Showing posts with label freddy_lim. Show all posts
Showing posts with label freddy_lim. Show all posts

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Comedy wins over nationalist cringe on Youtube, showing humor is more powerful than bad music

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Hah

I'm working through the busiest part of my dissertation right now (which means, again, don't expect much from me through the summer).

But, with what little free time I have, I wanted to showcase just one small example of political discourse that shows, at least unofficially, that Taiwan is winning the public opinion war and getting better at overall political messaging - both intra- and interculturally.

Fanny Liu (劉樂妍), an entertainer from Taiwan who lives and works in China, put out a - um, how to word this gently - not great music video where she sings through the Chinese provinces and how much she loves them all, while extolling the virtues of being in China. These include all sorts of lifestyle perks such as "home delivery", "mobile payment", "bike share", "high speed rail" and "convenience".

Leaving aside the fact that all of these are also available in Taiwan and generally at far higher quality, they don't include things like, say, freedom of speech, human rights, freedom of religion or marriage equality.


Fanny Liu herself is something of a controversial figure. Born in Taiwan to a family from China, she often publishes her views about Taiwan and China on social media - those views generally being pro-China, she's been labeled the "female Huang An" (Huang An is another Taiwanese entertainer who lives in China and espouses pro-unification views. For this reason, he's reasonably well-known in China but much reviled in Taiwan). These views seem to have undergone a rapid radicalization from "why should I have to choose [between being Taiwanese and Chinese]?" (okay), to "the CCP is too democratic, I would shoot Lee Ming-che" (what?) to this video, where she beats up a guy in a green superhero outfit, supposedly because China is so much better than Taiwan, what with all that home delivery and mobile payment, punches him repeatedly in the crotch, takes his little Taiwan sticker and adds it to the rest of China.

So, you know, really classy high-minded art.



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barf

Very soon after, comedian Brian Tseng premiered a parody video in which he, in drag, along with fellow comedians, extol the virtues of all the great places you can live in Taiwan (except Miaoli). Here's the link again.

These virtues include TSMC (which has just announced that it will build its next fab in the US, despite Chinese attempts to dangle economic incentives in front of Taiwanese companies), having doors on our toilets (most bathrooms in Chinese cities do now, but it's not a given), tea eggs (which I am pretty sure is a pun on balls but I'm not sure) and - my personal favorite - better taste in music (than Fanny Liu's nationalist schlock).

There are other shots at the CCP, including references to the Tiananmen Square Massacre (六月四號), lack of freedom of religion (with a reference to Falun Gong) and Taiwan being great for "having very few Communist bootlicker artists" (少數舔共藝人).

My least favorite parts are his reference to the Senkaku islands and a lyric that translates more or less to "everything in your borders is actually legally ours". But, considering that the intent is maximum trolling of China and of Liu, it's best to let this go.

He also re-names some cities in China, such as "Chinese Beijing 中華北京" and "Chinese Shanghai 中華上海", ("we'll help you rectify the names", he sings) in the same way that China forces Taiwan to compete in sporting events as "Chinese Taipei".

The best part? Now if you search for Fanny Liu in Chinese, the top results are heavily inclusive of...Brian.

There's a Rick Santorum joke in there that I will not make. But just know that I thought it.


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Brian's video is genuinely funny, something you can't say for Fanny's ultranationalist cringe-fest. I showed it to a teenage student who didn't know the context of Brian's video, which has far more views than Fanny's, whose only comment was "...but who did she make this for? Did she think this would make Taiwanese like China?"

Exactly right. The producers had to know it wouldn't be popular in Taiwan, YouTube is banned in China, and frankly I can't see this being popular in China either because it's just not very good. I simply don't know what she was trying to accomplish - show her CCP bosses that she's a loyal lapdog?

So how did people react? Well, the numbers don't lie. When I began writing this morning, Brian's video had half a million views, 46,000 likes and just 814 dislikes. Fanny's had about 100,000 views, with less than 200 likes and 9,100 dislikes. After a nice long nap I've come back to my work, and Brian is at 840,000 or so views, with 74,000 or so likes and 1,300 or so dislikes. Fanny's hasn't even cracked 200,000, with 381 likes and 15,000 dislikes. 


 What does this show us?

Not just that satire is a popular political tool, we know that already. But that, in a battle of highly asymmetric resources, comedy and genuinely amusing sarcasm are some of the greatest weapons Taiwan has - something it's good to be reminded of occasionally.

But also that Taiwanese artists and activists have become quite adept at shifting frames in political discourse. For awhile now, they have been taking the nationalist bromides (even the ones dressed up in cotton-candy pop) of China and turning them around into sardonic comedy. I noticed this back when Freddy Lim was not issued an artist visa for Hong Kong due to a lack of "special skill" and he commented that he should "start practicing his backflips". Taiwanese online are expert memelords - which I mean in the best possible way - from their "First Annual Apologize To China Contest" to blanketing China's "Wan Wan, Come Home" message with all sorts of hilarious retorts. When Dr. Tedros Ghebreyesus insisted that "racist" attacks against him had come from Taiwan, they created the hashtag #ThisAttackComeFromTaiwan to showcase what they think is great about their country. They contributed to the Milk Tea Alliance, a site of discourse where comedy has given way to a path to a pan-Asian identity that explicitly excludes CCP influence.

In fact, if you still think Taiwan in general "lacks a sense of humor", perhaps you're the one who isn't getting the joke.

Indeed, the best way to re-frame nationalist discourse isn't to lob more nationalist trash - it seems to me that that was how the previous generation of Taiwanese activists handled Chinese saber-rattling, and it didn't work very well. It didn't appeal to the youth (nationalism of that sort rarely does, it's usually your uncles and aunties shouting it), it wasn't particularly interesting discursively, any moreso than any shouty populism is. It handed the CCP a counter-strike that they should have never been given: the ability to label the emergence of Taiwanese identity as "dangerous ethnonationalism" or "Hoklo chauvinism", both within Taiwan and abroad. These labels stuck because there was a kernel of truth in them.

But who can say that Brian Tseng's video is either of these things? You can call it unserious - but that's the point. You can say it spends too much time trolling everything that sucks about China rather than extolling the virtues of Taiwan (it does, but that's why it's not nationalist - it even shit-talks Miaoli!). But you can't say it's not fun. 


What's key here is that this re-framing of the discourse is working. Brian's video premiered last night, and by this morning my teenage student had seen it, and thought it was great. Intra-culturally, it's a uniting force without the baggage of the previous generation's stodgy old populism, which has proven unpopular with the youth.

It also works interculturally. Yes, Taiwan's discourse with China is intercultural, and no, I shouldn't have to explain why. Every time someone like Brian makes a joke video which becomes far more popular than its source material, it shows China (and any Chinese who happen to be watching online) that their schlock doesn't work here. As China attempts to gain influence in Taiwanese mainstream media, the youth turn to people like Brian Tseng, or EyeCTV, and are not engaged by those boring nationalist oldsters. 


Before I end this, I want to point out two other things in that video: first, that the piss-taking of Miaoli is probably more related to Brian's "thing", as a friend pointed out, of criticizing Miaoli's politics. And to be fair, there's a lot to criticize. But, it serves another purpose too. In a red-ruffled nationalist cringe party like Fanny's video, it's imperative to love every single part of your country and talk about how all of it is great, even including entire provinces full of people who actually hate you. You can never admit that in a lot of places, your toilets don't even have doors, let alone care about your country despite this. Everything must be great. The fact that Brian can piss-take Miaoli in a video about Taiwan shows that defending one's distinct identity doesn't require that fakey-fake love for everything. You can love Taiwan, and still think that Miaoli sucks. Anyway, it's still Taiwan.

(I don't think Miaoli as a place sucks, by the way, though he's right about the politics.)

Secondly, the drag was probably for simple comedic effect, to make fun of the "sexy" (though honestly a bit outdated) outfits in Fanny's video. But it serves another, possibly unintended, implicit purpose: to show Taiwan as a country which is more inclusive and open to different expressions of gender. Drag is fairly normal in Taiwan, to the point that it can go beyond being a necessarily political act, and can be, well, for fun. Fanny Liu's brand, in general, is very female-gendered, heteronormative, somewhat sexualized and...frankly, kind of establishment and boring. Brian skewers this beautifully, and in doing so, skewers establishment beliefs as a whole.

Finally, let's remember that authoritarians have terrible taste in music, something that Brian more or less explicitly called out in his video. So their attempts to win over hearts and minds with pop culture has been a failure and will continue to be so - it is simply never going to work. Good art - be it music, comedy or in any other form - comes from either fighting oppression, or having the freedom to be creative. 


That's why Bauhinia Rhapsody is a fantastic song which is still in my regular playlist, and CCP-backed attempts at pro-police "rap" were roundly mocked. It's why I generally like Taiwanese artists that don't sell out to China - and not only because they did not do so, but because their music is actually better - whereas I find the Taiwanese pop which is popular in China, from artists who are welcome in China, to be...about as memorable and akin to "art" as comparing the candy-colored exuberance of Yayoi Kusama to actual cotton candy. One will endure; the other is cheaply available and withers in a light rain. 


But you know what? We knew that too. It seems like the CCP is incapable of figuring that out, because they're incapable of conceiving of, let alone allowing, the freedom for that sort of discourse to flourish.

Well, them, and maybe also Miaoli. 


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Friday, January 10, 2020

Chillin’ at the Freddy Lim rally

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Tsai, Freddy Lim and Lin Fei-fan - and I think that's Lai Pin-yu


Update: now with photos! 

I really admire people who have the stomach to attend rallies for the bad guys - I just can’t do it. As in, it directly affects my mental health and I stay away for my own well-being. Considering this, while everyone was reporting on the big Han rally last night, I went over to Freddy Lim’s rally outside Longshan Temple. 

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Lin Fei-fan takes the stage


First, I urge people not to compare these two rallies. Han’s big rally - which absolutely didn’t reach 700,000 people as they claim - was for a presidential candidate who organized attendees from all over the country (that’s not necessarily wrong, it’s just that it’s a national audience - though it’s worth noting that it seems to be the same people bussed everywhere). Lim is a legislative candidate, not a presidential one, and this was a local rally with local flavor. 


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A cute sign for Tsai
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The turnout was solid


In fact, if you compare Freddy’s rally a few weeks ago on the same Ketagalan Boulevard site as Han’s, you’ll note that a (mere) legislative candidate was able to fill the entire boulevard. A presidential candidate did that, and filled most (but not all) of the Jingfu Gate circle - if you look at pictures, there was still space to move around. That’s actually impressive...for Freddy. For Han, this turnout is good - at least it’s not embarrassing - but it actually compares poorly against Lim and Han’s own previous rallies.

How do I know it wasn’t 700,000? The Sunflowers claimed 500,000 - I’m not sure about that number, but whatever - and you couldn’t even approach Jingfu Gate. We were stuck way back by the National Concert Hall. 

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And people seemed genuinely excited for Tsai and Lim


In any case, I headed to Freddy’s rally. As I got off the MRT, I grabbed my Freddy flag - you’re not supposed to wave those on the MRT as political campaigning is banned there, but it was in the way of my keys and metro card - and asked a bunch of Han supporters in front of the door to please let me off the train. Two women carrying ROC/Han flags quite deliberately not only did not move (although there was space, or they could have stepped off the train briefly), but actively blocked me. One sort of arm-nudged her friend to be more in my way! 

I found this behavior extremely rude, especially as I made a particular effort to sound especially polite to them in the beginning. In the end I was unable to get around them, and had to push through. I gave them a sharp “RUDE!” in Chinese as I did. If this is what Han supporters are like, I’m happy to be on the other side. 

The rally itself had a lot more local flavor than the Chthonic concert on Ketagalan. This was surely deliberate strategy. That concert was for general support, and for the youth vote. This was for the uncles and aunties in his actual neighborhood. The music was very old-school Taiwanese, the speeches were full of piss and vinegar (though some were more exciting than others) and were conducted almost entirely in Taiwanese, with a little Mandarin peeking through. Smoke machines, disco lights, background music - this rally had it all. It was less polished than the previous one, and that was entirely intentional. 

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It was extremely crowded, a good turnout for a legislative candidate


The turnout was good - all seats were taken, plus a large standing crowd along the entire perimeter. Freddy goods - stickers, towels, keychains, t-shirts - sold at a good clip. Crucially, the turnout wasn’t just young people. In fact, I was in a sea of middle-aged and older folks who were all enthusiastic. That’s good news for Freddy, who needs this ‘older’ vote to keep Wanhua. These are the folks Lin Yu-fang could depend on, so it’s good to see that Freddy is netting at least some of them. Hopefully enough to win. The rally took up the entire length of Guangzhou Road outside the temple and towards the market at the far end, spilling onto the esplanade leading to the underground market entrance. I was hungry and thirsty, but there was absolutely no way to get to the Family Mart opposite. 


Speakers included legislative candidate Lai Ping-yu (known for her cosplay-inspired campaign), Premier Su Cheng-chang and his his signature raspy voice, DPP Deputy Secretary General and “guy in charge of mobilizing the youth” Lin Fei-fan, former Kaohsiung governor (now Vice Premier, yes? His roles seem to keep changing) Chen Chi-mai, Freddy Lim himself, and of course President Tsai. One of the musicians, who was very young, also spoke but I missed most of this as I was chatting with another young attendee. All of the folks who’ve been making the rounds speaking - Tsai, Lim, Lin - sounded a little hoarse. It’s been a long season. 

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Really, I couldn't even get to the Family Mart


The speeches themselves were better than one might expect. Lin Fei-fan is known for being a good speaker, and he broke out his Taiwanese more than he has in the past (it is one of his native languages but you don’t hear it from him that often, he’s more likely to do public speaking in Mandarin). The gist of his speech - the Mandarin parts I could follow - were that Taiwan and Hong Kong are concurrently locked in a battle against China, and we are not going to let Taiwan become the next Hong Kong. “We don’t yield, we don’t kneel, we don’t walk on our knees,” he said, and I thought that was just great. 

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Outside Longshan Temple



Towards the end he addressed some of the criticisms he’s received taking a position in the DPP, seeing as he’s so well-known for criticizing them. He said, “we know we haven’t done enough, we know we haven’t gone far enough, but we will, please give us a chance to do so” (not an exact translation). 

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Freddy's speech


Typically, “we’re not good enough, we know that and we’ll do better” is not a great campaign tactic, but there’s something very old-school Taiwanese politics (that whole humility game, though it’s often performative) about it, and he’s the right person to deliver that message considering the criticism he’s endured. 



To be honest, I couldn’t follow a lot of the other mostly-Taiwanese speeches, though I think Freddy’s focused a bit more on local issues than he typically has. Tsai’s (in Mandarin) was pretty clear: One Country Two Systems will never work, Taiwan can never give up its sovereignty, the China threat is real, etc. etc.  She did better than usual, speaking with more clarity and emotion and less detachedness, wonkishness and repetitive call-and-response. This was a somewhat enjoyable speech, far more so than the one she gave on Ketagalan at the previous Freddy rally.

In fact, people seemed genuinely excited to see her, and genuinely energized by her speech. That's a win. 

I think the size of the Han rally gave the speakers renewed passion, and pushed them to speak with energy and emotion (well, except Chen Chi-mai, who always sounds a little removed and dorky, but honestly, I like him.) I wouldn’t call it nervousness, but everyone’s on edge as voting begins in a matter of hours. It felt like a final push, because it was one. 

Notably, after the rally ended, a group of Hong Kong protesters raised flags and shouted “Freedom for Hong Kong, Revolution of Our Times” in Cantonese, attracting a sizeable crowd. Someone from the Statebuilding Party also waited for the rally to end to take out a microphone as volunteers lifted large posters and gave out tissues and stickers. He delivered an impassioned speech, and while Statebuilding is a little too close to nationalist for my taste, I appreciated their very grassroots, take-to-the-street strategy. In fact, that Hong Kongers and the Statebuilding Party felt this was a good rally to make an appearance made the whole thing feel very democratic. 





After all, all of these issues are connected - Hong Kong, Taiwan, what kind of country we want Taiwan to be - and the official speeches mirrored that. 

Sunday, December 29, 2019

What do we mean when we say “third force”?

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I don't know, this just seems appropriate. 


In the current election season, I’ve noticed a new cluster of third party political figures attempting to refer to themselves as “third force” as a signal to voters that they represent some sort of new political wave. Most of the people actively using this term, or appearing onstage next to people who do, seem to be old guard - say, James Soong and the People First Party (PFP), Terry Gou and his general crappiness, Ko Wen-je and his general crappiness.

Considering that in recent years, the term “third force” has more closely been associated with progressive, pro-independence political parties such as the NPP, I think it’s worth a closer look at what it actually means both historically and in contemporary discourse. Is there room in the meaning of “third force” for non-progressive, generally pro-China parties or is it pure appropriation for political gain? Perhaps the answer is somewhere in between?

The general meaning of the term “third force” in a global sense - that is, beyond Taiwan - simply refers to smaller third parties who are unaffiliated with big-party power blocs, though in practice they often support larger parties or coalitions. What those third parties actually stand for is irrelevant if we take this definition. 

In Taiwan, the term “third force” has been around a lot longer than you’d guess from a quick n’ dirty Google. Results almost exclusively bring up the NPP, and sometimes mention smaller parties at the same end of the political spectrum which either formed or gained social currency - if not actual power - after the 2014 Sunflower movement. 

Dig a little, however, and you’ll find that the idea has been around a lot longer. Around the turn of the millennium, it meant pretty much any third party, with a spike in electoral victories around 2002. The biggest of these was the PFP, which claims to move beyond “green and blue” but is actually just a a satellite pan-blue party. There was also the pro-independence Taiwan Solidarity Union (TSU), which currently holds no seats, the pro-unification and generally horrible New Party which holds a few local seats but none on the legislature, and the Green Party which has held a handful of city council seats in the past but never made it to the legislature. 

All of these could be called “third force”, and all of them were founded in the 1990s or early 2000s. All of them have won at least a few seats in the past, at least locally. And yet they have wildly divergent political views.

But, let’s be perfectly honest, that definition of “third force” - any unaffiliated set of third parties which defy a major-party binary - just isn’t what people mean when they use is to refer to Taiwanese politics. 

New Bloom defines “third force” as a veritable Pleiades of post-Sunflower parties and political luminaries - bright young things, newcomers to politics, and as such generally progressive and pro-Taiwan. These would be the New Power Party (NPP), Trees Party and Social Democratic Party (SDP) folks: these parties formed around 2014-2015. 

In one sense, I think this definition has real currency. As someone who impersonates a linguist, I am very much a descriptivist. Words mean what the general societal consensus believes they mean, and it can be very hard to research and clearly define all of their associated connotations and subtler meanings, especially as such meanings are prone to sometimes-rapid evolution. 

Although the explicit meaning of “third force” does not technically require a party to be post-Sunflower, pro-independence or progressive, the current connotation of this term does include these meanings. Such implicit connotation in use - that is, the full extent of the term’s current pragmatic meaning - can’t just be ignored because it’s hard to categorize, or because it has evolved from earlier meanings.

That said, it’s still problematic to use “third force” in this way without examining it further. Other parties that can be said to be in this constellation include Taiwan Radical Wings (now Taiwan Statebuilding Party), which was formed in 2012, before the Sunflower Movement, though it surely drew some of its energy from the pre-Sunflower rumblings of the Wild Strawberries, anti-media monopoly and anti-land expropriation protests - many of those activists went on to become Sunflowers. The Green Party could even be included, and they were founded in 1996!

On the other hand, conservative/pan-blue or straight-up creepy parties like the Minkuotang (now merged with the Congress Party Alliance) formed in the same post-Sunflower wake. The Minkuotang was founded in 2015). There's even creepier Faith and Hope League, a conservative Christian anti-gay party formed 2015 in the wake of the marriage equality wars. Ko Wen-je’s Taiwan People’s Party (TPP) and Chen Shui-bian’s Taiwan Action Party Alliance (TAPA) have formed more recently.

If the term means “political parties formed after 2014”, we have to include them. 

If it means “parties of generally young progressives”, we don’t, but we do have to include the Statebuilding Party and Green Party, which throws the post-2014 connotation into question. 

It’s also worth considering what we call “progressive” - do we include the Labor Party (formed 1989) in that? They are political leftists, but also unificationists. They are not pro-Taiwan.

If we define “third force” as being pro-Taiwan/pro-independence, we don’t have to include them, but we do have to include TAPA, who are not progressive, and the TSU, whom I have anecdotally found to harbor a streak of Hoklo nationalism that I find unpalatable and anti-progressive. Neither party skews young - quite the opposite. 

We also have to consider whether the term includes the independents - most notably Freddy Lim and Hung Tzu-Yung, both of whom left the NPP earlier this year. And, of course, there’s the question of whether one can be truly considered “third force” if they choose a side in the great green-blue divide. Do Lim and Hung, actively campaigning for Tsai Ing-wen, count? How about the SDP now that Fan Yun has gone over to the DPP (they’re not dead though - they still have Miao Poya, their only elected representative). If we can include them, why can’t we include pan-blue parties?

Does it only include political groups that have power or who might influence the current election cycle? If so, I don’t think we can include Trees Party or Green Party, or the TSU at this point. 

You’re probably asking by now - “who cares?” Well, as a linguist impostor, I care. 

But also, how we define the term has political implications. As a friend pointed out, we can’t just use it to mean what we want it to mean, and we can’t just define it to mean “the people we like”, finding excuses to exclude people we don’t like. 

With that said, allow me to define the term to include only the people I like: pro-Taiwan and progressive, skewing young, but not necessarily formed after 2014 and not necessarily directly opposing the major parties. That gives us Green Party, SDP, NPP, Statebuilding Party, Lim and Hung (and their Frontline alliance - more on that later), and the Trees Party. 

Please don’t take my definition too seriously. I don’t have a better one though - all I can say is, don’t apply the term lazily. Don’t just throw it out to describe people you like without examining further what you mean by it. By all means, leave lots of comments with your own ideas of what the term should mean in 2019. 

So what political implications does this have?

From a discourse perspective, if the societally-understood connotation of a term not only has power but is also in a state of flux, that means it will be seen as ‘up for grabs’ by anyone hoping to appropriate it.

If the term is evolving, it makes sense that people vying for power would want to direct its evolution in a direction that benefits them. That’s what we can see with Gou’s use of the term.

If that’s the case - and I believe it is - there’s a concerted and intentional attempt to move “third force” away from its current association with Sunflower ethos, and back toward its earlier meaning of “any third parties who claim to be unaffiliated with the DPP or KMT (but in fact usually are)”. 

I don’t care for this sort of intentional strategizing, but honestly, he’s free to try. If I get to define it in a way that includes only people, parties and beliefs I like, he is free to do the same. I’m not sure it can be called ‘appropriation’ given the term’s history - it sure feels that way, but I have no well-founded basis on which to challenge it. 

I suppose that’s a good thing insofar as the global meaning of “third force” never required newness or progressive ideology, but problematic in that it confuses the pan-blue/pro-China and pan-green/pro-Taiwan sides. I think it would be better to think of these two groups as separate.

It also makes it harder to identify and discuss the liberal-conservative axis. While the pro-China/pro-Taiwan cleavage is still the most enduring and influential split in Taiwanese politics, I still believe there is a purposeful attempt underway to change that.

Finally, looking at who is attempting to gain traction as “third force” can shed some insight on their electoral strategy. 

For example, Donovan Smith recently made fun of James Soong for leaning heavily on the Orchid Island nuclear waste issue. I agree that this seems like an odd strategy given how few people live on Orchid Island. But the Green Party - a “third force” party that actually has access to the term’s new social progressive connotation - does really well on Orchid Island (and nowhere else). I don’t think, therefore, that Soong’s tactic here is just to get Orchid Island voters. I think it’s to encroach on the Green Party vote on Orchid Island (and maybe grab some votes from the KMT too), and through stealing the Green Party’s votes there, get some of their “third force activist” cred to rub off on the PFP. 

To be fair, I don’t think this will work and in any case it’s a waste of time that wouldn’t help the PFP gain much even if it did.

I do think it's significant that Ko (who paints himself and his party as "apolitical"), Soong (who does the same, while going after other third party bases) and Gou (who directly invokes the term "third force") tend to appear together - a uniting of pan-blue, conservative voices trying to bring cohesion to that end of the third party spectrum, and (re)take the moniker "third force"?

On the other end, we have Frontline (前線), a loose alliance of pan-green/progressive candidates from different backgrounds who seem to be trying to bring more unity and cohesion to their own end of the spectrum, especially after the upsets and factionalization that has characterized the past year. Or maybe they're just trying to build a progressive, unified third force without the destructive Huang Kuo-chang element. It's entirely likely that they too are actively trying to hold onto the mantle of "third force" as they face attacks from the TPP and PFP on the pan-blue side as well as TAPA representing the old guard, conservative greens.

Side note: 前線 isn't a great name. It's easily confused with Christian group as well as with Hong Kong Indigenous (本土民主前線) - though I wonder if the similarity to the Hong Kong group's name is intentional.


It also helps us better understand what’s going on with Ko Wen-je and his party. It may seem odd that he started his political career passing himself off as a friend to pro-Taiwan progressives, won the Taipei mayoral election riding the post-Sunflower wave, and then took a turn towards China before his first term was up. We can argue whether he “changed” or whether we just didn’t see it before, and we can ask what supporters the TPP aims to attract. But within that loose Sunflower/Third Force alliance, there were always people who saw the movement not as opposing getting too close to China, but rather the way it was being done. They could be more broadly considered anti-big party corruption. There was also always a contingent (often church-affiliated) who didn’t actually share what we think of as Sunflower social progressivism. 

Someone like Ko wouldn’t necessarily look as gross to them as he does to ‘us’. It makes sense that he’d then get friendly with Soong, who already claims to represent this type of voter. 

In any case, how we define “third force” impacts how we look at third-party politics, liberalism/progressivism, the Sunflower effect and the China cleavage in Taiwan. Use it if you want, but think first about what exactly you mean by it, and whether that's justified. 

Friday, December 13, 2019

'Tis the season: 2020 campaign posters (with extremely biased commentary!)

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Since no other blogs are left that do this, I've decided to put up a few that I've collected this year. Although this isn't the most interesting one, I've decided to start with it because I didn't want the KMT to get the headlining photo. It's a typical noise truck on the outskirts of Miaoli, and says "Look to the next generation, alleviate [their] burden" - in line with Tsai's youth-vote focused campaign.


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In Beitou (northern Taipei), we have Wang Zhi-bing (Zhibing meaning something like "Aspiring Ice" which is an interesting thing to be called).

Anyway, the poster and candidate are both noteworthy - look at the slogan. She deliberately uses ㄟ to represent 的, a way of showing that what you're writing is meant to be read in Taiwanese. That's rare for a KMT candidate unless they're trying to pander to a Taiwanese-speaking electorate (Ma Ying-jeou would occasionally deliver prepared speeches in Taiwanese, especially on 228, and he was terrible at it.)

You wouldn't think of Beitou necessarily as a Taiwanese-speaking area, but if you walk in the backstreets around Beitou MRT, you'll find that it actually is, at least to some extent. So this is probably a smart campaign move.

Because it could be Taiwanese and not Mandarin, I'm not sure if my translation is correct, but 尚好 means "best" or "first class" - the literal translation then is "first-class election". It's a positive message, and if you look Wang Zhibing up, you'll learn that she has a close friendship with at least one DPP legislator in her district, He Zhiwei, from their time as city councilors, and has even helped campaign for him. They both encouraged each other when they went to register for the legislative race.

Maybe I'm not reading enough into it, but I think that's nice. Maybe her use of Taiwanese is genuine!

Wang and her good buddy He Zhiwei are not running against each other, as they're in different legislative districts. Wang's DPP opponent is Wu Siyao.

That's related to the poster below, with the inspiring message, "I'm here!"


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This is "unaffiliated" candidate Li Wanyu.

I don't really know what's up with her party-wise right now, and I thought she might be a pan-blue/unificationist/New Party type from the color of her sign, but no. She's formerly (and then again?) DPP, has close ties to Chen Shui-bian, and apparently joined the Taiwan Action Party Alliance  (一邊一國黨, also known as TAPA) recently, a party closely associated with Chen.

No, I didn't know any of that off the top of my head. I looked her up.

Anyway, Li Wanyu has a...colorful personal history. Two incidents of public drunkenness in her past continue to haunt her image, and apparently the second time around she had to spend 20 days in jail after being convicted of hitting a police officer. There are other bits and bobs of personal gossip going around too, that I won't bother with because I don't care. Apparently in 2014 she was expelled from the DPP for voting for herself in some internal election, but was later allowed to re-enter the party.

So, Li is also running against Wu Siyao, which means she's also in the race against Wang Zhibing above (even though I am pretty certain I took these photos in two very different neighborhoods, I suppose the district is large-ish). There was a bit of a political kerfuffle recently when former president Chen went to a book signing with Li Wanyu, and seemed to be supporting her over DPP candidate Wu.

But then that's hardly surprising - Chen is TAPA, she's TAPA even though she's running as "unaffiliated" (at least that's what her poster says). Who would expect otherwise?

Ugh. So now we turn to...blatant slogan thieves!


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This poster in Zhonghe, near Burma Street, features Some Guy, Mr. Generic (that's former New Taipei mayor Eric Chu, which you may have forgotten because he's just that boring), Big Uncle Dirk, Poppin' Fresh (whom I think is actually the candidate here, Chiu Feng-yao, and yes, calling him Poppin' Fresh is super mean and uncalled-for but I'm not sorry), and Hou You-yi, the current New Taipei mayor, who seems to be genuinely kinda popular. Brendan's first comment is that they're positioned in such a way that they look like those Chinese god idols, when there's more than one on an altar.

It seems Chiu is already a city councilor who is now running for the legislature.

I noted that, although I don't like any of these guys, at least two people on this poster appear to be reasonably competent at their jobs. No, the current presidential candidate in the middle is not one of them.

Both of us noted that their slogan isn't exactly original, and isn't even current as of the 2010s. I do understand that English on these signs is often merely decorative and few people who can actually vote will bother to read it, even if they're able to (which, honestly, most people in greater Taipei are).

But still. Don't you even want to try?

Aaaaanyway, the slogan here is "Unite to win the election, this seat is indispensable". Which is about as exciting as Eric Chu.

I still can't figure out who the guy on the far left is. I know Chiu has campaigned with Lin De-fu, but unless that's heavily photohopped to make him look less like a grandpa and to have a full head of shiny hair, it ain't him.

Oh yeah, and I also pointed out when we were gazing in awe at how this poster manages to be terrible and boring at the same time, that they are all men. While I'm willing to criticize the DPP for not doing enough to promote female visibility in the party, it would be impossible for them to make a sign like this without at least one woman. That is - the president.

In other words, I think this poster could use some improvements.


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Here's Wang Zhibing again, this time posing with Han Kuo-yu (ugh, maybe I don't think she's so okay after all) with a whole 'let's win the boxing match' theme going on. Cute.

Time for a palate-cleanser. 






We're back at the DPP, this time with Da'an/Wenshan legislative candidate, Hsieh Pei-fen. Since Empty Suit Chiang Nai-hsin decided to retire (despite his campaign posters as recently as a few years ago still using photos of him in his 40s), this seat is up for grabs. KMT rising star and whiny tantrum-thrower Lin Yi-hua is running for the KMT, and the DPP is putting up Hsieh, who at age 32 - so the DPP really is trying to run a few younger candidates - has graduated from Harvard Law and NTU and worked in international affairs ever since, with an impressive string of credentials. 


I'm not biased, of course. 

She'll probably lose because this is Da'an, but it will give her exposure. I'm just pleased the DPP is bothering to run a real candidate. It shows they think this race is worth fighting for. The other guy is Wang Minsheng, a city councilor whose office is in that building. 

Back to the KMT. 




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This vaguely interests me because it shows the KMT thinks Ma Ying-jeou still has star power, despite everyone hating him and even KMT voters heckling him at a Han rally. After learning the hard way what Taiwanese think about the 1992 Consensus, it's interesting as well that they give it such a prominent place on this poster, which has all the KMT symbolism just crammed in. We've got:

- Only men
- Many shades of blue
- Two prominent KMT "white sun on a blue sky" symbols, one on the ROC flag and the other on Han's Taiwanese Political Candidate/Taiwanese Grandpa vest (the DPP's fashion choices this year are way better, I have to say)
- The word "KMT" on two articles of clothing
- A reference to the 1992 consensus

- FISTS! (Except for Ma, who probably can't make a fist). Also, arm-crossing which I think they think is aggressive and business-y but just comes across as weird and defensive.
- A signal that they still think they are the party of a strong economy (as though we haven't figured out that, to the extent that's true - which it isn't really - it's because China helps them)

Also get a load of the "We Shall Return" logo on Ma's shirt. LOL.

The slogan here is "1992 Consensus, Fight for the economy". From trying to re-group after 2016 and perhaps rethink the way they approached voters, they seem to be trying to roar back into power by taking a hard right turn back to their old-school platforms. 


The candidate here is Lai Shi-bao (Shih-pao? My Romanization is all over the place today), who seems to be trying to look younger with the hoodie and all. He's actually 68 years old, and very old-school KMT (minority leader in the legislature...and more. Basically super establishment).

Apparently this sign has appeared in more than one place, and there's a bit of a public debate going on about whether it's even a good idea to campaign on promoting the 1992 Consensus. Is it conspiracy-mongering tinfoil hattism to suggest that perhaps the CCP is directing the KMT to campaign this way - whether blatantly or tacitly - because it is just that tone-deaf?

In any case, apparently in another area where this poster appeared, DPP opponent Ruan Zhaoxiong put up a sign directly beneath it saying "the 1992 Consensus is One Country Two Systems" (a phrase which is even more unpopular in Taiwan). 


Here's a campaign poster on a bus that also includes Ma Ying-jeou (who apparently can make a half-hearted fist). 



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He's with Lin Jin-jie  - and no, I'm not even bothering to try and standardize my Romanization. Lin is a candidate in New Taipei (Tucheng and Sanxia). He doesn't seem that interesting except that Terry Gou, who I suppose is a Big Man in the Tucheng area, where there is a big and rather ugly industrial park, and they don't seem to get along. Apparently people are not optimistic about his chances, and Gou has said "he won't be elected".

That photo is heavily photoshopped - the real Lin Jin-jie looks quite a bit older.

The slogan is "support the blue army to win, only then will the country have peace of mind" (it sounds better, though not less boring, in Mandarin).

The irony of that is staggering, seeing as it's the "blue army" that is routinely accused of working with China to undermine the country. Anyway, "an ding" (安定)is also a way of referring to a kind of sedative, though I suspect that usage is very rare. Somehow, "support the blue army to win, only then will the nation be heavily tranquilized" sounds more accurate, though.


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This is Lin Yi-hua - as with other politicians, photoshopped to look younger than she is - on a banner outside my favorite soy milk place on Fuxing Road. Lin is running against Hsieh Pei-fen in Da'an and Wenhua, and she pretends to be ill for political gain.

That's a shame; this Yonghe Soy Milk's breakfast grub (also, late night grub) is good and they're open 24 hours. The distance and the weird font mean I can't really read the slogan but it has to do with business and education - a platform-based sign. One could do worse.

Next to her, also put up by Yonghe Soy Milk, is a banner for the Congress Party Alliance (國會政黨聯盟). I don't know a lot about them except that they merged with the Minkuotang earlier this year. The Minkuotang has a weird religious component, is basically unificationist, and is pan-blue, so we can assume the Congress Party Alliance is too (apparently the chairman, Wujue Miaotian, is also a cultish religious figure and is the chairman of the newly-merged single party).

They strike me as creepy, and I'm not sure what's up with Yonghe Soy Milk in that they put up both a standard KMT banner (which I guess I can ignore) alongside the weird cult people banner. 





This is a poster in a rural part of Miaoli Country for Chu Ying-hao, an unaffiliated candidate running against a KMT incumbent (Miaoli is super blue). I don't know if there's a DPP candidate campaigning as well, but they seem to be making a real effort to get whatever minority votes there are in Miaoli to come out for President Tsai, so maybe. 

Nobody seems to know much about Chu, as he's a political newcomer. His main platform seems to be "more funding for Miaoli!" which will probably appeal to voters there - remember Miaoli is once the county that went broke thanks in part to simply not having enough money, but mostly due to previous financial mismanagement by the KMTers they keep electing for some reason. 

(I think part of the reason is that Miaoli is heavily Hakka and Hakka voters tend to vote KMT, often though not always out of some deep-seated dislike for the old Hoklo chauvinism of the DPP, which many refuse to believe is waning. I'm not sure it matters, even, that Tsai is part Hakka.) 



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In fact, I spent the whole weekend in Miaoli and took as many campaign poster photos as I could.

At one point we got a little turned around up in the mountains and ended up in the small Indigenous village of Da'an. Candidates here campaign heavily on their Indigenous heritage - this poster above for Wu Li-hua references the "dreams of the Indigenous people" and the full autumn moon (not only is Mid-Autumn Festival important to Taiwanese with ancestry from China, but a fair number of Indigenous festivals take place around that time as well.)

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This one - with the ultra-boring slogan "To Serve The People" - is for May Chin (Gao Jin Su Mei or Ciwas Ali), a famous actress-cum-politician with Atayal (and Manchu) heritage. You may know her from Ang Lee's The Wedding Banquet. She's a member of the highly-partisan Non-Partisan Solidarity Union. On the good side, she's a strong advocate of Indigenous rights. On the other hand, she's also a unificationist.

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Running for re-election to the legislature is Lin Hsin-yi. No, not the former Vice Premier under Chen Shui-bian (I had to check too - in any case, the Indigenous population also tends to vote blue despite the KMT not caring one whit about them). This Lin Hsin-yi is not affiliated with a party and has criticized both the DPP and KMT sharply for not caring about Indigenous rights. I'm not sure why he's campaigning in Miaoli as he seems to be more closely associated with Fuxing township in Taoyuan, and at least used to be KMT? Not sure.

His slogan is "Hold fast to faith, hold fast to fulfilling your dreams". The first part is pretty standard, as Indigenous Taiwanese also tend to be Christian.

Anecdotally, I feel like even just ten years ago, it was common for whatever KMTer wanted to win to just show up and shake some hands in Indigenous areas, and then once elected proceed to do nothing at all for them. So it's interesting to me that now, it seems to win in an Indigenous area, Indigenous candidates lean heavily on their heritage. 


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There's not a lot to say about this absolutely huge and yet utterly boring poster for the DPP. The guy on the left is Luo Gui-xing (who is almost certainly Hakka - if you are a Luo from Miaoli, that's a dead giveaway). I can't see who the guy on the right is.

I can't find much about Mr. Luo, except that he was previously elected to the Miaoli County Council. Not sure how I feel about the square hair, though.

This is a good chance for me to opine on the DPP's slogan, however.

In Chinese, I like it. In English - yawn.


The Chinese is an adorable and lovely pun - "we want to win" sounds just like "We want Ying [the nickname of Tsai Ing-wen, who actively campaigns as 'Little Ying']". In English, "Let's Win" is pretty uninspired, though at least it's not stolen like 'Yes We Can'.

The good news is that I doubt Taiwanese voters care, even if they can read it. The blandness probably doesn't matter. 


Then there's this guy:

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Oh, Lin Yu-fang, how I hate you so.

I really hate this guy. He was defeated in 2016 by rock star and Sexy Legislator Freddy Lim, after a dirty and hateful campaign making fun of Freddy's hair (saying that men with long hair are 'abnormal') and putting up legitimately scary pro-death penalty posters near elementary schools, which said things like "Freddy Lim will let murderers walk free" (Freddy is against capital punishment, like a sensible sexy person.)

I know I don't have a leg to stand on being all indignant about making fun of Freddy's sexy, sexy hair, seeing as earlier in this post I called a guy Poppin' Fresh. But I'm still not sorry. Anyway, I'm a blogger, not someone working on campaign messaging.


Anyway, he might win his seat back, which sucks. Freddy's got a shot at re-election, but it seems at least one major temple in their very temple-heavy district  - Qingshan Gong or the Green Mountain Temple - has decided to endorse Lin Yu-fang. I thought at first that allowing him to come pray at the head of the festival parade was just something the temple allowed candidates to do, but the two giant posters on either side of the temple point to more active support. 

I can't read the first poster as the photo got cut off, but the second one has him posing in front of a little cartoon boring place. I think the message is, Make Wanhua Boring Again! 


In truth, the message is "finish the MRT, push urban renewal". Seeing as the KMT's version of "urban renewal" is "tear down things that are interesting without giving adequate compensation to current residents, and build things that suck", I suspect Make Wanhua Boring Again is the more accurate phrase.

Gross. 


Here's Sincere (and Sexy) Freddy Lim's noise truck rolling down Zhongxiao Road so you don't have to think about Lin Yu-fang anymore. 

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Though to be honest, they've sort of toned down the rocker look and hidden his hair for this campaign. He looks just like a normal guy here, but I am sure if re-elected he will once again morph into Sexy Legislator Freddy Lim.

In contrast to Lin Yu-fang's ads, which look like 1980s commercials for liver pills and real estate, Freddy's ad is bright, fresh and has clean lines and clear messaging.

Again, not that I'm biased or anything.