23 February 2019
The backlash on teenage pop star Chou Tzu-yu over a Taiwan flag-waving incident shows how some mainland Chinese people have let their nationalist sentiments go haywire. Photo: internet
The backlash on teenage pop star Chou Tzu-yu over a Taiwan flag-waving incident shows how some mainland Chinese people have let their nationalist sentiments go haywire. Photo: internet

Time for mainlanders to get the big chip off their shoulders

The squabbles and bickering over the question of Chinese national identity keep coming back like a bad penny.

Recently we saw Taiwanese pop singer and actor Show Luo (羅志祥) come under fire at home and “unfriended” by 40,000 of his fans on Facebook overnight for his remarks that “we don’t need to make too many distinctions between China and Taiwan. We’re all Chinese.”

Then there was Chou Tzu-yu (周子瑜), a 16-year-old Taiwanese member of the hit Korean female pop group “Twice”, who appeared on a video clip two days before the Taiwan presidential election. In the video clip, the tired and gaunt-looking Chou was seen bowing twice and apologizing humbly to mainland Chinese fans for waving a flag of the Republic of China (Taiwan) during a TV show last December. The teenage star reiterated that she is “Chinese” and that “there is only one China”.

It is believed that the pop star was forced into making the apology by her Korean management firm in order to soothe angry Chinese fans who were upset by her flag-waving act.

The clip went viral on the Internet and provoked widespread outrage among the Taiwanese people, many of whom felt sympathy for the girl amid a feeling that she had to suffer deep humiliation because of mainland “chauvinists”. It is said that the clip prompted many formerly undecided voters to cast their votes for independence-leaning Tsai Ing-wen, candidate of the DPP, contributing to her landslide victory over the ruling Kuomintang which had failed to speak up over the incident.

It really boggles the mind that mainland netizens would kick up such a fuss about the flag-waving act of Chou, because after all, she was only waving the flag of the Republic of China.

According to the so-called “1992 consensus” officially endorsed by both Beijing and Taipei, leaders of both sides of the strait have agreed on the principle of “One China, Different Interpretation”, under which one can either pledge allegiance to the People’s Republic of China or the Republic of China, as long as they agree that there is only one China.

Mainland netizens and TV viewers who were angered by Chou’s flag-waving act must have been either completely ignorant about the “1992 consensus” or a bit too carried away by their unchecked nationalist ego.

In fact the issue of Chinese national identity has been an extremely sensitive and emotional topic that always strikes a raw nerve among Chinese communities in the mainland, Taiwan and even Hong Kong. While most public figures on both sides of the strait tend to refrain from touching on this delicate issue, those who dare to take any clear stance are bound to anger either the mainland Chinese or the Taiwanese.

So let us get this straight here, what is meant by being a Chinese? First thing first, to me being a Chinese is a cultural and ethnic identity. So there is absolutely no doubt that mainlanders, Hongkongers and Taiwanese are all ethnic Chinese that come from the same root. We all share the same cultural heritage, customs and language, not to mention that we all observe the same traditional festivals and seasonal occasions.

However, being Chinese doesn’t necessarily mean we all belong to the same nationality, which is defined by your place of birth and the passport that you hold rather than your ethnicity. There are millions of overseas Chinese people that have foreign citizenship around the world.

Just take a look at the Anglo-Saxons, they are scattered around the world and even though they all share the same culture and language, they belong to different nationalities. So an Anglo-Saxon can be an American, a British, a Canadian or Australian. Likewise, you can be a Chinese but at the same time an American citizen, a Chinese but a British or Canadian citizen, or a Chinese but a Taiwanese (or the Republic of China, ROC) citizen, and so on.

I bet even the most die-hard and stubborn British royalists won’t get upset by an American waving an American flag, so what’s wrong with a Chinese Taiwanese waving a ROC flag? Would mainland netizens kick up the same fuss if Jeremy Lin, the Chinese American NBA sensation, waved the Stars and Stripes, or Yo-Yo Ma, the world-renowned French-born Chinese American cellist, waved the Tricolour in public?

It is very important to make one thing clear: the People’s Republic of China (PRC) doesn’t have a monopoly on Chinese identity, nor does it have any jurisdiction over ethnic Chinese who belong to other nationalities. Moreover, the government of the PRC doesn’t represent all ethnic Chinese people on earth. It is absolutely ridiculous to suggest that any ethnic Chinese automatically falls within the jurisdiction of the People’s Republic of China, as the mainland authorities claimed in the recent case of Gui Minhai, a naturalized Swedish citizen who had been missing since October 2015.

Chinese netizens have been notorious for their nationalist ego and belligerent rhetoric, and they can get ruffled easily over even the slightest criticism or defiance against the People’s Republic of China. It is largely because they still have a chip on their shoulder about China being bullied by other powers in the past. However, all that is over and China is now the second-largest economy in the world. So it’s time now for them to put all the unpleasant memories behind them and move on.

Unless the mainland Chinese people get rid of that chip on their shoulder and put all their grudges and bitterness behind them, they can never truly gain the respect of other nations and qualify as world citizens of the 21st century, no matter how cash-flush they have become.

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