Film director at centre of Taiwan political storm stands by Golden Horse remarks

  • Documentary maker Fu Yue ignited controversy on the mainland when she declared her hope for the island to be ‘regarded as an independent entity’
PUBLISHED : Monday, 19 November, 2018, 10:45pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 20 November, 2018, 3:08am

The pro-independence director at the centre of a storm over Taiwan’s political status has stood by her remarks at the Golden Horse film awards, while the island’s president also weighed in to show support.

Fu Yue ignited controversy when she declared her hope for Taiwan to be regarded as “independent” as she accepted the best documentary award at the ceremony on Saturday.

In a Facebook post the next day, she said she did not regret what she had done, even if it cost her work opportunities on the mainland. “I am willing to accept whatever consequence brought to my career in the future,” Fu said.

Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen, meanwhile, voiced her support for the event and lashed out at a mainland actor’s use of “Taiwan, China” during the ceremony.

“We have never accepted the term ‘Taiwan, China’ and will never accept it. Taiwan is Taiwan,” Tsai said, also on Facebook. “I am proud of the Golden Horse Awards. It highlights how Taiwan stands apart from China, thanks to our freedom and diversity.”

Dubbed the “Chinese Oscars”, the awards are in their 55th year and bring together actors and directors from both sides of the strait to celebrate the Chinese-language film industry.

But this year, worsening political tensions between Beijing and Taipei have spilled over to the star-studded event. Fu, 36, set off the firestorm in her acceptance speech after being recognised for her documentary Our Youth in Taiwan, about the island’s 2014 Sunflower Movement.

“I really hope one day our country will be regarded as an independent entity – this is my biggest wish as a Taiwanese,” she said as she fought back tears.

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Her remarks were met with loud applause, but they sparked outrage on the mainland. Live streams of the ceremony on several mainland platforms were cut.

On social media, mainland celebrities including actress Fan Bingbing shared an image of a map of China that included Taiwan and the “nine-dash line” with the hashtag “China, not even a dot can be missing”. The topic had been read 9 billion times by Monday evening.

The image was first posted by the Communist Youth League in 2016 to protest against an international tribunal ruling against China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea – represented by the “nine-dash line”.

Many mainland internet users even got around the Great Firewall to flood Fu’s Facebook page with thousands of indignant – and in many cases abusive – comments.

Beijing, which regards Taiwan as a breakaway province, has stepped up pressure on the self-ruled democratic island ever since Tsai and her independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) won the 2016 election. It has cut official communication with Taipei, stepped up its military activities around the Taiwan Strait and sought to squeeze the island’s international presence.

There is a large amount of misunderstanding and rancour in the civil societies of [mainland] China and Taiwan … My work is an attempt to deal with this problem
Film director Fu Yue

In the past two years, five of Taiwan’s allies have switched diplomatic allegiance to Beijing, while international airlines, hotels and other companies have been pressured to remove from their websites any reference to Taiwan as a country.

On Facebook, Fu said her remarks had not been made “in the heat of the moment” and denied accusations she was “instructed” to make them by the DPP.

Our Youth in Taiwan follows the stories of a Taiwanese student leader, a mainland exchange student and Fu herself in the wake of the Sunflower Movement. The student-led protests against a trade deal with Beijing marked a change in the way many young Taiwanese saw themselves and their relationship with mainland China.

“There is a large amount of misunderstanding and rancour in the civil societies of [mainland] China and Taiwan … My work is an attempt to deal with this problem,” Fu wrote in her post, adding that it could lead “perhaps to the start of another dialogue” between the two sides.

On Saturday, some mainland stars at the ceremony hit back at Fu’s remarks. Presenting the best leading actor award, last year’s winner Tu Men said he was honoured to be invited again to the Golden Horse in “Taiwan, China”.

“This time, I’ve seen many familiar faces and made many new friends. I feel we are ‘one family on both sides of the strait’,” Tu added, using another of Beijing’s pet phrases on cross-strait relations.

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Actress Gong Li added to the tension when she refused to join director Ang Lee on stage to present the award for best feature film, despite Lee’s repeated urging – a move that received broad support on mainland social media, where there have been calls for a boycott of next year’s awards by mainland actors and directors.

Lee said afterwards that people were free to speak their minds. “Taiwan is a free society and the film festival is open to everyone, so everyone can say whatever they want and no one would stop them – everyone in the film industry is our guest,” he said.

Asked by lawmakers about a possible mainland boycott of the awards next year, Taiwan’s Culture Minister Cheng Li-chun on Monday said: “I hope the Chinese government is able to perceive the value of freedom and democracy so that it would not need to shoulder such a burden in international film festivals in the future.”

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The incident could give DPP candidates running in Taiwan’s local government elections on Saturday a much-needed boost.

The party’s mayoral candidate for Taipei, Pasuya Yao Wen-chih, said even though Taiwan was being squeezed diplomatically by mainland China, “we still respect your speeches because we are a free and democratic society, though we have a red line that we won’t allow you to cross”.

Sun Ta-chien, a former Kuomintang lawmaker and now a finance professor, said the awards storm could have an impact on the polls.

“The DPP government and outside forces naturally will do all they can to stir up tensions between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait, and if Beijing dances to their tune it could help the DPP wave their Taiwanese identity banner and turn the tide” of the elections, he said.