|Taiwanese artist Chao Tsung-song in front of the mural|
There is something about art and symbols that really gets under the skin of Chinese Communist Party officials and makes them behave in ways that even they must know is against their self-interest.
This is exemplified by the deplorable decision made during the London Olympics this summer to take down the Republic of China flag from Regent Street after Chinese representatives in the UK pressured British officials to do so. Chinese officials apparently could not bear the idea that a symbol of Taiwanese nationhood, disagreeable though it may be to some Taiwanese, could flutter alongside the flags of other nations. However, rather than strengthen China’s interests, the move damaged its image while bringing into full contrast the reasons why Taiwan is not — and cannot be — part of China. The controversy received substantial coverage in the media, especially after hundreds of young people bearing flags gathered on Regent Street for various photo ops.
Over the years, Chinese officials, sports coaches and students have constantly lost their senses over art, images, films and other manifestations of freedom, ripping flags, boycotting festivals and sometimes resorting to physical violence. It is hard to tell whether this instinctive reaction to symbols stems from growing up in a society where propagandistic images played such a powerful role in cultivating nationalism, or from the realization that symbols can spark an emotional response in people.
My unsigned editorial, published today in the Taipei Times, continues here.