In today’s fast-paced and interconnected world one can rise to notoriety overnight thanks to social networks. Pictures and videos which in the past might not have been picked up by the media can now be shared thousands or millions of times by netizens, creating a ‘bottom-to-top’ effect. Before the internet age readers used to be recipients of information. Now they shape it.
Over the past few years one of the peculiar phenomena in Taiwan‘s media landscape has been the rise of ‘pretty girls’ in a political context. For instance, during the 2014 Sunflower Movement, Taiwanese newspapers widely covered the exploits of the so-called ‘chicken-breast-beauty‘, a young Taiwanese artist.
Another ‘star’ that emerged from the Sunflower Movement was Liu Qiao’an (劉喬安, Wade-Giles: Liu Ch’iao-an), a girl who became famous after a photographer took a picture of her in the middle of a crowd. She wore a black and white checkered shirt, a mini-skirt, a pair of black leather boots that reached up to her knees, and a headband with the words ‘democracy cannot be traded’ written on it.
According to Apple Daily, people began sharing those pictures on Taiwanese social media. First some netizens referred to her as a zhengmei (正妹), or ‘pretty girl’. Then someone called her ‘Queen’ and ‘Sunflower Queen’, and the nickname stuck. From then on the media started to call her ‘Sunflower Queen’.
Taiwan’s media and internet communities seem to love idols with good looks, who can become symbols for an entire group. Whether this was the result of a patriarchal mindset, or of the objectification of the female body, or of other factors, tabloids as well as more reputable media outlets identified Liu Qiao’an as one of the mascots of the Sunflower Movement. However, her fame soon led to her downfall.
In December 2014, a Taiwanese magazine revealed that the ‘Sunflower Queen’ actually worked as a high-class prostitute. She was exposed by a Hong Kong customer who took a video of her and sent it to the media.
In the video she is seen asking the customer for money. He said he didn’t have much money on him and offered to pay NT$2,000 (about US$65). “I ask for NT$10,000 abroad and NT$6,000 in Taiwan, 2,000 really isn’t possible!”, she said. “I’m not a normal prostitute. Everyone says I’m pretty ‘tight’. If I were ‘loose’, I wouldn’t ask for that price, right?”
The day after the story became public, Liu Qiao’an returned to Taiwan from Macau and told reporters to stop hurting her. In a Facebook post she denied working as an escort, explaining that she had gone to the hotel to sell wine. She claimed that a friend had called her, telling her that there were people from mainland China and Hong Kong who wanted to buy wine. “I am not a celebrity and haven’t harmed anyone,” she said crying in a video message. “Why do people always want to hurt me?”
Later Liu sued Yi Weekly, the magazine that had broken the story, for defamation and violation of her privacy. She also accused journalists of setting her a trap. In her deposition she said: “A girl named Xiaoxian called me and told me to go to Leofoo Hotel because someone wanted to buy wine … Xiaoxian sent me a message via LINE and said there was a customer from Hong Kong who was looking for expensive red and white wines. [The customer] told me Hong Kong people are very busy, they like to drink wine … Xiaoxian didn’t mention anything about sexual intercourse or made any allusion to it.”
Yi Weekly and Liu Qiao’an reached an out-of-court settlement. However, in the course of the investigation the prosecutors found a connection between Liu and a case involving an international prostitution ring. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) of the United States was investigating a Taiwanese woman, Dai Junyi (戴君儀, Tai Chun-I). US authorities informed Taiwan of the ring through the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT).
Dai was suspected of supplying escorts to businessmen and other wealthy individuals in China, Hong Kong, Macau, Singapore, the US and Australia. Some of the girls stated that they had been forced to work as escorts and that they had been threatened. US prosecutors found a booklet belonging to Dai which contained the names of people associated with the prostitution ring, including Liu Qiao’an.
On June 30, 2016, the Taipei District Court sentenced Dai Junyi to 2 years and 8 months in prison, convertible to a fine, for organizing an international prostitution ring. Liu Qiao’an was sentenced to a jail term of 6 months, convertible to a fine and a two-year suspended sentence.
In light of the mounting evidence against her, Liu had pleaded guilty and released statements on social media apologizing for her behaviour. “I say sorry to my parents, to my own body, to my daughter and to all the people who love me,” she wrote. “I hope that in the future I can become a charitable and honest businesswoman, DJ and singer, able to provide for myself and my family.”
Nevertheless, Taipei prosecutors charged her with perjury for lying under oath in her previous depositions. On April 18, 2017, she was found guilty and sentenced to 3 months in jail. According to the judge’s decision, Liu’s initial claim that she had gone to Leofoo Hotel to sell wine was a lie. Mitigating factors, including the fact that she has a young daughter to take care of, contributed to a less harsh sentence.
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