‘Chinese Oscars’ Award Show Becomes Center of Debate About Taiwan’s Independence

November 19, 2018 Updated: November 20, 2018

In Taipei, a recent film festival and awards show ended with discussions beyond the celebrities who walked away with an award.

The 55th annual Golden Horse Awards, Asia’s most prestigious film event that is often dubbed the “Chinese Oscars,” took place in Taiwan’s capital Taipei on Nov. 17.

The film festival was first organized in Taiwan in 1962 as an occasion to celebrate Chinese-language films. Celebrities throughout the Chinese diaspora in Asia take part in the event.

It was a remark made by Fu Yue, director of the film awarded best documentary, “Our Youth in Taiwan,” that generated heated discussion in both China and Taiwan.

“I hope one day our country would be recognized and treated as a real independent entity. This is my greatest hope as a Taiwanese,” Fu Yue said during her acceptance speech, according to Taiwanese media.

“Our Youth in Taiwan” is about the Sunflower Movement in 2014, a two-month long student-driven protest objecting to a trade pact with China negotiated by the then-ruling Kuomintang party. Many feared that the pact would hurt Taiwan’s economy and leave it vulnerable to political pressure from Beijing.

The issue of Taiwan’s status quo is a sensitive issue not only in China and Taiwan, but also for many governments around the world. Taiwan is a de facto independent, democratic country, with its own constitution, elected officials, and military. However, China, an authoritarian state under one-party rule, considers Taiwan a renegade province that must be united with the mainland, through military force if necessary.

In recent months, Beijing has stepped up pressure forcing international governments to conform to its sovereign claims and recognize Taiwan as part of China. Historically, Beijing has made different moves to diminish Taiwan’s global presence, such as refusing to allow Taiwan to become a member of the World Health Organization (WHO).

Fu’s remark about Taiwan’s independence set off a war of words on her Facebook page, with Taiwanese netizens applauding her courage for expressing her views despite Beijing’s ire, while mainland Chinese netizens dished out scathing remarks against her.

China’s hawkish state-run daily the Global Times also lashed out at Fu in an editorial published on Nov. 18, calling her remarks “disrespectful to the Golden Horse Awards” and a “self-hype” move to draw attention to herself.

It is likely that, even if Fu had not spoken about Taiwan’s independence, Beijing would still be unpleased by the fact that her film won an award, given the subject of her film.

Fu’s words were not the only remarks that caused a stir. Tu Men, a mainland Chinese actor who won best actor at the Golden Horse Awards last year, took the stage this year to present an award. The first thing he said was, “I am honored to have come to ‘China, Taiwan’ to be an award presenter.”

By saying “China, Taiwan,” Tu indirectly implied that he had come to visit a province of China, which angered many in Taiwan. Taiwanese locals consider “China, Taiwan” or “Chinese Taipei” as a derogatory phrase to diminish Taiwan’s status.

The exchange of words at the festival propelled some Taiwanese officials to voice their opinions.

Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen, writing on her official Facebook page on Nov. 18, described the differences between China and Taiwan.

“I am proud of the Golden Horse Awards yesterday, for it highlights how different Taiwan is from China, which is our freedom and diversity,” Tsai wrote, adding that “In [Taiwan], nobody is going to be silenced or made to disappear because of different opinions, and there is no sensitive internet terms which might be censored.”

Beijing’s online censorship apparatus monitors netizen posts, screening for any content containing blacklisted keywords, or sensitive terms.

Political dissidents or any citizen who fail to toe the Party line often run the risk of being silenced by Chinese authorities. One recent example involves Yang Kaili, a blogger with more than 44 million followers, who was detained for five days in Shanghai after local police deemed a video of her singing the national anthem light-heartedly “disrespectful.”

After Fu’s remarks blew up the internet, Beijing moved quickly to censor online coverage of the film festival. According to Hong Kong media Apple Daily, China’s State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film, and Television; Propaganda Department; and Cyberspace Administration jointly issued an emergency notice to major Chinese media and news sites, asking them to censor all coverage about the film festival, because there were “Taiwan-independence remarks.”

Follow Frank on Twitter: @HwaiDer