Fear of mainland China cultural influences political claptrap

It's not just a one-way street, as Taiwanese singers and soap operas have been popular for decades across the strait

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 24 April, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 24 April, 2013, 5:06am

A talent show for singers produced by mainland-based Hunan Satellite Television recently caused a sensation on both sides of the Taiwan Strait.

I Am a Singer was so popular that several Taiwanese cable news channels devoted most, if not all, of their air time - originally meant for newscasts - to broadcasting the show's finale on April 12.

That same night, it also became the big topic of talk shows on several other news channels, with hosts and guests discussing at length its upmarket stage design and concert-like presentation, which made other talent shows look amateurish.

The next day, several daily newspapers ran banner headlines about the result of the contest, which featured four well-known professional singers from Taiwan and three mainland acts, with the crown finally going to mainland pop duet Yu Quan.

The prominent coverage of the mainland competition sparked harsh criticism from the island's pro-independence camp, which accused the cable news channels of violating Taiwan's broadcasting law by airing an entertainment programme instead of news.

Democratic Progressive Party chairman Su Tseng-chang said such prominent coverage would indirectly help the mainland boost its cultural influence in Taiwan. "Previously China used business to besiege the government … now it uses cultural influence to penetrate the island, the families and the brains of Taiwanese," Su said.

He also warned the government of mainland-friendly Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou of the mainland's growing cultural penetration of Taiwan, saying that, sooner or later, Taiwanese would be wooed away by the mainland if the Ma government took no action to prevent it.

Su said some Taiwanese news media were serving as mainland mouthpieces, promoting, out of proportion, certain mainland programmes to help brainwash Taiwanese families, bad-mouth Taiwan and glorify the mainland.

"What Hong Kong has become today will be repeated in Taiwan tomorrow," he said referring to perceptions that the mainland is exerting more propaganda and cultural influence on Hong Kong.

But Su should realise that cultural influences are never a one-way street.

Taiwan's cultural influence on the mainland dates back to the 1980s, when mainlanders privately listened to the sweet songs of Teresa Teng. Back then, Teng was so popular she was even dubbed "Little Teng" - a reference comparing her influence to that of then mainland leader Deng Xiaoping. Teng is the Taiwanese spelling of Deng.

Many Taiwanese soap operas, including Huan Zhu Ge Ge (Princess Pearl) by popular novelist and TV producer Chiung Yao, were repeatedly broadcast on the mainland in the 1990s, leading to the mainland's own production of TV dramas with similar themes.

Su fears that cultural influences could lead to reunification, but if this was true, the mainland would have fallen into Taiwanese hands long ago.

Four of the seven finalists on I Am a Singer were from Taiwan, but the Taiwanese influence did not stop there. Many of the songs performed during the contests were either composed or originally sung by Taiwanese singers and even the song performed by the winners originated in Taiwan.

Taiwanese people were interested in the show not only because it was elaborately produced, but also because it was full of Taiwanese elements.

As the leader of the island's main opposition party, Su should be able to look at things in a fair and optimistic way, instead of resorting to fiery rhetoric when commenting about anything to do with the mainland. Such talk won't help Su or his party win back power they last held in 2008.

Taiwan used to be known as the "kingdom of entertainment" among the Chinese diaspora in Asia, but that glory has faded in the past five years or so due to inadequate production budgets and an outflow of talent.

I Am a Singer thus serves as a warning to Taiwan - not politically, but culturally.

As Taiwan's Culture Minister Lung Ying-tai says: "We need to cherish our creativity and do our utmost to preserve the source of our ingenuity."

The government should pay more attention to developing creative and cultural industries, including pop music.