I’ve pointed this out many times before: One cannot deal with China and not be changed in some fundamental way by it. Even when, strictly speaking, relations are limited to economic exchanges, the ramifications of that contact quickly spread to other areas, such as defense, culture, and human rights.
In early August, Australia had a taste of this with China’s belligerent attitude to the presentation of The 10 Conditions of Love, a documentary about Uighur leader Rebeiya Kadeer, at the Melbourne Film Festival and the festival’s subsequent invitation of Kadeer to attend the film’s showing. Beijing’s saber-rattling, added to repeated attacks on the festival’s Web site by “lone” Chinese nationalists in Australia and elsewhere, and the pulling out of three movies — including one co-produced by a Taiwanese film company — caused an unfortunate controversy, but festival authorities stood their ground and did not allow freedom of expression to be undermined by Chinese machinations.
Other instances, such as the torch relay prior to the Olympic Games in Beijing, showed the various effects of the Chinese “corruption of minds,” with some cities adopting security measures (amid tensions in Tibet) that would have perfectly fit Tiananmen Square in the lead-up to the People’s Republic of China’s 60th anniversary celebration. In those instances — and there are many others — liberal democracies smothered their core values to ensure stable relations with Beijing. In other words, people looked the other way and ignored Beijing’s many ugly sides for a fistful of yuan.
Taiwan, which under President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) has increasingly become beholden to the mighty renminbi, is now facing a similar onslaught, and sadly there are signs that some people will not be as resistant to Chinese pressure than their counterparts in other parts of the world. The refusal by Ma and other members of his administration to meet Tibetan leader the Dalai Lama when he visited Taiwan a few weeks ago was one such instance, where elected leaders of a democracy chose (or rather were forced) to avoid meeting a person reviled by Beijing within their own borders. More recently was the decision by the Kaohsiung Film Festival not to present The 10 Conditions of Love during the festival, as originally planned, but rather two weeks earlier to ensure that Beijing would not be “angered.” This concession was the result of pressure from the Taiwanese tourism sector, which argued that Chinese tourists would cancel their hotel reservations in southern Taiwan if the film were presented during the festival. A Kaohsiung City councilor from the KMT upped the ante today by comparing Kadeer to al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and Hitler!
In other words, tour operators were putting greed ahead of the nation’s hard-earned values of democracy and freedom, and saw not “angering” Beijing as more important than retaining the right to choose which movies we can watch, where, and when. This decision, which for some (such as Kaohsiung Tourism Association chairman Tseng Fu-hsing, 曾福興), was still not enough and still risked irking the rulers who control the spigot of Chinese tourists, creates a dangerous precedent, as it can only invite further meddling by China into the socio-cultural affairs of Taiwan. If a film about Kadeer can result in self-censorship, what’s next? Movies about the Japanese? Books? TV series? Dance shows? Theater? (Two film directors, Chen Li-kuei 陳麗貴 and Chen Yu-ching 陳育青, have announced the withdrawal of their films from the festival in protest of the city government’s decision to reschedule the screening of the documentary.)
If Taiwanese do not take a firm stand against this cultural aggression, and if, by doing nothing, they allow Chinese censorship to determine the content of what we’re allowed to access in Taiwan, then the creeping transformation will only accelerate and Beijing will have won.
It’s still too early to see how the Kaohsiung City Government under the capable Mayor Chen Chu (陳菊) will react. But if this self-muzzling is allowed to proceed, others will have to take action. One way to do this would be to boycott Chinese films playing in Taiwanese theaters — especially movies that serve as cover for propaganda. One appropriate target would be the “propaganda blockbuster” Jianguo Daye (Lofty Ambitions of Founding a Republic), a movie produced by the state-owned China Film Group and directed by its chairman and chief executive, Han Sanping, about the Chinese civil war and the defeat of Nationalist forces by the communists.
Ironically, the Taiwanese government said it would not censor the movie, which will be released in Taiwan next year.