arts24 – Special programme: Taiwan’s artists step out of China’s shadow (part 1)

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A small island with a complex history, Taiwan’s rich culture is shaped by its many Indigenous groups, a period of Japanese rule, and of course its neighbour China – its closest and most complicated relationship. In this first part of a special programme ahead of crucial presidential elections on January 13, we travel to Taiwan to explore how growing geopolitical tension with China is impacting Taiwanese artists. 

For decades under martial law, Taiwanese children were educated to believe that the island was a part of China. That changed in 1987, when Taiwan transitioned to democracy. The arrival of free speech led to a generation of young artists dedicated to exploring and embracing their Taiwanese identity. FRANCE 24’s Alison Sargent meets Freddy Lim, one of the leading voices defending Taiwan’s sovereignty – both in parliament, where he was elected in 2016, and on stage as frontman of popular heavy metal band Chthonic. He says metal music is all about rebelling, and Taiwanese metal is about standing up to “Asian dictators” and affirming universal human rights.

I think in Taiwan we have our own cause we want to stand for. The dictators in Asia say that universal human rights do not belong to the Asian people. We are fighting against that.

Freddy Lim, heavy metal singer and MP

While Freddy sends his message with power chords, Taiwan-based artists Namewee and Kimberly Chen say it with a love song. On the surface, their 2021 duet “Fragile” is about an ex-lover refusing to accept a breakup. But many recognised the illusion to Taiwan’s possessive neighbour and the song quickly went viral, racking up over 70 million views. Yet criticising China doesn’t come without consequence. Emily Y. Wu, producer and founder of Ghost Island Media, tells us about an incident in 2016, when Chou Tzu-yu, a Taiwanese member of K-pop group “Twice”, was forced to record an apology after waving a Taiwanese flag on a TV show. 

There are a lot of artists who try to walk the line very carefully because they rely on the Chinese market. There is a lot of self-censorship that happens.

Emily Y. Wu, founder of Ghost Island Media

Geopolitical controversy has sometimes stolen the spotlight at Taiwan’s Golden Horse Film Festival and Awards, known as the Oscars of Chinese-language cinema. In 2018, Fu Yue, the Taiwanese director who won the Golden Horse award for best documentary made a pro-independence speech, and China ordered its film industry to boycott the event the following years. Some Chinese stars were back on the red carpet in 2023 for the 60th edition of the festival, presided over by Oscar-winning Taiwanese director Ang Lee.  

The Golden Horse remains a key showcase for the region’s filmmakers. Alison Sargent met producer Patrick Mao Huang, who explained that regardless of geopolitical tension, Taiwanese producers continue to work with China. Still, Taiwan is looking to move away from reliance on the Chinese market and expand its cultural influence – one of the reasons the island established the Creative Content Agency or “TAICCA” in 2019. The agency encourages international co-productions, like “Tiger Stripes”, which won the  Grand Prix at the Cannes Film Festival’s Critics’ Week last year, and which Patrick Mao Huang co-produced with partners in Malaysia and six other countries.  

Editor-in-chief: Magali Faure

Production: Natacha Milleret

Presentation: Alison Sargent

Direction: Jérôme Mignard

Images: Jérôme Mignard, Lucie Barbazanges

Editing: Aurélien Porcher, Joël Procope, Gilles Terrier

Translation and coordination: Alice Herait

Watch moreBeijing’s narrative pushes Taiwan to rethink its own history


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