20 February 2019
Taiwanese singer Bobby Chen is weighing in on the cross-strait trade spat. Photo: Facebook
Taiwanese singer Bobby Chen is weighing in on the cross-strait trade spat. Photo: Facebook

How Bobby Chen hit a sour note with China

There is one curious way Taiwanese pop star Bobby Chen is regarded in China — his singing is mild and gentle but his views are extreme.

That is no comfort to his hordes of fans in the mainland who continue to embrace his hit song, “One Night in Beijing”, as some kind of national anthem.

There is no sign Chen’s views are about to be silenced or his songs stilled, but there could be reprisals one way another (perhaps a crackdown on videoke bars that play his songs, who knows?)

It all started when Chen took to his Facebook page to rail against a cross-border service trade agreement most Taiwanese see as an excuse by Beijing to exert undue influence on their affairs.

And he let it be known in no uncertain terms that he is opposed to any such move by Beijing. 

As it turns out, Ma Xiaoguang, the spokesperson of China’s State Council Taiwan Affairs Office, was listening.

Chen’s views are extreme and don’t represent the majority of Taiwanese, Ma was reported as saying.

“No one should be deprived the right of mutual visits and exchanges between compatriots across the strait,” Ma said.

The rhetoric is not new and the Taiwanese have more than once demonstrated their sentiment about the issue in protest marches.

But Chen’s celebrity, not to mention his huge Facebook following, has added a new twist to the cross-border spat. 

Among younger people in the mainland, Chen is popular, and regardless of his political or social views, his songs continue to attract fans.

He was among the first batch of Taiwanese artists to crack the mainland market in the early 1990s. His “One Night in Beijing” has been a domestic success since it was released in 1992.

Fans love his gentle singing style and repertoire, a mix of country and Chinese music that appeals to both sides of the generational divide.

But beyond his art, Chen is an ordinary man who shares a passion for his homeland with other Taiwanese.

Having been exposed to the Chinese mainland for the past 20 years, Chen has seen things change across the Taiwan Strait — China’s astonishing economic transformation, growing military strength and global influence — and their effects on Taiwan.

Sure, there have been increased trade, cultural exchanges and visits, but many Taiwanese are beginning to wonder whether these are not part of a grand scheme to hasten political reunification.

Taiwan people don’t want China’s money. They want to maintain their way of life and preserve their homeland.

There’s a song about that. Chen must have heard the line “… this land is mine”.

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EJ Insight writer

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