The Case of Zhang Mingqing

When the Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait vice-chairman Zhang Mingqing was pushed onto the ground in the Confucius Temple in Tainan, the commentary gave the impression that he was just another Communist Party hack who deserved a beating.  Thus, former president Chen Shui-bian said that Zhang was itching for a beating.  Actually, the case of Zhang Mingqing is not so simple at all.  He is well-known in Taiwan, but for completely different reasons than one might suppose.  The following is a collection of fragments about the life and times of Zhang Mingqing.

(Taipei Times)  No to violence, yes to fair treatment.  Editorial.  October 23, 2008.

Shortly after the melee in Tainan on Tuesday, in which China’s Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait (ARATS) Vice Chairman Zhang Mingqing (張銘清) was besieged by pro-independence protesters, Presidential Office Spokesman Wang Yu-chi (王郁琦) said: “It is not our way to treat guests with violence,” while Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Legislator Yeh Yi-ching (葉宜津) labeled Zhang as unfriendly to Taiwan, adding that: “No one can tolerate seeing one’s enemy.”

So what does Zhang represent for Taiwan — is he friend, or foe? The record speaks for itself.

On June 28, 2001, Zhang, then spokesman of China’s Taiwan Affairs Office, said: “It is dangerous for Taiwan to include the word ‘Taiwan’ on its passport.”

On Sept. 26, 2001, he said: “It is the general trend and people’s yearning that the Taiwan issue soon be resolved, with the goal of a unified China … the issue of Taiwan cannot be delayed indefinitely.”

On Nov. 26, 2003, on the eve of the vote on the Referendum Law (公民投票法) in Taiwan, Zhang said: “We oppose the Taiwan authority’s attempt to use the legislation of a referendum to engage in separatist movement and pave the way for independence … we will react strongly if an unlimited referendum law is passed.”

On May 24, 2004, he said: “We will smash the separatist schemes of the Taiwanese independence movement at all costs.”

Despite his views on Taiwan, physical assault cannot be justified. Taiwan is a country of laws and brooks no violence to achieve political objectives. Thousands of Chinese have visited Taiwan since July 4, when policies allowing a greater number of Chinese to enter the country were implemented. Not once have we heard reports of Chinese being assaulted verbally or physically by their hosts. Zhang, therefore, was the exception, and the reason he was targeted has far more to do with his track record on Taiwan than blind hatred for Chinese.

Prior to the melee on Tuesday, Zhang was asked by reporters to comment on President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) remarks that “no war across the Taiwan Strait [would break out] in the next four years.” His response was the following: “There will be no war if there is no Taiwan independence.” Aside from its arrogance, the comment also represented a deadly threat to all Taiwanese who seek independence for their country.

(Taipei Times)  `Pressure Cooker' keeps the heat on.  March 26, 2006.

Welcome to the world of The Big Pressure Cooker (全民大悶鍋), a hugely popular satirical television show incorporating a cheeky blend of comedy sketches, rap music and unflattering mimicry of politicians. The show, broadcast five nights a week, reflects the nation's transformation into one of Asia's freest societies. As late as the mid-1990s, the nation's conservative establishment would have dismissed spoofing local bigwigs as culturally inappropriate.

And the show also lampoons Chinese leaders -- though gently, with Chinese officials providing effective if authoritarian solutions to Taiwan's social headaches. One figure parodied on the show is Zhang Mingqing (張銘清), China's spokesman on Taiwanese affairs, who is played by comedian Tai Chih-yuan (邰智源). In one sketch, "Zhang" urges Taiwanese officials, perplexed by problems such as an unruly media, "to learn from the motherland." "If our media don't follow orders, we don't shut them down," the "official" says. "We have them shot."

The show also targets US President George W. Bush, with a character playing the US leader frequently referring to Chen as "little brother." He then proceeds to scold him for not being subservient enough to the US power.

Though the show's audience is mostly domestic, it also reaches China, as well as Hong Kong and Singapore.

Pressure Cooker producer Wang Wei-chung (王偉忠) says the show's success comes from turning politicians into objects of fun, rather than preaching partisan doctrines. "We make the politicians look clownish," he said. "But we don't demonize them."

Endless political feuds leave many depressed, said one of the show's scriptwriters, Hsieh Nien-chu (謝念祖). "We get the viewers to laugh their hearts out, and the politicians can't help but go along with it," he said. The show has no shortage of material to draw on.




(Southern People Weekly Magazine)  Interview with Zhang Mingqing.  August 3, 2007.

Q. How do you view your high level of recognition in Taiwan?
A.  This is determined by the nature of my job.  I am a spokesperson.  Our press conferences are broadcast live in Taiwan.  Through these broadcasts, the people in Taiwan want to know the "why's" of things.  Also, the CTS television network in Taiwan has a program called <The Big Pressure Cooker> which spoofs me.  That has something to do with it.  (Laughter)  Besides, I have a lot of contact with Taiwan media on account of my job and therefore they are giving out information about me.

Q. Do you watch <The Big Pressure Cooker>?
A. Sometimes I do.  Not very often on television because I don't know when it will be shown.  I mainly watch the video disks that the Taiwan reporters bring.  They keep asking me about this.

Q. Do you feel that Tai Chih-yuan does a good imitation of you.
A. I don't think so.  (Laughter)  But it is up to the people.  Some people think he is good, others say no.  (Laughter).  First of all, the contents are different because I could not possibly say what he says at my press conferences.  Also there is some differences in character.  He is an actor, and he has to exaggerate certain things.

Q. Since you have a lot of contact with Taiwan media people, how would you assess them?
A. I feel that their professionalism and competitiveness are very strong.  This is worthy of our mainland media to emulate.  Of course, they don't have a full understanding of the conditions on the mainland, because they have been misled by the Taiwan authorities.  They hold certain prejudices which can result in extreme views.  They emphasize the readability of news, and they look for shocking or exclusive stories.  Sometimes, this affects the veracity and accuracy of their news.  Several years ago, one Taiwan media outlet reported that a Chinese central government leader had said at the Two Congresses that the issue of Taiwan joining the United Nations is open for discussion.  This is basically impossible.  By commonsense, it is impossible.  Only sovereign nations can join the United Nations.  After they published it, I contacted their person in charge and told him that their reporter was not only wrong but also defying commonsense.

Q. Does this happen often?
A. I rarely go to them over their reporting.  Generally speaking, the Taiwan reporters on mainland China are accurate.  There may be specific cases where the facts are wrong, but malevolent rumors are rare.  Different media organizations and different professionals have their own standards for news values, so why would we expect the media on the two sides of the strait to be the same?  We cannot ask that they all act like <People's Daily>.

Q. Do you feel that the Taiwan media reporting on mainland China is objective and fair?
A. I can only say that they are objective, but they are not necessarily fair.  They are objective because they are reporting the facts.  But some reports may be limited by the viewing angle of the reporters or the decisions of the editors.  As a result, they only report some partial aspect and therefore they may not be fair.  For example, mainland China introduced more than 40 policies that benefit the Taiwanese compatriots during the three Cross-Strait Economic Forums.  The Taiwan media took whatever they needed and did not report on everything.  Furthermore, they added their own subjective judgments (such as inferring certain "unification" strategies).  So it is hard to say that they are being fair.

Q. Is there any unbreachable bottom line for Taiwan media coverage?
A. I feel that as long as they report the facts and not make up rumors, we can accept it.  It does not matter.

Q. It seems that the mainland correspondents from Taiwan are more "blue"?
A. We treat them the same regardless of their colors.  They can all come.  When it comes to cross-strait exchange, there should not be any restrictions on the exchange of news and information.  In the past, there had been an extended period of isolation.  Because we understand very little about each other, there has been a lot of misunderstanding.  The media play the functional role of information exchange.  Therefore, they should be able to obtain the information more freely and conveniently.  I invite them to all the big functions.  But the media from central and southern Taiwan come less often.  <Liberty Times> seldom come.  Since they don't come, they don't understand mainland China.  Actually, we do not insist that you report on something.  You are free to report whatever you want.

Q. What else needs more work with respect to cross-strait information exchange?
A. I feel that we have to be open and have no restrictions.  When I was the spokesperson, any registered media organization in Taiwan can come.  If a hundred organizations want to come, we will welcome them.  Yet the Taiwan authorities set limits on mainland Media.  They said that <People's Daily> and <Xinhua> file inaccurate report and they terminate their right to have correspondents.  They said that this was a "temporary" stoppage, but it went on for three years.  We have never called any Taiwan media organization as being inaccurate and hence terminate their right to gather news.  The Taiwan authorities took their action because they lack self-confidence.  A society that professes to be open and have freedom of press should not have to impose such restrictions.

Q. The Mainland Affairs Council has invited other mainland media to report in Taiwan.
A. I don't think that they are justified to do that.  Based upon my information, <China Business News> and <Southern Daily Group> have not even applied to go to Taiwan.  When someone hasn't applied and you still invite them, does it make sense?

Q. Is it possible that all the metropolitan newspapers on mainland China will have correspondents in Taiwan some day?
A. On the mainland side, anyone who applies will not be restricted.  Right now, the key is with Taiwan.

Q. You have previously proposed "one country, two systems of journalism."  For the news industry, what is the substance in "one country" and "two systems"?
A. "One country" says that the news industry on both sides of the strait is the news industry within one country.  But because we live under different social systems, you have principles of journalism and I have mine.  In Taiwan, newspapers can be privately owned and that is different from mainland China.  It is possible to explore whether the "two systems" can complement each other.
The Taiwan media focus on readability and they will pay attention to public opinion.  With respect to the reporting on Shenzhou 6, CCTV's Bai Yansong and ETTV's Lu Xiufang held different viewpoints.  CCTV was interested in the full picture, whereas Lu Xiufang cared more about the details such as the living arrangements of the astronauts on board Shenzhou 6.  Is that what common people are interested about?  I say yes.  Should it reported?  I feel that the angle is very good and should be reported.
Is there anything that we can learn from them?  I think so.  We can learn about being readable and satisfying the readers' right to know.
As for judging news value, we cannot deal solely in ideology.  After all, we have common problems that we are all concerned about and we have to allow for differences in opinion.  At the very least, we can learn from each other about the business operations.
The competitiveness and professionalism of Taiwan media are related to their management system.  When a Taiwan reporter fails to report a news story, the boss will withhold the bonus; when the reporter fails several times, dismissal will result.  Our mainland media are lacking in this regard.
At certain activities, the organizers distribute press releases and the mainland reporters just sign their by-line and publish them.  This will only encourage laziness.  If this is how everything works, I might as well as just hand it over to Xinhua directly.
Each media organization has its own unique characteristics.  Different newspapers are dissimilar.  <People's Daily> and <Southern Weekend> are different.  In terms of readability, <Southern Weekend> is definitely stronger.  Of course, the <Southern Daily Group> also has its news values.  We should take the best to compensate for the worst.  Of course, Taiwan media also have problems about triviality and repetitiveness.  Anyway, we should avoid pettiness and vacuity.

Q. You mention that some mainland reporters only publish press releases.  But they seem to be quite helpless.  Reports about Taiwan are sensitive and it is easy for them to step on landmines.
A. That is a lazy approach.  When you break the rules and cross the line, it only means that you don't understand what the relevant policies are.  Sometimes, it is necessary to have a consistent voice on the political news about Taiwan, but that does not mean that the reporters should only copy the press releases.

Q. What do you feel is the greatest value of Taiwan for the mainland?
A. Strategically speaking, Taiwan is a natural barrier in the southeastern coastal area of China.  That is why America plays the Taiwan card in order to stop China from developing.  That is why it has an especially important strategic position.  In terms of our national security, it is a barrier.  We will have to solve the Taiwan problem and achieve unification soon in order to maintain national sovereignty and territorial integrity.  This affects the glorious renaissance of the Chinese people.  It is a core interest of ours, even possibly the most important one.

Q. Certain mainland intellectuals have been discussing the "Taiwan experience" including the experience concerning the development of their society.  This year is the 20th anniversary of the termination of martial law in Taiwan.  Many people expressed their views.  Have you read them?
A. The economic development in the 1970's was achieved by the hard work of the Taiwan compatriots, so they have their experience.  I have not read the things that you are talking about.  The termination of martial law rule was definitely helpful to the development of a democratic society in Taiwan, including the impact of the removal of news censorship on the news industry .

Q. How should mainland news reporting on Taiwan be enhanced?
A. The previous period of isolation has resulted in an insufficient understanding of Taiwan society.  We should have more reporting about the people of Taiwan as opposed to the politics.

Q. In your experience, what is the greatest misunderstanding of the Taiwan people about the mainland?  And vice versa?
A. For historical reasons and the misinformation by the Taiwan authorities, the people of Taiwan have the complex feelings of an abandoned child.  They harbor misgivings about the mainland.  They distrust some of the well-intentioned, sincere mainland policies because they feel that there are ulterior motives.
As for the mainland people, I think that they should separate those Taiwan authorities who are working towards separatism from the majority of the people of Taiwan.

(  A Portrait of the Zhang Mingqing Phenomenon.  By Shen Yuzhe.  October 22, 2008.

[in translation]

This article will cover the three sharply contrasting identities of Zhang Mingqing: Chinese Communist Party official; entertainment star; representative of the Communist bandits.


The most glorious experience of Zhang Mingqing must be his tenure as spokesperson of the Taiwan Affairs Office.  I found it interesting to watch this old man speaking in his righteous tone.  But the reason why I found it interesting was due to the "Zhang Mingqing (張名清)" played by Tai Chih-yuan, because his mimicry caused me realize how the real Zhang Mingqing was different from the other mainland officials in charge of Taiwan affairs.  Everybody knows that the Chinese Communist bureaucratic system is strict and rigid.  This is especially the case when Taiwan affairs reside in the grey zone between internal and foreign affairs.  Although the work is prestigious and led directly from Zhongnanhai, the Taiwan Affairs Office does not offer much free space.

Many years ago, overseas Chinese scholars tried to convince the senior Chinese Communist officials to establish a national security committee to plan all the policies that affect the core interests of China.  Phoenix TV's Qiu Zhenhai was foremost among them.  But the Beijing scholars who were close to the senior leaders kept mum.  It was not that they were disinterested, but they thought that this sensitive issue has "political causes."

Perhaps you are wondering why I am telling you this, since wasn't I supposed to be talking about Zhang Mingqing?  Why did I detour to a discussion of the decision-making system among the top Chinese Communist leaders?  This is because Zhang Mingqing's first identity is a Chinese Communist official working on Taiwan affairs.  He is not a minor bureaucrat.  Ever since Jiang Zemin retired, the world's barometer on the rule of Hu Jintao is on how he can re-organize the various "leadership groups."  These various small groups are supposed to represent the division of the functions of the national security council among the members of the Politburo.  But it actually means something very different.  The national security council means that the political decisions are based upon the "nation."  Anyone with some modicum of knowledge knows that the Party is bigger than the State in the Chinese political system.  Important affairs of the nation are decided upon by the Party and then the state carries the policies out.  Under this model, the central government's leadership group on Taiwan affairs is the highest decision-making group and the Taiwan Affairs Office is merely the executor of the policies.

We have often listened to complaints about the vacuous rubbish spewed out by those Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokespersons.  Not only are they experts at saying rubbish, they can be very spirited and lively at doing so too.  But my problem is that starting with Qian Qichen, many Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokespersons have come and gone.  Almost every spokesperson used strong words and put on stern looks.  So why is it that the people of Taiwan cannot remember any of them except for the specially favored Zhang Mingqing?  The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is much more nastier in their diatribes than the Taiwan Affairs Office.  So why is only Zhang Mingqing a household name among the people of Taiwan?


It was the idea of top Taiwan producer Wang Wei-chung and the acting of Tai Chih-yuan that made Zhang Mingqing so popular.  On this day, a <United Daily News> reporter wrote: "The irony is that when Zhang Mingqing was heckled, he quoted the words of Voltaire.  Since when has the people of Republic of China, who are so proud of their democracy and rule of law, needed a Chinese Communist to educate us about 'defending to this death the right of others to speak'?"  I think that most people understand what the message was.

Actually, the assault on Zhang Mingqing is not connected to his tough talking during his tenure as the spokesperson of the Taiwan Affairs Office.  The comedic enhancement of Tai Chih-yuan led to a positive image for Zhang Mingqing.  Still, the oddity is that even though Zhang Mingqing was the nastiest haranguer of Taiwan in the history of the Taiwan Affairs Office, the people of Taiwan do not dislike him much.  Why is that?

The special characteristic of Zhang Mingqing is that he is unlike the usual senior official coming out of the Chinese Communist bureaucratic system.  That is because he has a touch of humanity that is otherwise lacking in the rigid, monotone organizational structure.  Today, we have reached a stage where people are more willing to accept a new generation of political stars with individual personalities, such as Chou Huo, Wang Yang and even Yu Youjun who was recently disgraced and put on probation.  The peers of Zhang Mingqing were required from very young to be modest and conservative, because it was unusual to show off.  The tragic ends of party leaders with strong personalities such as Hu Yaobang and Zhao Xiuye were a lesson to junior officials.  An official was not supposed to have a personality, and the safest way to preserve oneself was to follow the footsteps of the Party conscientiously.

The people of Taiwan are not stupid.  Not only are they not stupid, but they detest the Party line that the Chinese Communists always use against Taiwan.  The mainland theorists love to talk about the "eight points of Jiang Zemin" and the "four points of Hu Jintao," but the people of Taiwan gloss right over them.  Instead, they only like to watch the sometimes stern and sometimes humorous press conferences given by Zhang Mingqping.  Even more strangely, the Taiwan media reporters posted in Beijing hold good impressions of Zhang Mingqing.  These veteran reporters understand that when Zhang Mingqing carries out his duties, he has to have the right principles and positions.  However, his individual character is such that he stands out among his peers.

From this angle, the entertainment enhancement by Tai Chih-yuan was also based upon the fresh individuality of Zhang Mingqing.  Compared to the other Chinese Communist officials who have the same expression and use the same words, he was much better able to draw the eyeballs of the people of Taiwan.


But the Taiwan independence people do not look at it this way.  The scary expression of Zhang Mingqing only illuminated the deep sorry state of Taiwan independence.  Today's <Apple Daily> has an article from National Taiwan University political science professor Shih Chih-yu who vividly described the social pulse behind the assault on Zhang Mingqing: "They assaulted Zhang Mingqing to create a situation of Taiwan being oppressed by mainland China, in order to strengthen the unity of the people against the common enemy.  This is the lowest level to which the politics of tragedy can be realized in Taiwan.  This sense of tragedy has already caused a collective despair in Taiwan society.  As a result, there arose a certain need for compensation that appears in the form of the instant materialistic gratification to fill the void and heal the pain.  Thus, greed and tragedy came together.  The acme of Taiwan independence was reached when greed became the model behavior in Taiwan society.  It is no surprise that the self-appointed father of the nation Chen Shui-bian should show the way.  Taiwan independence only brought emptiness and a sense of tragedy, from which sprang the physical politics of violence and greed.  The ruling party now wants to use economic desire to dissolve the violence and re-channel the greed.  Instead, it finds itself mired in an economic crisis.  The mainland is not just a fat lamb waiting to be slaughtered.  Meanwhile the human rights and dignity of mainlanders are not protected when they come to visit Taiwan."

I still remember that Democratic Progressive Party member who jumped on the roof of the car in which Zhang Mingqing sat.  Yesterday evening outside the district prosecutor's office, he said: "I received my education under the Kuomintang.  The government, the textbooks and the teachers all said the Communists kill people and set fires.  They are evil, and therefore I hated the Communists a lot.  My actions today were learned from the Kuomintang."  Such is the "anti-Kuomintang" seeds with the Taiwan independence proponents.  Even though anyone will realize that this was a lousy excuse, he was describing something that was factual.

Actually, many people realize that the Taiwan independence people is a "fossil" from the past.  They only harbored hatred in their hearts.  Each day previously, they immersed themselves in the dream of being mistreated by the Kuomintang.  But today, there is no Kuomintang using the state apparatus to inflict violence because of the democratization.  So the Chinese Communists become another target.  Faced with a withering Taiwan independence movement, in which passion turned into corruption and the xenophobic localization effort lost its legitimacy when the Kuomintang and Ma Yiing-jeou won the election with a high vote.  Therefore, they are sick as opposed to insane.  This is a group of losers who have been forsaken by their times but they will always blame someone else.  In that sense, it was really nice for them to be able to beat up Zhang Mingqing.  But they are only getting more and more pathetic.


Everybody knows that the Chinese Communists have a negative image among the people of Taiwan for the longest time.  But Zhang Mingqing was able to become a social phenomenon, and even broadly popular at that.  Beijing ought to think about the significance of this for external publicity.  Why do senior Chinese Communist officials lose their personalities?  Why is it that Zhang Mingqing could recite the same Party line and still be regarded as possessing individuality?  What kind of officials do we need to work on Taiwan affairs?  Faced with an open, multivalent Taiwan society, how shall unification begin?

Violence is barbaric.  A civilized society has a bottom line that will not allow violence to rule.  The flaws in Taiwan democracy forces us to regard the abnormal conditions of the democratic system.  We must also rationally confront the dangerous consequences of populism.  As the extremism of Taiwan independence rise, the hidden contempt towards Taiwan and the seeds of tyranny are about to rise among mainlanders.  The happiest person to see these trends towards madness is Chen Shui-bian.