The Flying Reporters: Out of Taiwan into China

For those of us academics based in Taiwan, keeping a close watch on the elections was not too much of an effort, although I agree with the observations in some of the earlier posts having very little feeling that there was an election of significance taking place in January 2012. I also support the opinion that campaign materials only started decorating the street view at a fairly late stage, and that political achievements of the ROC alternated with the bitter-sweet having your cultural feel about Taiwan next. Regardless, we have been pretty well exposed to the stories, debacles, incidents and other election related performances over the past couple of months.

With the elections in close sight, the foreign press desks and correspondents started flying in. Early last week, the Beijing-based boys from Belgium – Flanders desk – landed at Taoyuan International Airport. The night before, I received their polite email for an interview on the update of the upcoming elections. All went well, very professional as usual, but I was totally not expecting an interview dominated by “China”: What was at stake in these elections? What was China’s opinion? How important is the role of China? To what extent does China influence these elections? Could there be a possible conflict be in the making should Tsai win? I felt like standing on a “vast wasteland” for a moment.

Through the interview I stepped into the place called television, and I became an accomplice to a world that keeps defining Taiwan in terms of China. It does not matter how strongly I may feel and argue with the reporter that the election coverage does not benefit from the China-emphasis-syndrome. But at that moment I am not supposed to challenge Television’s center of meaning as that nucleus around which ideas, values, and shared experiences are constructed. I am sure that the Taiwan election coverage reportage will be very informative. The viewing experiences of the audiences back home may or may not result in fabricating a synthetic identity and stereotype of Taiwan as another location where China is dictating the way to go.

In hindsight, as much as we are exposed to look at Afghanistan, Iran and Iraq through American lenses, the flying reporters do the same in looking at Taiwan through the China lens, turning it into a symbolic China spectacle. I’d better picked a mainland Chinese tourist tour bus as the interview spot! But I selected the Presidential Office Building on Ketagalan Boulevard. In the social context I found myself, not a bad position after all. With television’s popularity comes a union of public acceptance and the expression of power. In that sense, I choose the location well because the Presidential Office Building as a historical monument equally embodies symbolisms linked to important social values and a highly visible centrality. From now on, I will be adding another dimension to the symbolism of the place: expressive of the modern architecture built during the Japanese colonial days, its modernity today contextualizes notions of fiction, fragmentation, collage and eclecticism, steeped with a sense of ephemerality and chaos in our televised foreign landscape.

Ann Heylen is associate professor at the Department of Taiwan Culture, Languages and Literature and Director of the International Taiwan Studies Center at National Taiwan Normal University (NTNU)