During the Paralympic Games and in the recent Olympic Games, athletes from Taiwan have not been allowed to compete under the name of their country.
Instead, they represent “Chinese Taipei”, a term promoted by the much larger People’s Republic of China to advance the fiction that Taiwan is its long-lost province rather than an independent country.
It grates on many Taiwanese Canadians, including Vancouver visual artist Lady Hao Hao.
“During this Olympics, it was obvious that most of the people in Taiwan want to be known that they are from Taiwan and athletes want to compete for Taiwan,” Lady Hao Hao told the Straight through a translator.
In advance of this year’s TAIWANfest, she created a series of graphic images with text to demonstrate the colonial mindset that’s behind the “Chinese Taipei” name. The exhibition is entitled Just Taiwan Please.
Each work of art carries the name of another major world city, with all but one preceded by the name of its former colonizer. Examples include English Vancouver, French Ho Chi Minh, Japanese Seoul, Portugal Macao, and Spanish Manila.
The design of five of the six images reflects characteristics of the city that’s represented, followed by the phrase “So No More Chinese Taipei Just Taiwan Please”.
“I try to incorporate elements people often find interesting to describe a culture,” Lady Hao Hao said. “However, the question with the name seems to change the tone right away. I guess that is the kind of feelings Taiwanese people have for a long time. Chinese Taipei just doesn’t do Taiwan justice.”
Lady Hao Hao has been to the countries highlighted in the series. The one image that doesn’t refer to a colonial past or make reference to a city's characteristics is Wei Ni Beijing. It shows a black bear, created to represent the Taiwanese people, telling Chinese president Xi Jinping to stop harassing Taiwan.
“With all the work in this series, Wei Ni Beijing is the only one that isn’t about my travel experience,” she said. “Instead, it is about the person who is making China not looking very friendly today.”
Chinese Nationalists colonized Taiwan
To her, the colonization of Taiwan over many centuries bears many resemblances to the colonization of other countries that have since become independent nations. Taiwan’s colonizers have included the Dutch, Spanish, Japanese, and mainland Chinese under Nationalist Leader Chiang Kai-shek.
She emphasized that for decades, Taiwan was ruled by Chiang's government, which fled China following the Chinese Civil War. This government only thought of Taiwan as a base from which to regain China. Taiwan held its first full elections to parliament in 1992 after Chiang and his son, who was also a president, had both died.
Lady Hao Hao pointed out that Taiwan has its own currency, passport, and military, and that it has never been ruled by the People’s Republic of China. Yet she acknowledged that raising the issue of "Chinese Taipei" can get on some people’s nerves.
“I see friends turned into enemies and we can’t really have a fair discussion without getting emotional,” she noted.
She believes that the arts can give people more space to consider new ideas. And she maintained that her work is a way to help Taiwanese people decolonize themselves.
“Through the lens and experiences of other countries, such as [their] colonial histories around the world, there may be a different way to understand Taiwanese people’s position,” Lady Hao Hao said. “Don’t do to others what you don’t want others to do to you!”
Canada changed Lady Hao Hao's perspective
Lady Hao Hao grew up learning Chinese rather than Taiwanese history. Her parents were born in China and moved to Taiwan to escape Communist rule.
That’s why she didn’t initially have strong emotions or feel strange when she heard the name “Chinese Taipei”.
It’s only since she came to Canada that she came to realize that Taiwan was colonized not just by the Japanese, but also by people from China. She also learned that Indigenous people on the island were given Chinese names and forced to give up their mother tongues.
“In Canada, we are talking about decolonization and we are told to learn the horrifying treatment of the Indigenous peoples; we are trying to right the wrongs,” Lady Hao Hao said. “When it comes to Taiwan, why is the world going along with the government of China, a government that behaves like a colonial government to the Tibetans and the Uyghurs?”