Eighteen-year-old Taiwanese actress and musician Ouyang Nana, recently embroiled in controversy surrounding her national identity, is now having further criticism heaped upon her by Chinese state channels for attending a Shen Yun classical Chinese dance show in 2010, when she was nine.
Shen Yun Performing Arts, based in New York, is politically taboo in mainland China for its association with the heavily persecuted Falun Gong spiritual practice, which has been banned by the Chinese Communist Party since 1999.
On March 21, in apparent response to mainland Chinese pressure, Ouyang’s agency published a statement asking “internet users on various major social media platforms to stop making malicious speculations and spreading false information,” and said that she acknowledged that she “has always firmly believed that she’s Chinese” and that she was an “ardent supporter” of the One China Policy.
According to Taiwanese reports, Ouyang’s troubles seemed to begin when Beijing Television, a Chinese state broadcaster, used an image of a Youth magazine cover where she was featured together with three mainland Chinese actresses — but covered up Ouyang with a red bar.
Behind the jab at Ouyang may be the fact that her father, Ouyang Lung, a politician of the Chinese Nationalist Party (Kuomintang), had stated in 2015 that Taiwan was a country, rather than a breakaway province. The Kuomintang, now an opposition party, used to govern all of China before being expelled from the mainland by communist armies. Taiwan is still officially known as the Republic of China (ROC).
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The Chinese regime often uses economic incentives and blackmail to exert political pressure on foreigners and overseas ethnic Chinese, effectively silencing them and aiding the Communist Party’s ideological agenda. One recent example of this was Chou Tzu-yu, a Taiwanese singer and K-pop artist who was pressured into making a televised apology after waving an ROC flag and calling herself Taiwanese.
After Ouyang’s agency issued the statement, she sent out a similar message on social media and in interviews, saying that she was “proud to be Chinese.” On March 22, she gave an interview with the state-run China Times, which quoted her as saying that she would be Chinese no matter where she was born. According to the report, Ouyang also called upon Taiwanese to “bravely express themselves.”
In a Chinese social media post later reposted on Facebook on March 24, she wrote: “Let our motherland be proud of us.” Her agency’s statement also said that Ouyang felt a connection to China via her ancestral roots in Jiangxi Province.
Ouyang’s statements triggered a widespread backlash from Taiwanese netizens, who accused her of selling out to mainland China and betraying Taiwan for her professional interests. Some derided her as “Jiangxi” Nana in place of her actual surname, and demanded she renounce her ROC citizenship.
At the same time, Beijing was not appeased. On March 22, multiple social media accounts belonging to the Chinese State Council and other government agencies, including the police, issued posts referencing a 2010 photo of Ouyang’s mother taking her and her two siblings to attend a Shen Yun performance in the Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall.
The mainland agencies lambasted Ouyang for seeing Shen Yun, accusing her of dealing with a “heretical religion.” Shen Yun performances are made up of dozens of vignettes from Chinese history and culture, but some dances depict the persecution of Falun Gong, and many Shen Yun performers are Falun Gong practitioners.
Falun Gong is one of the most heavily-censored topics in mainland China, where the nearly 20-year campaign against the spiritual practice has claimed at least 4,000 lives.
The posts by the state and police social media accounts were accompanied by a deluge of Internet comments denouncing Shen Yun and claiming Ouyang was involved with Falun Gong. The same day, the State Council issued a statement warning Taiwanese against engaging in “two-faced schemes.”
Intimidation and backlash
As Ouyang’s case gained attention, many observers noted similarities between her treatment and the political terror that left millions dead in China during the Communist Party’s mass movements and ideological campaigns.
During the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), people were criticized and abused for belonging to or associating with the “five black classes,” which included intellectuals and “capitalists.” Victims could be detained or killed for minor transgressions betraying them as being insufficiently revolutionary.
An article by Chinese-language Epoch Times commentator Tang Hao noted that in attacking Ouyang Nana for seeing Shen Yun with her family nearly a decade ago, the Chinese regime was trying to use “Cultural Revolution-style intimidation” to dissuade people from attending the company’s performances.
Shen Yun performances can be seen in major theaters around the world, and have received widespread critical acclaim. Its depictions of China often contradict the Chinese regime’s Marxist interpretations of the country’s culture and history, making it a subject of concern for the Communist Party’s overseas propaganda efforts.
Wang Youqun, a former official in the Chinese Communist Party’s disciplinary agency, said that Beijing was only further alienating the people of Taiwan, where Shen Yun is a popular annual event. He estimated that given the hundreds of shows Shen Yun has put on in Taiwan since 2007, 800,000 Taiwanese may have seen its performances.
Other Taiwanese celebrities targeted by the Chinese Communist Party have added to the deterioration of cross-strait relations.
In 2016, the singer Chou Tzu-yu was widely chastised on Chinese social media and by the authorities for waving the ROC flag at an event and calling herself Taiwanese.
As a result of the ensuing threats, Chou, then 16, gave a stilted videotaped apology for hurting the feelings of the Chinese people, and affirmed that she was Chinese. Her treatment sparked a wave of anger throughout Taiwan, and contributed to the victory of pro-Taiwan independence candidate Tsai Ing-wen in the ROC presidential election in 2016.