Beware the Terminator

Why a veteran vocalist is suddenly Taiwan’s most controversial man

Chou Tze-yu w

The 1993 TV drama Bao Qing Tian is arguably Taiwan’s most successful cultural export to mainland China. The crime thriller, which tells the story of Judge Bao, an incorruptible Song Dynasty official, was so popular that the series has been dubbed as the “Taiwan Strait’s answer to CSI”.

Bao Qing Tian’s closing music New Butterfly Dream of the Mandarin Ducks also became a breakthrough hit for Taiwanese singer Michael Huang.

A true one-hit wonder, Huang has not come up with any notable songs since, although the royalties from his one-and-only success (which he also composed) have been enough to make him a multi-millionaire.

Huang has lived in Beijing since the 1990s. But now the 53 year-old is back in the spotlight, earning the nickname “the Taiwan Independence Terminator”.

So what is Huang’s new role? The veteran singer has taken to alerting mainland authorities about which of Taiwan’s celebrities are “pro-independence activists”, primarily by picking up on comments that appear to be anti-mainland on social media.

That’s a headache for the stars as China has become a profitable market for Taipei’s entertainment industry. The artists accused of disloyalty by Huang run the risk of being blacklisted by the mainland’s media regulators, and even dumped by their own studios.

Huang’s wrath reaches out beyond Taiwan, with Hong Kong actor Wong Hei one of his recent victims. Wong is not a big name but TV watchers in southern China know him for his lead role as a firefighter in Hong Kong’s Burning Flame series.

He was on the verge of rebooting his career when he featured in state broadcaster CCTV’s reality show Infinite Challenge, which put celebrities through a fireman’s boot camp.

But when the show aired this month Wong was shocked to find that his face had been pixellated out, even though a third of the shoot had been planned around him.

The reason? It turned out that he shared an article on Facebook about a recently published book which questions the sexual orientation of a former Chinese leader. The post was picked up by Huang, and Wong was reported to the state censor.

Huang’s own profile is on the rise in China and his weibo account is being widely followed by netizens. Many praised him for ensuring that Wong was punished. “It is only appropriate that a dick [Wong Hei] has got the mosaic treatment [a practice in Japanese pornography where parts of the body are obscured by digital pixels],” one internet user wrote.

Last week the Taiwan Independence Terminator claimed another victim: a 16 year-old pop star. Huang spotted the teenage singer Chou Tze-yu waving the Taiwanese flag during an appearance on a South Korean show (which was broadcast two months ago). He quickly brought the images to the attention of nationalist Chinese.

At first it looked like another prize scalp. Plenty of Chinese netizens called for Chou and her band, Twice, to be banned from performing in the country. Chou was forced to make a public apology in a video hastily arranged by her South Korean management company. “There is only one China,” Chou read abjectly from a piece of paper. “I have decided that I will halt all of my current activities in China, and will go through some serious reflection. Again, I apologise to everyone. Sorry.”

However, Huang soon found himself on the receiving end of an online backlash too. Chou’s apology caused uproar, with many Taiwanese furious. Huang’s role in the affair was highlighted and the Oriental Daily News reported that Taiwan’s media had imposed a collective ban on him, with radio stations refusing to broadcast his hit song. An enraged Taiwanese doctor is even lobbying for his colleagues not to treat Huang in the event that he returns to Taiwan for medical help. Indeed, Huang has become such a hated figure that he is said to be seeking the protection of Zhang Anlo, a gangster-turned politician (see WiC233 for our profile on the White Wolf), according to Taiwan’s Apple Daily newspaper.

The row was a timely one, coinciding with the island’s presidential election over the weekend. Taiwan’s incumbent president Ma Ying-jeou stressed that it was unacceptable for a girl to be forced into a public apology for carrying Taiwan’s flag. Tai Ing-wen, Ma’s opposition and now the president-elect, also addressed the controversy in her first news conference after declaring victory.

Beijing’s Taiwan Affairs Office has offered little support for Huang on this occasion, with a spokesman suggesting that “some politicians” have been trying to use individual incidents to instigate hostility between the two sides.

And in a delightful irony, Huang’s own weibo account was censored this week too.

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