A 16-year-old pop star was forced to apologize to China for waving Taiwan’s flag

Chou Tzu-yu is a Taiwanese singer in the nine-girl Korean pop band Twice. In the past 24 hours, the 16-year-old has also become a symbol of the island’s civic pride, and China’s heavy-handed attempts to stifle that pride—just as Taiwan voters goes to the polls.

On January 8th, Taiwanese pop singer Michael Huang posted a message (link in Chinese) on Sina Weibo blasting Chou for performing while holding a Taiwanese flag. He accompanied the message with a staged portrait of Chou lying on a bed holding the Korean and Taiwanese flags. Huang is known for his pro-unification sentiments, and has pull similar stunts before on Taiwanese musicians.

The Taiwanese flag, which is distinctly different from China’s, is a sore point for some Chinese, who view its display as activism for an independent Taiwan. Taiwan has ruled itself since 1949, after the Kuomintang fled the Chinese mainland after a civil war, but Beijing considers it a province of China.

Huang’s post was widely circulated on the Chinese internet. Days later, Taiwanese media reported Chou had been banned from performing on Anhui TV’s Spring Festival Gala. The agency that booked the show also demanded that Twice’s management company, JYP, refund a 100,000 yuan deposit (about $15,230).

Last night, Chou appeared in a YouTube video posted by JYP. Clad in a black sweater, she bowed deeply and tearfully read a scripted apology.

“There is only one China,” she said. “The cross-straits territories are one in the same, and I am proud to consider myself thoroughly Chinese. As a Chinese person who performs abroad, [I say] to my employers and internet friends on both sides of the straits—I’m terribly sorry for the harm I have caused, and I feel ashamed.”

Managers at the JYP have also expressed support for “one China” and issued public apologies. “We have been unable to substitute the guidance of a mother and father for Chou, and this is our error,” one representative told media (link in Chinese).

It’s not uncommon for Taiwanese pop stars to be penalized in China for comments perceived to be pro-independence, but Chou’s young age has inspired sypmathy, and anger at China. Her morose apology has been viewed nearly 3 million times on YouTube, and hundreds of Taiwanese and Korean commentators expressed their support for her.

Numerous Taiwanese leaders and politicians have also backed Chou, whose Facebook page has since been removed. “For a 16-year-old, this is too cruel,” wrote KMT presidential candidate Eric Chu, whose party nominally supports unification with China. “Chou Tzu-yu, we welcome you back home.”

The situation may have insired more Taiwanese to go to the polls, analysts said. “Neutral voters who previously did not want to go out to vote might show up to cast their ballots to Taiwan-centric candidates and China-friendly candidates could suffer as a result,” Yao Li-min, chairman of the Citizen’s Congress Watch, told the SCMP.

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