Taiwan’s cultural critic and democracy advocate Lung Ying-tai has long argued that an authoritarian regime cannot produce great songs. In 2016 when Lung gave a speech in Hong Kong about music, she asked the audience to name the song that inspired them the most. Alan Leong, a prominent democrat, cited Frank Sinatra’s My Way. Sitting next to him, Albert Chau, vice president of Hong Kong Baptist University, grabbed the mike and told Lung that he chose My Motherland. Lung admitted she did not know the song and asked Chau to sing the opening lines. Before long, the entire audience had joined in. The video, of course, went viral in China as netizens poked fun at the awkward moment for Lung, who served as Taiwan’s cultural minister from 2012 to 2014.
My Motherland was the theme song to the 1956 film Battle on Shangganling Mountain, which depicted a bloody struggle during the Korean War. Last week, My Motherland dominated the headlines again when singer Ouyang Nana from Taiwan performed it during the National Day Gala hosted in Beijing by state-run broadcaster CCTV.
During the programme, Ouyang, 20, joined in the rendition of the tune with a large group of celebrities from mainland China, Hong Kong and Macau. The selection of the performers looked random at first glance but Taiwanese media believe they were handpicked by Beijing to present a ‘united front’.
“Beijing might have wanted Taiwanese artists to perform at the event to promote its ‘one country, two systems’ formula, which China intends to apply to Taiwan at some point,” the Taipei Times mused.
Ouyang was trained as cellist before embarking on a singing and acting career. She was not the only celebrity from the island at the event. Singer-actress Angela Chan, too, made an appearance, joining a performance to honour frontline medical workers fighting the Covid-19 pandemic.
However, Ouyang now faces the prospect of being fined as much as NT$500,000 ($17,000) back in Taiwan. That’s because prior to her CCTV showing, the Mainland Affairs Council (MAC), Taiwan’s top agency handling cross-strait affairs, had warned that Taiwanese who take part in events that “promote the Chinese Communist Party’s political agenda and harm the national identity of the Republic of China” risk violating the law.
“In light of the increasingly severe cross-strait situation, Taiwanese should take the interests of Taiwan as a whole as their precondition for doing things,” the MAC stated, referring to the escalating tension in the Taiwan Strait (see WiC512).
Born in Taipei with ancestral roots in Jiangxi province, her father Ouyang Long is an actor-turned-legislator. “As an overseas student [she studied at the Berklee School of Music in Boston], I was often asked ‘where do you come from?’ ” Ouyang Nana once wrote on weibo. “I come from China is my answer. My grandparents always say people should remember their roots wherever they go. I am proud to be Chinese. I will forever remember my hometown is Jiangxi Ji’an.”
Some say Ouyang’s political stance has an ulterior motive. “Ouyang Nana wants better opportunities [for her entertainment career] and to make more money. That’s why she’s so supportive of China,” one mainland netizen wrote.
Nevertheless, the episode has definitely boosted the awareness of Ouyang in the mainland and, ironically, that of My Motherland in Taiwan too. “Some in Taiwan attacked Ouyang but all they have done is to make her and the song more famous,” Jiemian.com noted, adding that she made a very short appearance during the televised show and few would have noticed her performance had Taipei not reacted.
Meanwhile, pro-independence newspapers in Taiwan now argue for a harder crackdown on celebrities that endorse China’s unification plan. “Rather than leaving it to artists to decide whether they will engage in pro-unification activities in China, why not remove the choice altogether and restrict travel to China by ordinary citizens? The best way to protect Taiwanese interests would be to prevent engagements with China,” an editorial in the Taipei Times proposed.
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