An Example of Taiwanese Soft Power and Bullying Within a Student Society

Yi was the president of a local Taiwanese student association at one of New Zealand’s universities. They were making preparations for an University night market, in which the members of the society were encouraged to dress up in their respective culture’s clothing. Yi the week before the night market contacted the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Auckland stating clearly that they needed traditional Chinese attire for the event. The Auckland office happily obliged and said they would deliver it to them on the day of the devent.

When the costumes arrived on the day of the event, everyone was shocked that instead of the expected Chinese Hanfu, they were instead sent Taiwanese Aboriginal clothing. This became an issue, as there was not a single person who identified as having an indigenous Taiwanese background. Still, it was too late to make changes and the event had to go through, it ended up with the Taiwanese society having an awkward time, as those who identified as Chinese refused to besmirch or make comedic caricatures of indigenous Taiwanese. Yi said only those who came from the south of Taiwan wore the costumes given and they put on a show that was embarassing to watch in order to please the Western crowd.

“There was no doubt that the move was influenced heavily by the political leanings of the office at the time” said Yi. “As Lincoln (the director-general) was incredibly close to all the Green (supporter of the DPP party) students in the association at the time”

“Lincoln Ting always gave off a feeling of hostility if a non-white student without connections to Taiwan came along with me to the office. He just gave the impression, that he did not like it”.

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Lincoln Yao-Chun Ting – Director General of TECO in Auckland (2011-15) now promoted to the role of the Director General of Treaty and Legal Affairs Department in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Photo sourced from Yahoo

This event still remains controversial for those who graduated that year, as it felt like an attack by Director General Ting against the Chinese mainland members of the association. As Yi described at the time, whenever she was alone with certain Taiwanese members of the society, the conversation would always divulge into negative criticisements about the Chinese mainland students. These same hostile students were also the ones that were generally very close to Director General Ting.

Yi felt that this was unfair to the Mainland Chinese students, many who joined the club to connect with Taiwanese students and to learn more about Taiwanese culture. She felt it left a bad feeling within the society as a whole, as she was unable to control the club due to the hivemind mentality of the hostile members, who would bully anyone that exhibited positive opinions about China or ex-president Ma Ying-Jeou. She even had to keep silent for fear of the consequences as she had relatives in China.

“To this day, I try to tell people I’m from New Zealand instead of saying I’m Taiwanese. I’ll say I am Chinese before I am Taiwanese as I do not want to be associated with bullying. It isn’t just something that happens as an one off, I see it all the time within Taiwanese society.” – Yi

Please Note: The name of the interviewee has been changed at her request. 

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