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Cultural exchanges will bring youths across Strait closer

By Sun Jiashan | CHINA DAILY | Updated: 2024-02-01 07:02


Streaming platforms such as iQIYI and Tencent Video owe their rapid rise over the past decade to the confluence of factors such as urbanization, a booming cultural industry and mobile internet.

In terms of TV and film productions, genres such as historical dramas, suspense and urban romance have witnessed a significant shift both in production and distribution in the past six-seven years, with the Chinese mainland's productions overshadowing those from the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region and Taiwan. This marks a departure from the trend prevalent since the 1980s, where the mainland's dramas lagged behind those from Hong Kong and Taiwan. Outstanding series such as Blossoms Shanghai, Story of Yanxi Palace, The Bad Kids and The Three-Body Problem have not only dominated the domestic market but also gained overseas acclaim.

While recent years have seen highly successful Taiwan productions like The World Between Us and Someday or One Day, they can't conceal the decline of the Taiwan's popular culture industry. Well-produced mainland dramas such as Story of Yanxi Palace in 2018 attracted impressive viewership in Taiwan, and phrases from these series quickly spread among the island's youth. Despite claims that the mainland dramas are being used as a tool to facilitate national reunification and attempts by the island's ruling Democratic Progressive Party to stoke anti-mainland sentiments, surprising scenes unfolded with some pro-independence Taiwan influencers comparing themselves to characters from these dramas.

The influence of popular mainland cultural products on Taiwan is undeniable. The influence extends beyond TV dramas to variety shows, livestreaming, short videos and more. In the realm of livestreaming and short videos, platforms such as TikTok and Xiaohongshu (Little Red Book) have facilitated the exchange of common storylines, and promoted catchy tunes among the youth on both sides of the Taiwan Strait, thus narrowing the psychological gap between them.

Apart from the globally recognized TikTok, social media apps targeting niche viewers on the mainland, exemplified by Xiaohongshu, have influenced media to such an extent that mainstream outlets cannot match. For instance, since 2021, Xiaohongshu's popularity among Taiwan teenagers has dramatically increased, prompting media outlets to refer to Taiwan high school students who download and use Xiaohongshu on their phones as the "Xiaohongshu generation".

Both Xiaohongshu and SinaWeibo rank among the top 10 social apps favored by Taiwan junior and senior high school students as well as university students.

Their familiarity with simplified Chinese characters and the lifestyle of mainland youths has allowed the new generation of Taiwan youths to cast aside the "sunflower generation" shadow to become part of the "Xiaohongshu generation".

In contrast to the rapidly evolving cultural market on the mainland, Taiwan's popular culture industry has lost its vitality. This shift has prompted more Taiwan youth in the entertainment industry to look westward at the mainland. Notably, actors such as Alyssa Chia, who acted in The World Between Us are products of the cultivation of the mainland market. And local Taiwan influencers are increasingly choosing to establish their presence on the mainland's streaming platforms to earn more fame and money.

Besides, the pop culture industry in Taiwan is not only shrinking but is also under tremendous pressure from global giants such as HBO and Netflix. This fact has increased the anxiety of the DPP authorities and made them eye mainland media platforms with suspicion.

The introduction of mainland "pop culture" in Taiwan has made the DPP's "de-Sinicization" and "cultural independence" policies increasingly farcical. Despite Taiwan implementing the "iQIYI clause" in September 2020, which banned all mainland streaming video services in Taiwan, young Taiwan residents continue to access and subscribe to them using servers in places such as Hong Kong, making a mockery of the ban. As a result, the younger generation in Taiwan is gradually becoming less susceptible to the DPP's manipulated public opinion.

With the continuous development of the economy and society, especially of the social media and integrated pop culture sectors such as dramas, games, livestreaming and short videos, the mainland has gained unprecedented leverage in telling Chinese stories, interpreting Chinese experiences, and enhancing the Chinese nation's cultural soft power. This resonates with people on both sides of the Strait and fosters a greater sense of value and identity.

For instance, in the latter half of 2023, the song Taipei Girl captured the dreams and aspirations of Taiwan youths. It went viral on the internet thanks to its heartwarming melody and relatable lyrics. The mainland's pop culture industry has not only been continuously evolving but also playing an unprecedented role in building common cultural experiences across the Strait.

Thanks to its technological advancements and rapid increase in national strength, the mainland's popular culture industry has transitioned from "Made in China" to providing "Chinese experience". This change in the pop culture map across the Strait is a reflection of Beijing's continuous rise on the global cultural stage.

The author is an associate researcher at the Central Academy of Culture and Tourism Administration. The views don't necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

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