Cultural barriers

by Jason Lee on February 18, 2014

By Liang Chen

Wang Cho-chung, editor-in-chief of Taiwan newspaper Want Daily, could barely contain his anger when he pointed out there may be forces in Taiwan obstructing free media exchanges across the Taiwan Straits.

Recently, bilateral cooperation between Want Daily and San Jin Metropolitan Daily, based in Taiyuan, Shanxi Province, was blocked after a number of Taiwanese politicians opposed the cooperation and implied that the Chinese mainland has been influencing Taiwanese culture and society through media cooperation.

Want Daily, affiliated to China Times Group and created in August 2009, announced last month that it planned to publish content from San Jin Metropolitan Daily on one page of its paper once a week.

Content on topics including local culture, scenery and customs would be provided by San Jin Metropolitan Daily, then reedited and published in Taiwan by Want Daily, according to reports.

“A lot of Taiwanese people’s roots are on the Chinese mainland. Most of them, who have never returned to the mainland since they retreated to Taiwan, are eager to know what is taking place on the mainland,” Wang, whose grandfather was born in Ganzhou, Jiangxi Province, told the Global Times.

Nearly 60 percent of Taiwanese have never been to the mainland, which has made it necessary for Taiwan media to promote knowledge about the mainland, considering the improving ties across the Straits, Wang noted.

However, the page, scheduled to be published on January 10, failed to come out after legislator Chen Chi-mai, from the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), criticized such cooperation, saying it gave opportunities for mainland media to spread their influence in Taiwan.

Blocking exchanges

The publication of Chinese mainland newspapers is banned in Taiwan. However, Chen said that Want Daily has already offered opportunities for several mainland media outlets, including Jiangnan Metropolitan Daily, Yangtze Evening Post and other newspapers, to land in Taiwan by helping them publish their content in its papers.

Chen also criticized Taiwan’s culture authorities for neglecting their duty in checking whether or not such cooperation had violated publication laws.

In a response, Taiwan’s “Culture Minister” Lung Ying-tai said they would investigate whether or not Want Daily has violated related laws.

According to the law, the circulation, publication and sale of mainland newspapers should be authorized by the ministry. However, there are no specific laws or regulations that define the boundaries for cross-Straits media cooperation, which means such cooperation can easily become a target for the opposition party DPP to attack the Kuomintang(KMT)’s policy toward the mainland.

The query of the DPP member has drawn widespread criticism in the mainland and Taiwan. Want Daily eventually postponed the cooperation.

“Such cooperation is confined within the scope of content exchanges regarding culture and customs, and there is no political content at all. The DPP wants to politicize everything,” Li Yong, a media commentator, wrote in Shenzhen-based Jing Daily.

“Some politicians are using the opportunity to block the free exchange of culture, which is a hurdle to boosting mutual understanding on both sides,” Chiu Yi, a senior Taiwan media commentator, told the Global Times.

This is not the first time mainland media outlets have been blocked by the DPP. In 2009, when mainland companies attempted to advertise in Taiwan media, the DPP also raised doubts over the motivations of those companies and urged the authorities to investigate.

“According to my observation, the DPP would use every means to obstruct, destroy or query as long as there is cooperation between Taiwan and the mainland,” Li Yong said.

Taiwan’s political structure is mainly split into two camps – the pan-Green coalition and the pan-Blue coalition. The pan-Green coalition favors Taiwan independence, while the pan-Blue coalition favors unification across the Straits.

With the rise of the Chinese mainland and deepening cross-Straits exchanges, the peaceful development of Taiwan by cooperating with the mainland has been accepted by more and more Taiwanese. In order to strive for control over political leverage, the pro-independence DPP has played up to its voters by spreading the danger of ideological infiltration by the Chinese mainland.

Media cooperation and cultural exchange has always been a main target for the DPP when attacking the KMT.

Taiwan’s media are privately owned, supported by diverse political parties or business tycoons while the mainland media is State-owned.

“There are worries in Taiwan that the mainland government might use the State-owned media to make publicity for their values and ideological thoughts in Taiwan,” Zhang Yiwu, a professor on Chinese culture from Peking University, told the Global Times.

Wang warned that the repetition of such doubts and queries on media cooperation might harm media freedom in Taiwan.

“Taiwan’s media has strong supervision over the government, thanks to the free media atmosphere. However, if some political figures use cross-Straits media cooperation as an excuse to curb media freedom, it would harm the democratic development of Taiwan,” Wang told the Global Times.

Historically, Taiwan’s media has contributed greatly to the change of society in Taiwan since press restrictions were lifted in 1988. Several social campaigns that determined the state of Taiwan’s democratic process have been supported and pushed forward by local media.

Stagnated cultural ties

Despite both sides’ attempts to expand economic ties, broader cultural exchanges between both sides, not just media cooperation, have stagnated.

Broadcasts of TV shows from the mainland often cause a big splash on the island, with rising concerns that Beijing is increasing its influence.

In recent years, due to the dramatic expansion and development of the mainland’s cultural industry, several TV programs and dramas produced in the mainland have become extremely popular in Taiwan.

In 2012, the Chinese drama Legend of Zhen Huan, an adaptation of a novel that centers on palace intrigue during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), became popular in Taiwan. Reportedly, the show’s season finale, shown on a Taiwanese station, scored ratings of 3.38 percent, the highest of any show that year.

Concerns in Taiwan over the mainland’s cultural influence have flared up again after a Chinese reality singing competition, I Am a Singer, garnered a huge following in Taiwan last year. Some local TV stations, including some news stations, even called off their regular news programs to broadcast the final round of the competition. That prompted Taiwan authorities to investigate whether any station violated laws covering the broadcast of Chinese programs.

Some politicians have condemned Beijing for using mainland TV shows to influence Taiwanese.

Su Tseng-chang, chairman of DPP, warned that Beijing is using the show to extend its influence “into the island, into the households and into the brains (of the Taiwanese)” in a later speech.

In response, the spokesman of the mainland’s Taiwan Affairs Office criticized Su for “politicizing” a commercial TV show and obstructing cultural exchanges across the Straits.

“As the Chinese mainland is developing fast, most Taiwanese have gone through drastic psychological changes. They used to be confident about their cultural influence, but now, with cultural exports from the Chinese mainland, some Taiwanese, especially those who are pro-independence, are highly alert on the influence from the mainland, ” Zhang Yiwu told the Global Times.

Most Taiwanese are vexed about the prosperity of the Chinese mainland. They know that they can rely on the mainland to help their sluggish economy, but they also worry that the rise of culture on the Chinese mainland will have an influence on people’s ideology, Zhang noted.

For a long time, both sides have placed tight restrictions on cultural imports from the other side. For both sides, the broadcast of the other’s TV shows have to be approved by the authorities and neither side has permission to air its TV channels in each other’s market. Taiwan has not yet opened its advertising market to the mainland.

For instance, both sides have placed strict quotas on imports of films from the opposite side. So far, fewer than 10 Taiwanese movies have been screened in the mainland, and vice versa.

In terms of economic development, Taiwan seems to have more to lose considering the rapid growth of the Chinese mainland’s cultural market.

“The culture and entertainment industry on the Chinese mainland is expanding, and enhancing cultural changes can help Taiwan to develop. Both sides should encourage communication and exchanges on culture, rather than boycott it,” Xu Xue, a professor on Taiwan issues from the Institute of Taiwan at Xiamen University, told the Global Times.

Taiwanese cultural critics complained that the brain drain of talents would accelerate the decline of the culture industry.

In recent years, a large number of Taiwanese celebrities have been lured to the mainland by higher financial incentives.

“Taiwan is a small market. Entertainment figures are eager for a bigger market to seize more chances and make profits if they want to achieve bigger success,” Gong Ling, a Taiwan media commentator, told the Global Times.

Taiwan’s top three money-making celebrities last year, Nicky Wu, Alec Su and Ruby Lin, earned the vast majority of their 2012 income from working on the mainland. Many Taiwanese singers, such as Terry Lin and Julia Peng, who came second and fifth in I Am a Singer, have returned to the limelight and successfully saved their flagging careers after they joined the singing competition. Their appearance fee for each show multiplied.

People-to-people exchanges are unstoppable, and protectionism cannot boost exchanges, Xu noted.

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