Recent Incidents Highlight Continued Coercion of Taiwanese Entertainers in China

by Brian Hioe

Photo credit: Wu Mu-hsuen/Facebook

NEWS REPORTS INDICATE that Taiwanese actor Wu Mu-hsuen was made to sign a pledge of agreement with China’s territorial claims over Taiwan. Details of this pledge were disclosed by Wu’s agent, Chen Hsiao-chih.

This was a condition for the broadcast of the online drama “Hey! Come a Bit Closer”, which had finished filming. Yet Wu was told that the drama would not be broadcast unless she signed the agreement.

Interestingly enough, such pledges are now increasingly commonplace for Taiwanese entertainers working in China. At the same time, they are not always mandated by authorities. Rather, Chinese production crews themselves make Taiwanese actors sign such pledges, fearing possible consequences down the line.

This illustrates the many layers of censorship and political coercion in China. Namely, the state does not have to directly intervene in some cases, and productions will take to self-censorship out of fear of what could happen. Likewise, this points to how the role of Taiwanese entertainers is increasingly precarious in China.

Indeed, in a similar timeframe, Taiwanese band May Day was cleared of lip-synching charges during concerts, something that prompted an investigation against the band from Chinese authorities. Such charges were made in the lead-up to Taiwanese elections, perhaps taking advantage of how May Day frequently performs in China.

Trailer for “Hey! Come a Bit Closer”

Some reports suggest that the allegations against May Day were retribution against the band for being unwilling to perform an unspecified political service for the Chinese government, possibly a declaration of opposition to Taiwanese independence against something of that sort. China’s Taiwan Affairs Office (TAO) denied the report while KMT politicians such as Jaw Shaw-kong also claimed that this story had been concocted by the DPP to fearmonger over China and that he would persecute the international media responsible for the story if elected.

Apart from publicly stating that the TAO should deny the allegations, Jaw called on May Day to itself come forward with the truth. The band, however, remained silent. Indeed, Mayday has largely sought to avoid being pinned down with political views that would lead to it being blocked from the Chinese market. Nevertheless, during the 2014 Sunflower Movement, bassist Masa expressed support for the youth-led occupation, before pressure from Chinese fans led the group to declare that it was not against the CSSTA.

This is not the first time in recent memory that Taiwanese musicians operating in the Chinese market have faced political pressure. In August, restrictions were reported on performances in China by A-mei and Jolin Tsai because of their popularity with members of the LGBTQ community. Members of indie pop group The Shine&Shine&ShineShine also saw a performance canceled over statements of the group interpreted as indicative of viewing Taiwan and China as separate countries. Other Taiwanese entertainers who have a presence in the Chinese market, such as actors, have faced similar–sometimes coming under scrutiny by Chinese fans or authorities for statements or actions that would not ordinarily be interpreted as supporting independence in Taiwan, but which were misread in the Chinese context.

Yet it proves interesting how Taiwanese entertainers are apparently viewed as politically risky in China at this juncture, given the possibility that they come under scrutiny for real or perceived pro-independence views. This proves an odd corollary to how Taiwanese entertainers or businesses can be arbitrarily targeted because of efforts by China to politically pressure Taiwan, sometimes due to misapprehensions of their political views, or simply as a convenient means of pressuring the Tsai administration. Ironically, this may dissuade Taiwanese entertainers or businessmen from working in the Chinese market, if this causes China to be seen as a risky market, when this has otherwise provided a form of leverage over Taiwan.