Artists and athletes, from nearly every corner of the world, are paying for their free expression with the currency of soft power. In other words, countries are increasingly relying on its cultural export (artists and athletes) to further advance its own positive narrative—a means to make the country more attractive and add leverage for their business interests and international appeal.
In the case between China and Taiwan, Chou Tzuyu, a 16-year-old K-Pop singer, was used as a pawn to instigate a contentious debate about sovereignty, independence, and international appeal.
South Korea arguably uses K-pop, to some extent, as soft power, much like hip-hop is the United States’s secret soft power. China is desperate to create a positive international image, but it’s failing in its dire attempt because “its repressive political system and mercantilist business practices tarnish its reputation.” Their unfortunate actions undermine the quest to change the negative perception of China.
Chou Tzuyu is ethnic Chinese of Taiwanese nationality and member of the multi-national K-Pop band TWICE (트와이스); she was forced to make a humiliating apology to China for waving a Taiwanese flag on Korean television. China regards Taiwan, irrespective of the Taiwanese people, as its sovereign territory, so Chou’s act brought Taiwan’s national identity and its historical contentious relationship with China back to the international debate stage. This is a relationship marred by China’s utter refusal to acknowledge Taiwan as an independent country.
Taiwan’s first female president Tsai Ing-wen (pro-independence) and outgoing President Ma Ying-jeou lent support to the 16-year-old singer, but what does all of this say about our industries of escapism that are so often undergirded by national pride and unwarranted pressure of sociopolitical responsibility?
Artists and athletes are burdened with the task to represent an entire country, race, or ethnicity. Some explicitly take on the mantle, others simply want to just do their jobs. And when that burden is forced upon them in a given situation, strictly for political gain, it morphs the individual into a disposable pawn– their freedom to simply exist and express themselves freely is stripped away. Diplomacy and concrete solutions for systemic and institutional issues is put aside for the sole purpose of measuring the loyalty of one individual– that is exploitation, and that is wrong.
Chou Tzuyu is simply the latest Taiwanese celebrity to be victim of selective outrage and misguided attacks from the Chinese public, an indignation allowed by the Chinese government.
This story, in some aspects, reminds me of the misguided social media debate in the U.S. about LeBron James’ silence about the death of Tamir Rice. It also reminds me of the glaring social differences between Muhammad Ali, the black rebel verses Michael Jordan, the capitalist brand. There is a solid connection to be made about the consumers’ behavioral expectations of public figures. Despite the relevancy and importance of micro and macro political battles, the general public, too often, over rely on symbolic statements and perceptions, rather than placing the most emphasis on concrete resolutions for social problems and political disputes.
The general public and government must realize, at some point, that artists and athletes are certainly able to serve a specific purpose, but it must be at their discretion; dragging them into a quagmire is counterproductive and unfair.
They’re multifaceted humans, first and foremost, with pain thresholds, not disposable pawns used for measuring loyalty. Ms. Chou, unfortunately, is stuck between two sides of the strait.
Ms. Chou’s apology video, issued by her South Korean management company, JYP Entertainment, looked like a damn propaganda video or hostage plea:
“I’m sorry, I should have come out earlier to apologize. I didn’t come out until now because I didn’t know how to face the situation and the public. There is only one China. I am proud, I am Chinese. As a Chinese person, while participating in activities abroad, my improper behavior hurt my company and netizens on both sides of the Strait. I feel deeply sorry and guilty. I decided to reflect on myself seriously and suspend all my activities in China.”
Read this article on OogeeWoogee by Wilkine Brutus, Koreaboo’s newly launched content partner. Koreaboo’s partner platform is where celebrities, content creators and our friends share a unique perspective on Korean content to our readers with original content!
About The Author:
Wilkine Brutus is a Haitian-American writer and digital content producer exploring the human condition.