As in the old days, China orders love

For Asia Times Online www.atimes.com

TAIPEI – Mainland Chinese women in their hundreds of thousands have married Taiwanese men in recent decades but so far failed to shape the island politically to Beijing’s liking. Now the second human salvo is being fired in a unification drive facilitated by modern journalism and inspired by ancient China. 

When Ye Kedong, deputy director of the Taiwan Affairs Office (TAO) under China’s State Council or cabinet, on his recent trip to Taiwan held a speech for Chinese students enrolled at universities there, he told them to “seize the chance to make friends with fellow Taiwanese students” and that “love knows no borders”. Ye explicitly encouraged marriage between Chinese and Taiwanese students, not only giving the starter’s gun to a juicy flood of jokes on the internet’s social networking sites, but also kicking off a
campaign by Taiwan’s media. One cross-strait couple after another was portrayed, all of whom identified Taiwan’s feet dragging on rapprochement to China as the common enemy of their love. 

Three examples out of a few dozen: 

“Sister Li” from Fujian Province’s Xiamen broke up with her Taiwanese boyfriend. She did so because Taiwan forbids Chinese students to remain on the island after graduating. Taiwanese graduate student “Dong Deng” didn’t fare any better. His mainland girlfriend jilted him because Taiwan’s program for independent Chinese travelers, in place since last year, covers only selected Chinese cities, not the place she comes from. And “Boyu” from China’s Gansu Province sobbed that due to very similar reasons she could hold her Taiwanese lover in her arms “only three or four times” in the past two years. 

This is a suspiciously high number of complaints all at once, according to observers. 

“What we are seeing is a political maneuver,” said Chen In-Chin, a professor at National Central University’s Graduate Institute of Law and Government, in an interview with Asia Times Online. “It’s particularly the pro-unification media painting Taiwanese regulations as heartless obstacles to cross-strait love.” 

Supporting Chen’s assessment is that the ongoing campaign is precedented in detail. Earlier this year, Taiwanese media was abuzz with reports on Chinese journalists stationed in Taiwan complaining about “repressions.” TAO simultaneously pushed the Taiwanese government to allow Chinese media the establishment of permanent press offices. 

Ever since Taipei gave the nod to cross-strait marriages in 1992 the issue has had political dimensions. With more than 260,000 Chinese spouses living on the island, their huge number has been the cause to outright paranoia. Quite a few academic papers have warned that the women could form “sleeper cells” awaiting orders by China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in the event of an invasion, and it was furthermore assessed that their offspring would forever vote for Taiwan’s Beijing-friendly parties, such as the ruling Kuomintang (KMT). 

However, that the Taiwanese public by and large sees the Chinese spouse negatively has more to do with their socio-economic background. According to Taiwan’s Immigration Agency, as of 2007, 73.4% of the Chinese brides had no vocational skills whatsoever, and 63% had either completed junior high school or not even managed this. And that the vast majority came through matchmaking agencies certainly has not helping to enhance their social recognition. Matchmakers charge around US$10,000 for a bride arranged for mostly low-income Taiwanese men, 50% of whom are 10-20 years senior than their Chinese spouses. 

It has been calculated that if each such cross-strait marriage would have produced two children, it would have made for 520,000 Taiwanese citizens who would most likely support unification. Given that Chinese spouses gain citizenship after six years, and possibly skillfully manage to affect their husbands’ political leanings, that number would come to 1.4 million or about 10% of the voters who normally cast their ballots in the island’s presidential elections. 

However, if Beijing’s calculus has indeed been along these lines, there is not much to indicate it has been successful. Suggesting that fears over Chinese spouses were overblown, in none of Taiwan’s elections were they cited as an important factor. 

And neither did they manage blowing up vital Taiwanese military infrastructure. 

According to Professor Chen, the difference between the first wave of Chinese spouses and the second one is not only the matter that this time around it’s both males and females heading for the island’s matrimonial beds, but also their striking sophistication. Effectively guaranteeing this one, Taiwan limits the enrollment of Chinese students at local universities to those who come from schools of high academic standing. 

“These Chinese students’ mission is to present China’s best side to the Taiwanese,” Chen said. “They are from China’s well-off cities and are very urbane and refined. And, all of them see China’s unification with Taiwan as their quasi-religious aim.” 

Chen added that also the Chinese youngsters who every now and then pop up as participants in Taiwanese TV shows appear to be so extraordinarily sharp that they likely were very carefully selected. 

In Chinese military writings, ancient thinkers, most prominentlyThe Art of War author Sun Tzu, are constantly and excessively cited. They continue to shape contemporary China’s policymakers’ minds, and just as well could have come the idea for Beijing’s latest drive for cross-strait love straight out of the text books of Chinese history. Every Chinese schoolchild has heard the stories of the “political brides” Wang Zhaojun and Princess Wencheng. Both were gifted with ravishing beauty and extremely intelligent minds, and both were dispatched by Chinese emperors to the rulers of enemy states in order to manipulate them to China’s liking. In the case of the Han Dynasty’s (206 BCE- 220 CE) Wang, it was the Xiongnu, a nomadic people controlling central Asia, who were pacified and civilized by her, while Wencheng of the Tang Dynasty (618-907) made Tibet Chinese, according to the Chinese narrative (though not to the Tibetan). 

Apart from being pretty and smart, both Zhaojun and Wencheng could play the classic pipa, a kind of Chinese lute, and were talented at calligraphy and painting. And unlike the Chinese brides who have crossed the Taiwan Strait in recent decades, there were not simply to share your bed and board, but had what it takes to bewitch their new environment in order to speed up the motherland’s unification. 

“Whenever in history foreign peoples caused trouble to China, China reacted by sending women,” said Professor Chen. “TAO official Ye Kedong simply pulled out the old bag of tricks.” 

Jens Kastner is a Taipei-based journalist. 

(Copyright 2012 Asia Times Online (Holdings) Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact us about sales, syndication and republishing.)

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