to bear all the losses and cancel the concert. I hope this decision can put a stop to the troubles,” Chang said in a statement published on her Sina Weibo account on Tuesday. 

However, her agent Cai Yuqing told the South China Morning Post on Wednesday that sponsors and organisers were still working hard negotiating with mainland Chinese government regulators to keep the Beijing concert on track.

“She doesn’t have to do the concert, but it would be her first mainland concert on that large scale,” said Cai. “She feels guilty seeing everyone working so hard for her.”

On Saturday, Zhang performed in a small concert in Manchester, Britain, for an audience mainly from Taiwan and mainland China. After the first several songs, fans in the front row handed over a Taiwan flag. Zhang accepted it and held it while singing and speaking to the audience.

According to video footage of the concert, Chang was soon interrupted by a young female student who shouted, “No politics today.”

Chang responded by asking: "It's not about politics, it's just a fact. It reflects where I am from so why are you talking about poiltics anyway?" 

"You said that is a 'national' flag," the student replied, but Chang ended the conversation there and continued her performance.

Several minutes later, she added: “You probably learned this from movies or TV, thinking saying this is gracious, or that it seems like you understand the situation very well.”

The student replied, “we just wanna have fun tonight.”

The female student, who is apparently from mainland China but whose name and identity remains unknown, later posted an anonymous article online about the unpleasant exchange, and accused Chang of being arrogant.

The posting soon stirred up heated discussion on Chinese and Taiwanese social media sites.

On November 5, Chang issued a 2,000-word statement on her weibo account explaining that she didn't mean to upset her audience, nor acted arrogantly towards her critic. 

“I wasn’t being sarcastic or arrogant. I am not trying to track back with this long statement either,” wrote Chang. “As I said on the stage, ‘if you wish to speak, I’m always listening, really.’”

In a statement to the media, Chang wrote: “I hope what happened can bring a new perspective to existing problems, not insults. This is the final thing I will say.”

While some of Chang's Chinese fans say they appreciate her candor and standing up for her sense of belonging, many others feel offended. More than 55,000 comments have piled up on Chang's weibo posts about the incident by Wednesday afternoon, most of them negative.  A weibo hashtag calling for Chang to quit the entertainment industry has gained 4,000 “likes”.

Chang’s real name is Chiao An-p'u, and she is the daughter of Chiao Jen-ho, vice chairman of the Strait Exchange Foundation – a semi-official organisation set up by the government of Taiwan hold business and political talks with Beijing. 

Chang had said in an earlier interview with the BBC that “public figures indeed have a big influence with their words… I think public figures should play a leading role in discussions and in reaching consensus in society”.