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Release of the Song: ‘We Sing a Song Together’ and Its Repercussions

By Zizhou Xia

Disclaimer: The views, opinions, and assumptions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of The Graduate Press Editorial Board. Our mission is to provide a neutral platform for the student body to be able to engage in open dialogue on complex issues.

The song We Sing a Song Together (《我们同唱一首歌》) first appeared in China Central Television’s (CCTV) New Year’s Eve Gala “Sailing 2022” on December 31. It was officially released in its full version on January 2, 2022, via CCTV @kantaihai Wechat public account.[1] The song depicts the story of three Taiwanese siblings going back to Fujian in search of their ancestral origin after the death of their grandfather. Despite addressing only personal intentions and familial bonds at first glance, the song has rich political connotations within China’s social and political context. The strong cultural implication of unification by releasing it at New Year time, the unneglectable political imprints of being released through the official media of People’s Republic of China, the historical context of similar song-releases before the handover of Hong Kong and Macau: all add to the song’s sensitiveness in face of the increasingly confrontational cross-Strait relations (also addressed as Mainland–Taiwan relations or Taiwan–China relations). It is not hard to imagine, then, that upon being launched, We Sing a Song Together has sparked widespread controversies from both governments and civil societies on either side of the Strait with its Mainland-Taiwan unification ideology. 

We” Sing a Song Together?

We Sing a Song Together is a product of cross-Strait artistic collaboration: it is written by the Taiwan lyricist Vincent Fang, and performed by popular singers including Jam Hsiao (Taiwan), Tia Ray (Mainland), Nana Ou-Yang (Taiwan), Chen Linong (Taiwan), and Jason Zhang (Mainland). The main thread of the song is to depict a “cross-Strait bond”, focusing on the Taiwanese aspirations to return to their “origin”, i.e., the Mainland. Noticeable is the metaphorical Chinese kinship between the two regions, with the Mainland being the ancestral origin and Taiwan being the descendant. Hence, there exists a subtle hierarchical power disparity, and the Mainland is vested with the magisterial authority of the head of the family. This asymmetrical bond is reflected in the lyrics, while also implied in its linguistic arrangements and the music video. Representative lyrics include “leaves return to their roots in Tangshan (a mainland municipality),” “after crossing the strait, the two sides of the Taiwan Strait have always been one family,” “I want to go back and reunite.” Languages are employed in an echoing and dialectic manner, with Mandarin in the main part of the song, and the Minnan dialect (spoken in Taiwan) in the chorus. The music video includes a scene where the two A-Ma statues look at each other across the Strait, another symbolization of the bond between Taiwan and Mainland compatriots.

While a plain recapitulation of the song reveals an allegedly tender call for connection, this sentiment was apparently not unanimously accepted in the Taiwan society. The freedom of artistic expression and the theme of cross-Strait peaceful co-existence were supported by some netizens, but resentful comments overwhelmed the Facebook page of Vincent Fang and Jam Hsiao (note that Mainland netizens are blocked from Facebook). Accusations centered around the artist’s ingratiation of the Mainland music market, giving up personal judgment at the “bribe” of the Mainland government, or (mis)representing the Taiwanese sentiment towards the Mainland in an illegitimate manner.

The strong tension, or “over-sensitiveness”, from Taiwan society does not come out of thin air. On one hand, recent years saw a steady rise in the self-identification of Taiwan public as only Taiwanese, with less than 35% of the population still recognizing the Chinese identity.[2] On the other hand, the song’s release by the CCTV adds a pressing undertone for unification, providing that CCTV is a political body of the People’s Republic of China. The worry of a potential proactive unification becomes more persuasive if one recalls the overall historical and political context, where similar songs depicting region-sovereign familial bonds were released but in much more “landmark” occasions, such as the Hong Kong and Macau Handovers.[3]

[Changes in the Taiwanese/Chinese Identity of Taiwanese from 1992-2021), data and line graph from the Election Study Center, National Chengchi University (NCCU)]

Neither was the song well-received by the Taiwan government, who declared the song to be “for unification war purposes”. This is a rather predictable reaction, considering that Taiwan is now led by the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). The political scene in Taiwan, or the Republic of China (ROC), can be divided into two sides: the pro-unification Pan-Blue Coalition, with the Kuomintang (KMT) being the dominant party, and the pro-independence Pan-Green Coalition, with the DPP being the dominant party. The division centers on whether to recognize the “one China” principle, crystalised in the “1992 Consensus” between representatives of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and the then-ruling KMT party. It is important to note that, regardless of the two Coalitions’ attitude towards cross-Strait relations, neither considered Taiwan as affiliated to the Mainland, or the CCP-led People’s Republic of China (PRC). There was no intention by the “1992 Consensus” to touch upon Taiwan’s legal status, and the content of the “consensus” was disputed from the beginning. For the PRC, the interpretation is “both sides of the Taiwan Straits belong to one China and will work together toward national reunification.”[4] For the KMT, however, it is “one China, different interpretations,” with the ROC being the “one China” sovereign.[5]

[The flag of KMT (left) and the flag of DPP (right). Due to their main colours, the KMT is referred to as “the Blue camp” and DPP “the Green camp” in domestic political context. The naming of “Pan-Blue” and “Pan-Green” coalitions also follows this logic, as KMT and DPP are dominant parties of the coalitions respectively. © Wikipedia Commons]

Declarations from the Parties

Despite the historical and social undercurrents, and in face of the widespread tensions and suspicions within Taiwan civil society, the Mainland government characterizes the song as a “New Year gift” for Mainland and Taiwan compatriots. On January 12, in a regular press conference of the Taiwan Affairs Office of the State Council, spokesperson Ms. Zhu Fenglian cited a Taiwanese netizen that We Sing a Song Together is to be seen as a “New Year gift” presented by musicians across the Strait. However, combined with her ensuing statements, the “gift” is not free from further implications. In the subsequent paragraphs, Ms. Zhu highlighted the song’s underlying expectation for Taiwan and Mainland compatriots to “not just sing together, but also search for their ancestral roots and fight for a better future together”. She also stressed in an assertive and indicative manner, arguably towards the DPP, that “the Taiwan compatriots righteously [expressed] their feelings for the motherland and their longing for their ancestors”, and that this feeling could not “be distanced or suppressed by anyone.”[6]

In response to the Mainland’s statement, the Taiwan government reasserted its independence, and called the song a “propaganda for war of unification”. In the evening of January 12, the Mainland Affairs Council denounced the CCP’s emphasis on common historical and cultural origins, saying that it constitutes deliberate manipulation of the “one China” political framework. The Council also criticized the Mainland’s use of simple artistic creations as tools to spread political ideology, and reasserted the freedom of artistic creations and expressions.[7] Interestingly still, the Mainland Affairs Council itself also imposes political constraints on artists — therefore, it had to remain coherent by being equivocal to the press on the interpretation of such political limitations. Issued by and hence subject to the interpretations of the Mainland Affairs Council, the Act Governing Relations between the People of the Taiwan Area and the Mainland Area, in its Article 33-1, clearly forbids all forms of unauthorized cooperative activity with agents or institutions from the Mainland Area, given such activities or the involved Mainland partners have a political nature.[8] However, when asked whether the musicians violated Article 33-1 by constituting “political” productions, spokesman Mr. Chiu Chui-ching deferred the right of interpretation completely to Taiwan’s “own public opinion,” which is a stark contrast to the Council’s previous assertive attitude.[9]

Away from the center of political disputes, much soothing views are expressed by KMT, the now non-ruling Party in Taiwan. Ms. Wen Yu-Hsia, a member of the Legislative Yuan and a member of the KMT, said in an interview with Radio Free Asia that the cooperation between Chinese Communist Party and Taiwanese artists concerns only art creations and “this is great, quite ok, let us not think too much.” [10]

Freedom of Expression or Political Scheme?

Being one of the few musicians that publicly expressed their opinions, Vincent Fang defined the song as his sincere and politically independent call for easing cross-Strait relations. In his back-to-back promotional Microblogs (roughly understood as the “Facebook” for Mainland China) on January 1 and 3, Fang proudly called the song his “super fulfilling composition for 2022.”[11] On January 14, Fang released a Facebook post, explaining to Taiwan netizens that he expected the song to “help to ease the escalating cross-Strait tension, and enhance emotional exchanges between the civil societies.” In his response to their suspicions, he implied that the song was free from political influence by explaining it was intended for public welfare (non-commercial) and was composed with his “full awareness”.[12] 

Whether the song will fulfill Fang’s hope of easing the cross-Strait societal confrontation is left unknown, but it is clear that it will not be the case for cross-Strait governmental relations. Whatever are the real intentions of CCP behind the song release, it is undoubtedly a reiteration of the Mainland’s expectation for Taiwan’s “full return”, while at the same time serving as a touchstone for cross-Strait reaction towards unification. In face of the approaching new tenure, the PRC government will be in favor of landmark political achievements. Meanwhile, with the DPP still on board and in hope of reelection, the current Taiwan government will firmly uphold and promote the Taiwan-independence ideology, so as to triumph over the more conservative KMT, the primary aim of which being peaceful cross-Strait co-existence.

Therefore, upon the song’s release, if the majority of Taiwanese public opinion reveals itself as anti-unification, joined by the DPP efforts to promote independence ideology, it is probable that the CCP will resort to more stringent unification measures. This is not mere speculation. The military aircrafts entering Taiwan’s alleged air defense identification zone [13], the internal report from the Russian Federal Security Bureau (FSB) on the intended “full-scale takeover of Taiwan”[14], as well as the latest response from the PRC Taiwan Affairs Office when asked about this intended “armed reunification”[15], all prove to be signals of potential “decisive measures” – the exact phrase used by Zhu Fenglian, the spokesperson for the Taiwan Affairs Office[16]. Although the CCP is apparently inclining towards a more peaceful attitude in face of the international response to the Russian-Ukraine conflict[17], the Taiwan issue undoubtedly remains the last piece of the CCP’s reunification blueprint after stringent Hong Kong policies. In the end, what was initially intended by Fang to be a tranquilizer, may prove to be the start of greater turbulence.

[1] Kantaihai (“Taiwan Strait Watch”, translation by the author), ‘MV warmly launched! 2022, we sing a song together’, at <https://mp.weixin.qq.com/s/gfpsGzy6B1iRnGkNDCePKA>.

[2] Election Study Center, National Chengchi University (NCCU), ‘Changes in the Taiwanese/Chinese Identity of Taiwanese (1992-2021)’, at <https://esc.nccu.edu.tw/PageDoc/Detail?fid=7804&id=6960>.

[3] E.g., 1997 A.D. (《公元1997》) upon Hong Kong handover, the Song of the Seven Sons (Macau) (《七子之歌(澳门)》) upon Macau handover.

[4] Xi Jinping, ‘Working Together to Realize Rejuvenation of the Chinese Nation and Advance China’s Peaceful Reunification’, Speech at the Meeting Marking the 40th Anniversary of the Issuance of the Message to Compatriots in Taiwan, January 2, 2019, at <http://www.gwytb.gov.cn/wyly/201904/t20190412_12155687.htm>.

[5] National Unification Council, Resolution of August 1, 1992 on the meaning of “one China”, archived 1 March 2009 at the Wayback Machine, 1 August 1992, at <https://web.archive.org/web/20090301061906/http://www.mac.gov.tw/big5/rpir/2nda_4.htm>.

[6] Taiwan Affairs Office press conference on January 12, at <http://www.scio.gov.cn/xwfbh/gbwxwfbh/xwfbh/gtb/Document/1718949/1718949.htm>.

[7] Liberty Times (LTN), ‘Taiwan Affairs Office boasts of Jam Hsiao and Nana Ou-Yang singing red songs, Mainland Affairs Council: unification war songs increase antipathy’, at <https://news.ltn.com.tw/news/politics/breakingnews/3799259>.

[8] Mainland Affairs Council, ‘Act Governing Relations between the People of the Taiwan Area and the Mainland Area’, at <https://law.moj.gov.tw/ENG/LawClass/LawAll.aspx?pcode=Q0010001>.

[9] United Daily News (UDN), ‘Does it violate the law to participate in We Sing a Song Together? The Mainland Affairs Council stays equivocal’, at <https://udn.com/news/story/7331/6031468>.

[10] Radio Free Asia (RFA), ‘We Sing a Song Together receives contrasting reactions across the Taiwan Strait, art or unification war?’, at <https://www.rfa.org/mandarin/yataibaodao/gangtai/hx2-01142022102704.html>.

[11] Vincent Fang’s Microblog, at <https://sg.weibo.com/1277127435/L91FWyiJi>.

[12] Vincent Fang’s Facebook page, at <https://www.facebook.com/FangWenShan/posts/pfbid02aNdQA43pvjeGsTVKD76SeaBhJecggUPhPVYWSHP8Y3xhEqhnAdxh9std8Nm6bWuWl>.

[13] Ministry of National Defence, ROC, ‘The Ministry of National Defense (MND) issued a press release stating that “multiple sorties of Chinese Communist Party (CCP) aircraft entered our southwest airspace for air defense identification zone activities”’, at <https://www.mnd.gov.tw/Publish.aspx?p=77334&title=國防消息&SelectStyle=新聞稿>.

[14] Taiwan News, ‘Xi considered invading Taiwan this fall: FSB whistleblower’, at <https://www.taiwannews.com.tw/en/news/4474716>.

[15] China News Service, ‘The Mainland has considered “armed reunification” of Taiwan this fall? The Taiwan Affairs Office responded’, at <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dwm5dFSh-qE>.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Xinhua, ‘Xi stresses joint China-U.S. efforts for world peace, tranquility’, at <http://www.xinhuanet.com/english/20220318/b32e7ff2f8f744e7a4d41c2d4bf6ec2a/c.html>.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of CEAS.

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