Saturday, March 09, 2013

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Japan and Taiwan connect through baseball

3/09/2013 Taiwan Explorer
Yesterday's baseball game between Japan and Taiwan of the 2013 World Baseball Classics, which Taiwan sadly lost 4:3, showed once again how well Taiwanese and Japanese connect on all levels except politics. One of the all time heights in the bilateral relationship between Taiwan and Japan occurred after the devastating Tōhoku earthquake in 2011. Taiwan and its people donated the most money of any country in the world in the immediate aftermath of the disaster, at that time even more than the mighty ally USA (which has meanwhile changed). This act of kindness surprised many Japanese, who felt very grateful and appreciated. Historically Japan doesn't have many sincere friends in the region, so that might have added to their big surprise. In late 2012 the relationship (on the government level) soured a little due to the Diaoyutai/Senkaku dispute and the fishing boat clashes, however most people on both sides understand the difference between politics and the attitude of common citizens, which is still friendly even after all the political nonsense. If you compare that to how anti-Japanese the Koreans and Chinese generally are (see some photos here), Taiwan's fondness for Japan is so much more outstanding. Officially, Japan doesn't have any state-to-state relations with Taiwan (aka Republic of China) since 1972, but the diplomacy is working pretty well behind the scenes, and behind the prying eyes of China's officials.

Taiwan's national pride comes to light through baseball

Taiwan's national athletes and teams have to compete under the name "Chinese Taipei" since the early 1980s (source). The Chinese name is "中華臺北" (Zhonghua Taipei), and in team sports like baseball Taiwanese usually say "中華隊加油!", which literally means "Chinese (Taipei) Team Jia You!" ("加油!" or "Add oil!"is a common expression for encouragement). I asked my wife why are people saying "中華隊加油!" instead of "台灣隊加油!" ("Taiwan Team Jia You!"), and she said people are just very used to saying it that way, it's a habit. What was interesting yesterday, was the fact that Japanese showed extreme gratitude and kindness towards Taiwan, its people, and Taiwan's baseball team. Not only did they allow the Taiwanese fans to wave their national flags in the stadium (something, that's not a given, if you remember London 2012), they even went further. These photos are circling around the web in Taiwan (sources here and here):

Top photo shows a fan with a banner, that says: Thank you, Taiwan!
Middle photo's caption says: We are Taiwan! Can you see it? It's not Chinese Taipei!
The banners on the bottom photo say: "Thank you, Taiwan" and "Donations 2011.3"

Photo shows: A Japanese fan is thanking Taiwan for the post-Tōhoku earthquake donations in 2011.

What is highly interesting to see is the fact, that Japanese have no issues of calling Taiwan what it is - namely Taiwan. This caused a lot of Taiwanese netizens to question, if it really makes sense to refer to their beloved team "Chinese Taipei Team" ("中華隊") instead of "Taiwan Team" ("台灣隊"). This is surely a matter of semantics and a case of "old habits die hard", and less a matter of heart and patriotism. Nevertheless, it's the Japanese these days, that show Taiwan the right way to refer to their own country.

Taiwan's team gracious gesture

Another thing, that caught the attention of Japanese media, and subsequently of Taiwanese netizens, was a polite gesture at the end of the game, where Taiwan's defeated baseball players bowed to the audience (it were actually several bows in 360 degrees). They received standing ovations by the Japanese, photos and videos started to circle around the web soon after, and the reactions from the netizens on both sides were greatly positive (source). Some Japanese were even discussing, whether the victory was deserved, some believed a referee's mistake caused Taiwan's defeat.

Taiwanese baseball players bowing after the game and receiving standing ovations by the Japanese audience. (This photo is reshared a lot on Facebook in Taiwan).

Both Japan and Taiwan emerge as winners

We can't change yesterday's result anymore, it is what it is - a victory for Japan. However if we look beyond sports we could say that the lost game was actually a small victory for Taiwan. Not only did Japanese show great gratitude and respect towards their opponent, I've seldom seen so much excitement in Taiwan over something so non-political like baseball. People were chanting and screaming in our neighborhood during the game, and I believe this wasn't only happening here, it was most-likely very similar all across the country. Some fans even gathered in public places, and watched the game together on big LED screens, you can see a video of that atmosphere here. These days patriotism is flourishing in Taiwan, people feel connected with each other, and proud of their country - a country that so often fails to receive the recognition from the outside world due to political pressure from China. Once again it was clear that the spirit of sport is stronger than politics, Taiwan can truly be proud of its baseball team, and the positive energy, that's been making the rounds inside the country and beyond. 台灣隊加油!

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