How the innocence and patriotism of Taiwanese K-pop idol Chou Tzu-yu – named No. 2 in a “100 most beautiful faces” list for 2018 – ignited so much pain and anger can be quite surprising for people unfamiliar with tensions across the Taiwan Strait.
Three years ago, the then 16-year-old Taiwanese singer widely known as Tzuyu, who is part of the nine-girl Korean pop group called Twice, was obviously forced to read a humiliating apology for holding a tiny flag of the Republic of China (Taiwan) in a Korean show posted online.
In a video, a visibly pained Tzuyu – whose striking beauty and talent earned her second spot in the recently published 29th Annual Independent Critics’ 100 Most Beautiful Faces List created by British professional film critic TC Candler – also seemed compelled to utter words contrary to the fervent belief of the typical Taiwanese: that Taiwan is distinct from, and definitely not part of, China.
"There is only one China. The two sides of the strait are one, and I have always felt proud to be Chinese,” Tzuyu read from a prepared statement translated to English. “I feel extremely apologetic to my company and to Internet friends across the strait for the hurt that I have caused, and I also feel very guilty. I have decided to halt all my activities in China to do some serious reflection."
The video posted by her company, JYP Entertainment, showed Tzuyu dressed in a simple black sweater, standing against a plain grayish tile background, and bowing deeply before and after reading the statement. JYP made the move amid calls by Chinese Internet users asking that she and her group be banned from performing in China.
Although JYP denied Tzuyu was forced to make the apology, many who thought otherwise saw it as a cruel act inflicted on a 16-year-old who merely showed her patriotism by innocently waving her country’s flag.
The scripted apology shocked and infuriated not only the Taiwanese people but also many Chinese citizens overseas, gauging from many comments posted along with the online video that has generated around 8 million views so far.
“I am from China. Tzuyu did nothing wrong, no need to apologize at all,” netizen Zhibin Zhou posted. “Chou Tzuyu, born on June 14, 1999 is Taiwanese. Not Chinese, [but] Taiwanese. She didn’t have to apologize and it hurts watching this,” commented another netizen named Kpop Lego who lamented how the poor girl “had to lie about her ethnicity.”
Another netizen said: “This video must be on the web forever… because the world needs to know how political issues and great money can make this world so ugly that an innocent girl needs to be forced to apologize.” Other typical comments include: “Taiwan is not China. Taiwan is Taiwan, China is China; Taiwan is independent of China; Taiwan is a sovereign country.”
While a popular Chinese tabloid, The Global Times, proclaimed in its commentary that the apology “was a complete victory by mainland Internet users over Taiwanese independence,” the general feeling among people in Taiwan was sympathy for Tzuyu and anger over her predicament. “This sort of oppression from China really upsets people,” lamented a Taiwanese who decried how painful it is when one who is abroad “can’t show your flag, can’t represent your country.”
The apology, posted online the day before the January 2016 election in Taiwan, ignited a public uproar that was so intense it drove many young voters to boost the overwhelming support for Democratic Progressive Party’s then presidential candidate Tsai Ing-wen. The outpouring of support also gave the DPP majority in the legislature for the first time ever in a landslide victory over the Kuomintang party that wants closer ties with China.
But regardless of political affiliation, most Taiwanese people were angered and deeply offended by what happened to Tzuyu which, in the words of President Tsai, “has shaken Taiwanese society.” Indeed, many see the incident as an assault on the democratic values that Taiwanese people cherish.
And how democracy is cherished in Taiwan, as shown in the people’s reaction to Tzuyu’s case, is what hinders Chinese President Xi Jinping’s proposal for “a Taiwan model of ‘one country, two systems’ for China’s eventual unification.”
Many believe President Tsai is right when, responding to the proposal, she called on China “to bravely move toward democracy – for only in this way can China truly understand Taiwanese people’s ideas and commitments.”