Several years ago there were whisperings that Taiwan might declare independence during the Olympics, when countries would have hundreds of athletes, coaches and spectators in Beijing — and China might be reluctant to retaliate. The rumors were far-fetched, of course. But at the time, they seemed just plausible enough that people kept repeating them.
The Taiwan issue may not mean much to Americans, but it is huge in China. Taiwan’s on-again, off-again inching towards independence has angered a lot of people on the mainland, many of whom consider the island a break-away province. Taiwan, Japan, Tibet and a half dozen other grievances, stoked by the government, have helped give rise to what some Chinese call fenqing, or angry youth.
So what do the Chinese do when the Taiwanese Olympic team comes to town? Do they cheer them? Do they boo them?
At the badminton match we went to yesterday, mainland Chinese spectators made an effort to claim the Taiwanese athletes as their own.
The big match of the session was Xie Yuxing of Taiwan against Kaveh Mehrabi of Iran. At nearly every pause in action during the match, a young Chinese guy in cargo shorts and a baseball cap would cup his hands around his mouth and yell:
And several thousand spectators would rumble back with: “Go!”
Not Taiwan. Not “Chinese Taipei,” which is the Olympic team’s officially sanctioned name. Taiwan Province.
Two rows in front of us sat a Taiwanese man who cheered violently after every point. But he stayed silent for the “Taiwan Province” chants.
Indeed, the state news coverage of the badminton match went out of its way to talk about Xie’s “home advantage.” And the media has also made hay out of Taiwanese weight lifter Chen Weiling’s bronze medal, highlighting the fact that Chen said she had won a “home game.”
Of course, this year, the Chinese team will not need an extra bronze or two from the Taiwanese in order to find themselves near the top of the medal table.
See also: Ming Thompson reports on security and the smog in Beijing, and Dan Mattingly tells us what the Chinese really cheer and what the athletes’ parents must go through.
Plus, visit Ming’s Beijing food blog.