Cross Strait

Two few episodes

Why Ruby Lin’s TV series was axed by Tencent


My dear girl: Ruby Lin

Foreign travellers to Beijing might have come across the Gongzhufen underground station. Its name literally means “Tomb of the Princess” – and according to Beijing folklore it was the grave of a Han girl who’d been the adopted daughter of a Manchurian emperor.

The legend inspired Taiwanese writer Chiung Yao to write a Cinderella-like story when the author visited Gongzhufen in the 1990s. This became My Fair Princess, a TV drama that the People’s Daily has declared to be the most popular TV drama ever shown in China.

The 1998 series was truly a cross-Strait co-production, and a landmark cultural exchange programme. Companies backed by governments on both sides invested in My Fair Princess, with Taiwan actress Ruby Lin and her mainland counterpart Zhao Wei taking the co-leads (a 16 year-old Fan Bingbing played the princesses’ maid).

Two decades on, Lin remains a screen darling for Chinese audience. However, her newly produced drama My Dear Boy was pulled by state censors in the mainland last month for allegedly advocating Taiwan independence.

Lin plays a senior advertising executive in My Dear Boy. The plot essentially unfolds around the struggles in her love life as she chooses between her long-term boyfriend and a much younger designer. The show debuted on Tencent’s streaming platform on December 29 but was taken down by the state censors after just two episodes.

No official statements has been provided by the Chinese authorities or by Tencent. Fans of My Dear Boy are also puzzled because the series, somewhat like My Fair Princess, is totally apolitical in nature.

Apparently the issue at stake was a NT$20 million ($680,000) slither of funding Lin’s studio received from Taiwan’s Ministry of Culture. The amount is not large but recipients of such a subsidy, Hong Kong broadcaster TVB reports, have to “unconditionally cooperate with” the island’s propaganda department. Another condition is more subtle: the show’s language should be based on Taiwan’s guoyu (or “national language”) instead of the mainland’s putonghua (or “common language”).

Confused? While not a perfect comparison, it’s a bit like the difference between a script in British English versus one in American English.

Following online discussion over these concerns My Dear Boy was scrubbed from Tencent’s site a few days later, says news portal

Lin appears to have been a victim of worsening cross-Strait relations, which have declined since the independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party took power in 2016. Beijing and Taipei have been trading barbs recently after the island’s authorities arrested four pro-unification politicians last month for spying for the mainland.

In November last year, the Taiwanese activist Li Ming-che was also sentenced by a mainland court to five years in jail after he was found guilty of subverting “national security”. Yet still, the removal of My Dear Boy has prompted concerns that Beijing has become overzealous in dealing with elements that are deemed to be supporting “separatism” (the Marriott hotel group got into trouble for this last week too, see page 19).

Lin’s studio has published a statement suggesting the 42 year-old actress has never said or done anything in support of Taiwan independence. Taiwan’s Apple Daily also noted that Lin has been open about her political stance in supporting Beijing’s so-called “One China” policy.

In 2012, for instance, Lin shared a Chinese map on her weibo account that included Taiwan plus the “nine-dash line” (a demarcation indicating Beijing’s disputed claim to large parts of the South China Sea) and her pro-mainland comment “not a dash less” even sparked outrage among some fellow Taiwanese.

Meanwhile, the island’s government called on Beijing to “respect art” and prevent political intervention in cultural exchange programmes.

All the lobbying seems to have worked. After being taken down for 18 days, My Dear Boy was back on Tencent’s video streaming site yesterday with the Global Times saying Lin and the show did not support separatism after all.

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