Performers should be left alone

TAIPEI, Taiwan, The China Post Editorial

Over the weekend, our unpredictable Vice President Annette Lu once again made headlines after she publicly demanded pop singer Chang Hui-mei, known to millions across Asia as “A-Mei,” choose sides between Taiwan and mainland China.

By making these remarks, Lu, who spoke on a radio program after Chang had a nerve-wracking concert in Beijing amid protests last month, has forced A-Mei to choose between her native Taiwan and the promising market of mainland China.

While Lu may have achieved her goal of staying at the center of public attention, we think the vice president should have exercised more restraint. At the very least, Vice President Lu has thrust A-Mei head over heels into the rough and tumble of cross-strait politics, making it difficult for her to perform or sell CDs in the mainland until things calm down.

And at the very worst, Lu may have very well tossed a monkey wrench into A-Mei’s promising career as a rising star with mass appeal all across the Chinese-speaking regions of Asia.

While A-Mei’s fans will surely continue to enjoy her music, the 31-year-old diva may see all of her CD sales lost to bootlegging and Internet pirates in the now likely event her albums are banned by communist authorities on the mainland.

The public remarks by the vice president have also obviously thrust A-Mei into a controversy that she has absolutely no desire to partake in. While Beijing is ultimately responsible for whipping up nationalistic sentiment that has led to the public branding of artists and entertainers into so-called “splittist” and “patriotic” camps supporting either Taiwan independence or Chinese reunification, we think it is unwise for leaders here to throw grease on the fire by making ill-prepared remarks that could potentially harm careers.

We understand that Beijing is being totally unreasonable by attempting to label certain performers for allegedly being unpatriotic or unsupportive of the mainland’s goal of reunifying Taiwan and mainland China.

Along these lines, it is not surprising to learn about the frustration that leaders here, as well as the performers themselves, are feeling about the prospect of being labeled one way or the other by the mainland’s propagandists. But for A-Mei, who has clearly worked to steer clear of political controversies by avoiding sensational public remarks, Lu’s comments have forced her down a road of political controversy that could end up costing her the fame and recognition her hard work duly deserves. Right now, there are two highly contradictory forces at work on both sides of the Taiwan Strait.

One the one hand, political tensions are driving societies on both sides ever further apart.

But on the other, a common language and an emerging common popular culture are leading to increased interchangeability between both sides — even to the point where there is little differentiation between performers coming from one side or the other.

Mainland Chinese performers, including the likes of Faye Wong and others, have long been very popular in Taiwan and are regular visitors here. And in the mainland, Taiwanese performers are just as popular and welcome whenever they perform in cities from Beijing to Shenzhen and Guangzhou.

Chang Hui-mei’s unfortunate journey into controversy started four years ago, when she agreed to deliver a riveting performance of the ROC National Anthem at the May 20 inauguration of President Chen Shui-bian.

Since President Chen has been labeled a “splittist” by the mainland’s propaganda machine, reports suggested that the mainland authorities imposed a temporary ban on A-Mei’s public performances on the mainland until the issue could be cleared up.

According to these reports, a soft drink commercial featuring A-Mei was banned from being broadcast on the mainland and certain tour dates had to be canceled, although Beijing formally denied issuing any such orders.

This year, A-Mei was welcomed back to the mainland to start a concert tour for her latest album, which has been a hot seller across the country. But A-Mei had to cancel a performance in Hangzhou after demonstrators appeared outside the concert venue unfurling banners deriding her for allegedly being a Taiwan independence activist and demanding she return to Taiwan.

Beijing publicly denied any attempt to ban A-Mei from performing on the mainland and another concert for Beijing was scheduled for last month. During that performance, another group of protesters appeared accusing A-Mei of being a “splittist” but the concert went on. But during her performance, A-Mei became visibly upset and only continued singing after her fans begged her to soldier on.

Just as it seemed that A-Mei was finally able to turn the corner on this unfortunate stage in her otherwise impeccable career, Vice President Lu has showered her with political attention by issuing a strange demand for her to choose sides between Taipei and Beijing.

Lu even went so far as to ask A-Mei to declare publicly where she would stand in the event a war were to break out across the Taiwan Strait.

We believe that the increasingly common popular culture being shared between the mainland and Taiwan is a very important trend that could ultimately help bring about a lasting peace and harmony between the two sides, which of course still harbor important political differences.

Therefore we hope that in the future, political leaders both here in Taiwan and on the mainland will choose to refrain from issuing these sorts of ultimatums so that cultural exchanges can continue to chart their course unheeded.