CHINA - TAIWAN

Chinese tissue advert sparks unification spat with Taiwan

One of China's public demonstrations of disregard for Taiwan's independence comes in the form of an advert for tissues. Not surprisingly, the Chinese ad was far from welcomed across the straits. A few days ago, a Hong Kong TV channel aired a rude parody of the Chinese ad made by Taiwanese web users. But why? Read more and see the clips...

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One of China's public demonstrations of disregard for Taiwan's independence comes in the form of an advert for tissues. Not surprisingly, the ad was far from welcomed across the straits. A few days ago, a Hong Kong TV channel aired a rude parody of the Chinese ad made by Taiwanese web users. But why?

The original Chinese ad, released over a year ago for Hengan brand of tissues, presents a group of youthfully innocent Chinese school children curiously staring across the ocean as their teacher explains that their precious island of Taiwan is on the other side.

The Taiwanese immediately unmasked the commercial as nationalistic propaganda for the unification of island and mainland. China's hopes of annexing the island were ruined in 1949 after a schism between communists and nationalists. A spoof soon emerged on the Web, in which adults histrionically pretending to be the children suggest using sanitary pads to soak the ocean dry. According to a translation provided by Chinese blog EastSouthWestNorth, the actors say: "Damn kids, do you know what is on the other side of the ocean? Who knows? It's mainland China. Let us use sanitary pads to soak the ocean dry and they can come over and play".

At the end of November, Hong Kong based channel TVBS aired the Taiwanese spoof - over a year after it appeared online.

“TVBS is blurring its anti-Taiwan attitudes”

Tim Maddog (not his real name), an American living in Taiwan, is administrator of Taiwan Matters  blog. He believes that there's more to the story than what TVBS is telling its viewers.

I'm dubious about the way TVBS portrayed the video. For a start, the newscaster refers to the language they speak in the spoof as ‘Taiwan Mandarin'. I recognised not too long after my arrival in Taiwan that people use the term mockingly. The kind of accent they're referring to is a result of when the so-called ‘mainlanders' forced Mandarin education upon people whose mother tongue was Taiwanese. These students had a hard time understanding their teachers' accents, and teachers beat the students for speaking Taiwanese at school. The resulting ‘non-standard' accent was labelled [after 1949] as ‘Taiwan Mandarin'.

The usage of the phrase 'Chinese Mainland', in the video is also notable, as its construction implies that Taiwan is part of China, which is untrue. People in Tasmania refer to the Australian mainland while people in New Zealand do not, since it is a separate country. While people in Taiwan on both sides of the political divide use the term ‘mainland' when they mean ‘China', that's the result of Kuomintang (KMT or Chinese Nationalist Party) media saturation and decades' worth of a KMT education system. Unfortunately, even people who are fighting for Taiwan's formal independence often use the word out of habit.

I can't be sure why [the spoof] has been brought out now, but I consider its having been around for over a year to be a good reason to doubt its authenticity. I consider TVBS anti-Taiwan - it's HK (Chinese) owned after all. But by calling the spoof ‘creative', TVBS is blurring its anti-Taiwan attitudes. Perhaps that's what they're trying to do just ahead of a planned visit [to Taiwan] by Chinese official Chen Yunlin. This is just a wild guess. I won't be surprised to see TVBS painting anti-Chen Yunlin protesters as violent, low-class, etc. while praising the ‘warming relations' that are supposedly going on.

More recent information suggests that the supposedly 'Taiwanese' ad may have actually been produced by the international PR firm Ogilvy & Mathers as a stunt to attract new users to MSN. That would confirm the most basic suspicion I had when I first saw the video - that it wasn't what TVBS and ESWN made it out to be. In the meantime, I've still got plenty reasons to doubt their story."