Tuesday, April 20, 2010

BBC Blows an Opportunity

BBC had one of its annual articles on the Mazu pilgrimage, that ginned up religious procession created in the 1980s out of local pilgrimages as a vehicle to advance the interests of powerful politicians in Dajia out in the hinterlands of Taichung county.

The article starts out ok and even identifies China's politicization of the festival:
But for China, sending its temple representatives here to join in the celebrations is not without its political motivations.

The Chinese government has placed great emphasis on reviving Mazu in China – seeing it as an important way to underscore its insistence that Taiwanese people and culture came from China – and that Taiwan is a part of China.

Beijing hopes to reunify with the island one day and has not renounced the use of force to do so.

"They’re doing this to show both sides believe in Mazu and have a similar heritage," said Tsai Ming-hsien, a volunteer Mazu celebrations organiser who has had many dealings with Chinese temple officials.

Celebrants from mainland China have been instructed to not give interviews, according to their Taiwanese tour guides.
Several things could be mentioned here, but most importantly, BBC completely failed to put the political context in Taiwan front and center. A huge opportunity to describe what is going on in Taiwan was blown.

First, the article completely failed to mention that the procession is overseen by the powerful local politician Yen Ching-piao, once elected out of jail for various nefarious (organized) crimes, who has old, deep connections to the KMT and was recently appointed spokesman to the locals for Ma's ECFA program. That's one religion-organized crime-politics-annexation nexus ignored. But BBC ignores an even more important one, citing his right-hand man Cheng Ming-kun without giving the full context of his remarks. Let's see what the lad has to say:

Nevertheless, officials from both sides said the fact that both sides were stepping up cultural exchanges was a sign of improving relations.

"It’s about religion, not politics. What’s most important is doing things that are good for the economy of both sides’ people," said the Dajia Jenn Lann Temple’s vice chairman, Cheng Ming-kun.

He said that the increased number of Chinese visitors to Dajia had helped the town and nearby scenic areas.

"Mazu brings together the two sides of the Taiwan Strait and brings peoples’ feelings closer," Mr Cheng said.

"It's about religion, not politics." What a hero! Who is Cheng Ming-kun? I've asked this question before when AFP failed spectacularly with the same person in the same way:
Cheng holds a couple of key positions in the Matzu Associations, such as the Deputy Chairman of the Jenlan Temple in Dajia. Ring any bells? That's the name of the island's most important Matzu temple, the subject of one of the world's largest pilgrimages. That's right -- the procession run by the former KMT politician, now "non-partisan", Yen Ching-piao, elected out of jail by his loyal constituents a few years back. That procession is a prime example of how politics exploits religion in Taiwan (anyone know where the zillions in donations go?). Cheng, who was kidnapped for 10 days in 2005 in what was widely rumored to be a shady business deal gone bad, was indicted for forgery and breach of trust in connection with the temple association. Naturally Cheng is close to Yen -- I believe the proper expression is "thick as thieves."

What are Cheng's political affiliations? Well, Cheng was in Beijing in July promoting cross-strait ties through better Matzu connections. Cheng also met with Chen Yun-lin, last seen here in November of 2008 negotiating on Beijing's behalf. Is leveraging Taiwan's most important goddess to annex Taiwan to China apolitical?
Instant replay: our non-political Cheng was in Beijing last year negotiating with CCP officials on how to use Mazu to bring Taiwan into China's orbit.

In May of 2009 a boat carrying Cheng Ming-kun and a load of Mazu pilgrims was the first passenger ferry to cross the strait. It was seen off by the Mazu Temple Chairman Yen Ching-piao. The Taipei Times noted:
Jenn Lann Temple chairman and Independent Legislator Yen Ching-piao (顏清標), who was paroled on Thursday after having been in prison since August for illegal possession of firearms, saw off the pilgrims in Taichung.
In fact, the two sides, the Taiwan Mazu Temple Association people and the Beijing Mazu exploiters, are cooperating on the same goal: annexation. But the BBC completely fails to mention any of this agenda when it mentions the Taiwan side.

Here was an opportunity to at least sketch for readers the outline of the emerging cross-strait organized crime-religion-business-annexation nexus, which is sort of a local Taiwan temple community association blown up to galactic scale. This emerging nexus is appearing in all sorts of contexts. There's the very high-level, dodgy group bidding for the Nanshan unit of AIG, which included PRC "princelings" (children of CCP elites), Chinese state banks, rogue stock speculators, poorly-capitalized and staffed front firms set up for the bid, and cooperation of individuals in Hong Kong, China, and Taiwan. There's the low level prominent gangster in Taichung who runs KTVs and other entertainment facilities in China but trains his people in Taiwan. There's the garlic smuggling and the human trafficking -- both sex slaves and blue and white collar workers quietly entering Taiwan legally and illegally -- and the exploitation of religion. They are all part of the same whole, pixels that will resolve into a complex and fascinating image if brought into focus in the media.


Don't miss the comments below! And check out my blog and its sidebars for events, links to previous posts and picture posts, and scores of links to other Taiwan blogs and forums!


dixteel said...

This is a very imformative post, Michael. Thanks.

Yep...on this type of topic media coverage is often less than skin deep. But can't blame them because even many in Taiwan do not know what is going on exactly with these regligion/mofia/political annexation forces. If even most of the local people don't quite get it, there is an even lesser chance someone like BBC will ever get a full picture.

Michael Turton said...

Dixteel, if you Google Cheng Ming-kun, my post on him comes up on the first page. Link #7. Other useful links also show up on the first page.

I left it out of the post, but why the fuck do people I think I put so much work into this blog? So it is out there as an information resource, and reporting like this stops. But it just seems like no matter how much information is out there, and how easy it is to find, it
doesn't get into the media.

It kinda pisses me off.


Anonymous said...

Several things could be mentioned here, but most importantly, BBC completely failed to put the political context in Taiwan front and center. A huge opportunity to describe what is going on in Taiwan was blown.

And why should they? It's one of the largest religious pilgrimage festivals in the world, and for the vast majority of participants, it's about Mazu, religion, faith and culture. Why even mention politics when it's only a concern of a minor percentage of devotees?

If there were mention of Islamic terrorists in a story on the Hajj, or mention of Shiv Sena and the BJP in story on Buddhist pilgrims to the Mahabodhi temple in Bihar, it would (rightly) be seen as irrelevant. Just as politics are here.

I'm not saying there aren't any links between organizers and crime gangs or political parties, just that it's wholly irrelevant to the festival.

Tim Maddog said...

Michael, what do you expect when Mrs. Ralph Jennings (Cindy Sui) is doing the "reporting"?

You said [bold emphasis mine]:
- - -
Here was an opportunity to at least sketch for readers the outline of the emerging cross-strait organized crime-religion-business-annexation nexus [...]
- - -

For Sui, it was "[yet] an[other] opportunity" to obfuscate the issue, which is what it sure seems the BBC pays her to do. Remember this, for example, in which a Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) general was chosen (My, what a coincidence!) to represent -- as the headline claims -- "Taiwan's view."

No surprises here.

Tim Maddog

Michael Turton said...

I'm not saying there aren't any links between organizers and crime gangs or political parties, just that it's wholly irrelevant to the festival.

It's wholly irrelevant to a festival whose very existence is a testimony to local politics.


If the festival is purely of local religious interest, then why is BBC doing a report on it?

Why did BBC produce a report in which they discuss exactly what China's political views are, without giving any similar treatment to the Taiwan side. It has no politics at all, though in fact the whole festival from top to bottom and beginning to end is about politics, money, and power.

The really newsworthy thing here -- from any perspective -- is the harnessing of one of the world's three largest religious processions to further Beijing's goals of annexing Taiwan. That was only partly represented here, and not the interesting part -- that local gangsters in Taiwan are cooperating.


Anonymous said...

I had the opportunity to meet the organizers and interview them in depth.

The focus shifted a few years ago from the religious focus to tourism and politics. There was a huge schism in the association, but the politicians and financial interests won out.

Anonymous said...

Maddog, reporters should be held accountable for their work. But positing a Chinese United Marital Front is another matter. Leave the ad hominem stuff out, and you'll find that your posts might preach to people other than the converted.

PS: I am neither of the two you refer to.

Michael Turton said...

Cindy Sui has done excellent work in the past, including some really kickass pieces in the Asia Times which I recall fondly. That is why this is just a missed opportunity to really get people outside to understand how things work, and not a pro-Beijing fail.


Islander said...

Great blog, Michael.

Anonymous said...

Because the Anonymous (7:01pm)said “reporters should be held accountable for their work”, therefore below is my observation of their work:

Cindy Sui in her 29-Sep-09 BBC piece, “TAIWAN’S view on China anniversary”, had another “subtle” missed opportunity of presenting the view of the majority (85%) Taiwanese who aren’t “mainlanders”.

The title is “TAIWAN’s” view, not “Chinese Mainlanders on Taiwan’s” view, but the article is all about the view of the latter.




Ralph Jennings in his 20-Dec-09 Reuter piece, “Thousands protest in Taiwan over China trade talks”, diminished further the already under-estimated police figure of participants of a DPP-organized rally to 10,000 compared to AFP’s piece, “Up to 30,000 in Taiwan anti-China rally ahead of talks”, and compared to AP’s piece, “Taiwan Protests Flare Over Visit of China Envoy to Sign Accords” (in which AP reported “the police said 20-30,000”).

There is difference in numbers between “thousands” (as used by the Reuter) and “tens of thousands” (as used by others).

Besides, the AFP image http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/slideshow/ALeqM5iBdNqOKBpdYc5bnFlWMxZqMOk0UA?index=0 clearly showed the banner saying “break black box, protect rice bowl” meaning “uncover secret talks, protect jobs”, it’s not “anti-China” as said in most media, only Dennis Engbarth of the Taiwan News translated the text in the image correctly as seen on its title!


Reuter link: www.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE5BJ0JG20091220

AFP link: http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5iBdNqOKBpdYc5bnFlWMxZqMOk0UA

AP link: www.nytimes.com/2009/12/21/world/asia/21iht-taiwan.html

Taiwan news link: http://www.etaiwannews.com/etn/news_content.php?id=1137554

Anonymous said...


I am just curious which part of the Wiki entry for Taiwanese People you are referencing and what you are referencing.

Marc said...

It shouldn't be a surprise to anyone how the Internet and the major media are changing the way information is presented. No longer able to compete in a more defined regional markets, the media now has to compete for audiences who have access to countless media sources throughout the world, as well as the infotainment nature of information.

In other words, who cares abut the finer details you mentioned, just write about the exotic stuff, the sensational, the weird or shocking. News about Lin Yu-Chun (the next Susan Boyle) is still circulating through international media like a virus!

I find few major media sources on the Net, in print or TV to provide any meaningful information, except to make me aware of the bias in their reportage. I never expect to find the unexpurgated truth.

It seems the role of investigation into seeking the truth falls on the independent bloggers, such as yourself, which is why you command such respect and appreciation among your readers.

Michael Turton said...

Thanks Marc!

Don said...

Just read the Sept 2009 BBC article linked by Maddog above. He rightly scoffs at the hack who wrote it. The piece turns reality inside out, inappropriately imposing a mainlander narrative, representative of only a fraction of people in Taiwan, on the story and completely missing the opportunity to frame events in a way that would be honest and insightful. The stream of nonsense like this from even reputable news organizations does immeasurable damage to Taiwan's long term prospects for international support.

The Sept 09 piece supposedly informs readers about Taiwanese people's perspective on the PRC's 60th anniversary. The frame for the article is that "many people" in Taiwan will be reminded by the 60th anniversary of the tragedy of the civil war. The article is topped and tailed with quotations from the retired KMT general whose photo accompanies the article:

"I really hope... Chinese people on both sides of the Taiwan Strait will not forget the lives lost."


"We really hope Chinese people won't kill each other and go to war because of differences,"

I wonder if the BBC editors who polished the piece recognized those sentences as gold-standard CCP United Front boilerplate guff?

There follow sombre quotes about the tragedy of war and separation, from a member of another mainlander family in Taiwan.

Then, to round the picture out with alternative views we find deep inside the article: "Many older Taiwanese...are not interested in China or its 60th anniversary", and then the comment of "one young Taiwanese soldier" saying "I really want to see the Chinese female soldiers parading in their mini-skirts".

So that's it, balanced reporting in the approved fashion:

* we read about "many people" remembering the civil war, paralleled with "many older Taiwanese" who don't care, and "many young people in Taiwan" who are more interested in Japan and the West than China.

* We get earnest quotations from two distinguished professionals, one of them a general, in support of the first perspective, counterposed with a quip from a young conscript to illustrate the second perspective (quickly offset by his follow-up comment: "I would love to go to China. I would like to know more about how they think.")

And in case readers of the article wonder about Taiwan's early postwar history, there's glancing reference to the 2-28 Incident as the result of "frictions during this period."

Yes, "frictions".

The BBC article is a smokescreen from beginning to end, inflating the importance of a tiny minority for obvious motives. After all, the only honest, common sense way to report on any "Taiwanese perspective" on China's 60th anniversary would begin, end, and be threaded through with continual emphasis that the vast majority of people in Taiwan DO NOT GIVE A FLYING EFF about how and when the CCP decides to pat itself on the back, just as the vast majority of their grandparents and great-grandparents had ZERO INTEREST in being conscripted to fight in China's civil war in the late 1940s and ZERO INTEREST in welcoming Chiang Kai-shek's defeated rabble to come to Taiwan and take over their government and economy in 1949.

Less than 10% of people in Taiwan now consider themselves to be mainlanders, according to authoritative research. One can only speculate what fraction of those consider the tragedy of China's civil war still relevant to their lives today. To build an article around the views of that fraction as if they stand for the perspective of Taiwan as a whole is not just idiocy, it's plain dishonest.

Thanks Michael, thanks Maddog, for keeping the heat on these characters. Sterling work. "Many people" appreciate it.

Johan said...

"It seems the role of investigation into seeking the truth falls on the independent bloggers, such as yourself, which is why you command such respect and appreciation among your readers."

(and why you manage p**s o** quite a number as well, Michael)

justrecently said...

I'm not sure if the BBC used to do better in the past (I'm old enough to remember the real radio days before the internet), or if more of its coverage then was really news, and there seemed to be more to learn for me. The radio programs still outdo the online articles once in a while, on the World Service and on BBC Radio 4.
My impression is that two years ago, the BBC also took some of the Anti-CNN-hype among Chinese abroad too seriously. The broadcasters seems to go out of their way to come across as "neutral" for a global audience.

Anonymous said...

Just a heads-up to remind you of Taipei's Bao An Gong festival this week (the big street parade's next Tuesday). It was originally a Hakka temple. This year it's being billed as a "cross-strait" festival owing to the participation of several mainland temples to Bao Sheng Da Di (the Great Emperor Who Protects Life, their main deity). I would love to learn how these things are negotiated and arranged. (Michael, you should write a book.)

Michael Turton said...

Thanks, anon. That's quite interesting.


vin said...

Penetrating and moving, Don. And yes, very informative, Michael. Great comments all, except for Anon 4:27 PM (third comment)and his/her silly and transparent use of the ad populum fallacy in an attempt to deny importance to confabualtion between like-minded power-brokers on the two sides of the strait.