After Taiwan’s Chou Tzu-yü achieved notoriety as a member of the K-Pop band TWICE, on April 30 Korea’s HMYW Entertainment announced that Debby P’eng (P’eng Yü-t’ung, 彭羽彤) has been selected to join the new pop group DayDay that is to debut this year.
Apart from their meteoric rise to prominence in the Korean media industry, Chou and P’eng have another thing in common: both of them have been embroiled in political controversies that have little to do with their work.
Debby P’eng was born in 1997 in Taiwan‘s Yi-Lan County. Initially HMYW had posted on its official Weibo account “Nationality: Taiwan, Birthplace: Yi-Lan”. Later, however, they changed it to “Nationality: China, Birthplace: Taiwan, Yi-Lan.”
The change of nationality sparked an online controversy between Taiwanese and Chinese netizens. “Korea believes that Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen and Matsu belong to China,” wrote a Chinese netizen. “What country is Taiwan?”, commented another.
“Your worldview needs to be updated”; “China (支那) dog, go back where you come from and bring with you your ugly simplified characters and your ignorance,” replied Taiwanese netizens.
HMYW may have tried to avoid an incident such as the one that happened to then 16-year-old Chou Tzu-yü (周子瑜) back in 2016.
Huang An (黃安), a 53-year-old singer born in Taiwan and based in China, wrote a series of posts on his Weibo account accusing Chou of supporting Taiwan independence because she had waved a Republic of China flag on a Korean TV show. Huang is known for criticizing Taiwanese celebrities he believes to be endorsing independence.
Following Huang’s posts, images of Chou were censored on Chinese media, China’s tech giant Huawei cancelled a commercial in which Chou advertised a phone, and even Korean company LG announced it would no longer work with Chou.
JYP Entertainment, Chou’s label company, stated it “regretted” the incident and cancelled Chou’s upcoming events in China. The founder of JYP Entertainment apologized for the incident, saying that it was his fault for not “educating” Chou adequately. Days later the company’s website changed Chou’s nationality from “Taiwan” to “China”.
On January 15 Chou appeared in a YouTube video. She was dressed in a black sweater and tearfully read out a scripted apology:
There is only one China. The cross-straits territories are one in the same, and I am proud to consider myself thoroughly Chinese. As a Chinese person who performs abroad, [I say] to my employers and internet friends on both sides of the straits—I’m terribly sorry for the harm I have caused, and I feel ashamed.
The Korean entertainment industry has a vast market in China, but this also makes companies vulnerable to Beijing’s economic pressure.
Chou received support from both the ruling and the opposition party in Taiwan, though from a somewhat different ideological perspective. The Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) posted a picture of the flag on its Facebook page with the comment “Support the national flag, support Chou Tzu-yü.” Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) presidential candidate Ts’ai Ying-wen said that Republic of China citizens should have the right to hold the national flag and they should not be oppressed because of it.
Some people in mainland China suggested that the criticism of Chou was wrong on the basis of the ‘1992 consensus‘. Yang Lixian, a researcher at Beijing’s National Society of Taiwan Studies, stated that “the public don’t know the meaning of the 1992 consensus” because the government had not “properly educated” the people in cross-strait policies.
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