Taiwan singer's flag display sparks row

Deserts Chang, in BBC image from 7 November 2013
Image caption Deserts Chang's flag move triggered heated debate online

Taiwanese singer Deserts Chang could never have imagined that her small concert in Manchester last week would trigger a massive row on Chinese social media over cross-strait relations.

At the concert held on Saturday at the University of Manchester, attended mainly by students from Taiwan and mainland China, Chang took a Taiwanese flag from a group of fans in the front row and unfurled it on stage.

"I see there are also people who bring a national flag to the concert," the 32-year-old singer-songwriter said, adding "I have not felt so patriotic for a while... and I am from Taiwan."

Chang was soon interrupted by a female Chinese student, who shouted in English: "There are students from mainland here. No politics today!"

To which Chang replied, "It's not politics, it is just a flag that represents where I am from."

It was a minor argument involving two people, and other Chinese students at the concert did not get involved.

But when the incident was disclosed on the internet, it attracted massive interest and on Tuesday became one of the top trending topics on Sina Weibo, China's equivalent of Twitter.

Online spat

Many online commentators accused Chang of openly declaring Taiwan's independence and being arrogant towards Chinese students in the audience.

Some even told the singer to stay away from mainland China and leave the entertainment industry.

"Please never come to the mainland and never release albums here," wrote Weibo user "Shen Xiaotang".

China and Taiwan split in 1949, when the Chinese Communist Party overthrew the Republic of China (ROC) and founded the People's Republic on the mainland, forcing the ROC government to retreat to Taiwan.

Many mainland Chinese support Beijing's claim that Taiwan is an inalienable part of China and therefore find Chang's display of the Taiwanese flag unacceptable.

But not all Chinese netizens share this sentiment. In fact, many have come to Chang's defence and have criticised her critics for over-reacting.

"Some people have over-reacted again. Their sensitive nerves can only expose their fragility and sense of inferiority," said "April Zi".

To some netizens, it is absurd to accuse Chang of being a separatist due to this incident, because the flag she showed at the concert used to be the national flag of China before 1949 and is not a symbol of Taiwan's pro-independence forces.

Weibo user "Old Q" said: "Those who accuse Chang of supporting Taiwan independence have been brainwashed. You can afford to be ignorant, but you cannot afford to lack such basic common sense."

Gig cancelled?

As the online debate raged on, rumours began to circulate that Chang's career in China was in danger.

According to major Chinese and Hong Kong entertainment media outlets, which have given extensive coverage to the incident, Chang's 30 December Beijing concert could be cancelled by the Chinese authorities.

The Taiwanese government weighed in on Wednesday to try to minimise the damage to cross-strait relations.

Wang Yu-chi, the head of Taiwan's Mainland Affairs Council, said Chang had not done anything wrong and that he would be "pained" if her Beijing concert is cancelled simply because of the flag row.

When asked about her take on the incident, a Chinese spokeswoman on cross-strait relations avoided discussing the possible cancellation of the concert.

Talking to Taiwanese media, Fan Liqing, spokeswoman for China's Taiwan Affairs Office, simply said that Beijing hopes people on both sides of the Taiwan Strait could "enhance mutual understanding" and "work together for a Chinese renaissance".

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