Soft Power: Theme for a Golden Decade
United Daily News editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
June 21, 2010
Taipei Mayor Hau Lung-ping led a delegation to Shanghai to discuss direct flights between Songshan Airport and Hongqiao Airport. He spoke of using soft power to move the world. What exactly is Taiwan's "soft power?" How can it move the world?
The theme song of the Taiwan Pavilion at the Shanghai World Expo is "Taiwan's Heartbeat." The lyrics proclaim: "I piously light the incense stick. My hand holds a column of hope; A little less hate, a little more us; A little less chill, a little more gentleness; Use freehand to render Cloud Gate, use fireworks to build a city; Matsu abides, generation upon generation of the pious; Sky lanterns ascend, carrying aloft our wishes, no need to delay." The lyrics mention Taroko Gorge and the Lungshan Temple. They mention Mei Nung paper umbrellas and Sanyi woodcarvings. They mention Pingtung Bluefin Tuna and the neon lights of the night market. Visitors from Taiwan were moved to tears.
Make no mistake. This is the Taiwan we grew up with. This is the Taiwan we know and love. This is the Taiwan clear in our memories, the one we are eager to promote to the world. But this Taiwan reflects only Taiwan's inner cohesion. To move the world, we must bolster Taiwan's connections to the outside world. We must make Taiwan's connections to the outside world as strong as its internal cohesion. Only then can Taiwan's "soft power" flex its muscles.
The film "Cape No. 7" set box office records on Taiwan. It reduced many to tears. It made many laugh. But it left audiences in Hong Kong, mainland China, and even Japan cold. The reason was its local color, which included a mixture of Mandarin, Hoklo, Japanese, and English jokes. It was a uniquely "Taiwanese" experience. By the same token, if the Taiwan Pavilion theme song were to emphasize the Ba Jia Jiang and Yunghe Soybean Milk, many visitors would be left scratching their heads. That is why the song includes rap, and the lead singer is Jolin Tsai. That is why the Taipei Pavilion hired Wong Lee Hom as Goodwill Ambassador. They were popular in Chinese cities everywhere. These icons of pop culture in Southeast Asia attracted popular attention.
In recent years, Taiwan has gradually developed another kind of introspective self-confidence, rooted in "native" values, different from reckless "Taiwan is knee-deep in money" self-confidence. Today Taiwan needs more than just the ability to "connect with the outside world." It needs a more universal vision. It needs to connect with a more international aesthetic. The Cloud Gate Dance Theatre and Franz Porcelain are no longer the only cultural creative achievements capable of showcasing Taiwan's achievements. Other bits and pieces of culture and cultural artifacts are also worth introducing to the world.
For example, Luo Chi-cheng, newly appointed Chairman of the Kuanghua Cultural Centre, recently organized a series of exchanges between Hong Kong and Taiwan. He invited 20 cultural leaders from Taiwan to attend a forum in Hong Kong. Included were works by famed crossover Hong Kong author Wang Wenhua, "knowledge as value" illusionist Chan Hong-chi, and "First Witch of Taipei" Han Liang-lu. These people are all champions of high culture. They also command local market appeal on Taiwan. What matters today is not quasi-official efforts on behalf of "cultural exports." The marketing of art in the modern market place has helped MIT products rid themselves of the OEM label. It has given Sun Chui-feng and Yen Chang-shou the opportunity to represent Taiwan culture.
Today's Taiwan is no longer the OEM Taiwan that sells cheap umbrellas and plastic shoes. Today's Taiwan is not just Acer and Giant. Giant promoted local "bike culture" on Taiwan. It used cycling to encourage the "discovery of a new Taiwan." The Eslite brand has created an elevated "bookstore culture" on Taiwan, the mainland, and Hong Kong. Such achievements are truly remarkable. Proud people on Taiwan how have the courage to promote Taiwan. Taipei Mayor Hau Lung-ping personally presented high school students in Shanghai with tickets to Taipei's Flower Expo. Tainan County Magistrate Su Huan-chih treated people to Taiwan mangoes in a Beijing supermarket. Their efforts were similarly motivated. They expressed the beauty of both content and form. They elevated Taiwan's soft power to new heights.
As Taiwan connects with the rest of the world, it has proclaimed a desire for peace. "Fewer scars, more applause. Fewer conflicts, more simplicity." The bottom line is that as Taiwan connects with the outside world, it must eventually return to person to person, lifestyle to lifestyle relationships. The best way to enhance the quality of life on Taiwan is summed up in lyrics of the song, "Taiwan's Hearbeat." "This is a land of many, many choices." This was a hard-won achievement. But this soft power is the best way to create a Golden Decade.
2010.06.21 02:16 am