Saturday, May 26, 2012

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President Ma: Popular in China, unpopular in Taiwan

5/26/2012 Taiwan Explorer
Taiwan's leader's different image on both sides of the Taiwan strait

Taiwan's, excuse me, Republic of China's president Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) found himself in a very tricky position three months after his successful reelection. His approval ratings are now at 19.5% and steadily going down due to a blitzkrieg of tax increases after election, that angered his opponents and voters alike, because they felt betrayed and accused him of purposely lying to win the election (A politician lying to win an election? Wow, that must be a first!). It was no surprise, that during his recent official inauguration, a lot of voters came to Taipei to protest from all corners of the country. They were not driven by wanderlust, nor by the fear of an imminent anschluss to Mainland China - no, the spontaneous migration to Taipei was caused by the president's lack of understanding the commoner's daily struggles. Some said, he lost touch with the people:

“I regret voting for Ma. I regret it a lot,” one man said. “Ma had a different attitude before his election. He acted as if he cared about the people before the election, but now he doesn’t listen to what people want.” From Taipei Times, May 20, 2012 - Page 3

On the other hand, he seems to be fairly popular in Mainland China, a country, that he doesn't consider different from the one he's president of (Yeah, try to digest this statement!). A recent article in ChinaSmack talks about a Chinese student, that decided to write to Ma in order to obtain his autograph, which included this line:

“I really adore you because you are very close to the people.” From CS, May 25, 2012

He then indeed received a letter from the Office of the President of the Republic of China (Taiwan), which included a polite little note and the president's signature. He was very happy and shared his autograph on MOP, a popular Chinese website, where he garnered a lot of admiration from netizens. There is a notion in China, that "politicians in Taiwan are closer to the people" ("台灣的領導人真的很親民" says one commentator on MOP). They of course compare the democratic "province" (as they see it) with the autocratic rest of the country where they live and suffer under the nasty boot of communism (...with "Chinese characteristics"). Most Taiwanese on the other hand see the whole situation much differently. They would not describe president Ma as "close to the people" and a lot of his policies and statements in the recent years are rather seen backwards and dangerous - the fear of reversing the democratic achievements of the past 20 years is greater than ever. This shows how different the two sides are in their political culture and perceptions. Progressive mainland Chinese long for democracy and Ma is currently the only democratically elected leader of Chinese origin (he's born in Hong Kong) - he serves as a more or less imaginary figure they long for, because they assume more than they really know about him. I believe they would quickly be fed up with him, if they had the chance to experience his realpolitik of today and the machtpolitik of recent years. Taiwanese long for leaders with more integrity and principles, but it seems, that the prospects of that happening on the national level are very grim - and hence I believe the frustrations will increase in the upcoming years.

President Ma's poster as seen at the Liuhe Night Market in Kaohsiung.

I've picked some of the pro-Taiwan reactions on MOP, that discuss this article. Please use the Google Translate widget on the right to translate them into your own native language:

• 這才是真民主~

• 哎,還是讓台灣收復大陸好了!!!

• 民國萬歲!

• 壯哉我大台灣,總統府的回信~!

• 一個中國是一個中華民國,法定首都南京,臨時首都台北! 我們生活在淪陷區、沒翻牆過的同學你們是不知道我們的生活是多麼水深火熱。

• 贊樓主,贊馬英九。

• 突然我很想投奔台灣。

• 我就無語了。

• 以前我不明白為啥台灣不願意統一,現在看看我們的國家,我突然懂了!

• 說實話我也想支台灣。

• 馬總統真的不錯,比大陸的官員確實要好很多。

• 讓台灣回歸幹嘛?有多少台灣人願意?回來享受毒奶粉?拆遷?躲貓貓?三鹿?地溝油?說句良心話,不是人家不回歸,都是我們自己造成的,人在做天在看。看看現在的中國被那個GCD搞成什麼樣子了?怪不得別人說中華民國了!說白了,百姓看一個國家的好壞,就是自己過得好不好!我不是分裂祖國,而是現在的ZF不給力啊!官B民反。

• 台灣出國介紹自己都是說:我是台灣人。

• 這就叫自由,認真,民主,而不是高高在上。

•台灣人民為什麼不想統一是有它原因的,由此可以看出。

• 馬總統,你們什麼時候反攻大陸呀?

• 這個繁體的字看著真有感覺,讀著還有古文的感覺,爽。

• 中華民國萬歲。

• 自認我是民國人。

Update: This is a video from November 2012, President Ma visited the Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall and Chinese tourists were very excited to see him, some even cried.

What do you think about the way president Ma is seen on both sides of the Taiwan Strait?

Related: [China compared to Taiwan][Uniquely Taiwanese page]
[Photo by MKL, 2012: Ma on an election poster in Taipei]