A talent show for foreigners that prides itself on building bridges between cultures around the world found itself at the center of a nationalistic furor after a map of China that appeared onstage did not include Taiwan. The cartographic controversy occurred during the season finale of this year’s “Chinese Bridge,” a television show produced by Hunan TV on which foreign contestants are judged on their Mandarin-language proficiency and China-related talents.
As Egyptian candidate Dawei — his Chinese name — spoke of his love for a Chinese girl during the “Chinese Story” round in Sunday’s finale, a map of China on which only the mainland was highlighted in red appeared behind him for more than four seconds.
Following an onslaught of reactions from outraged viewers on social media, Hunan TV, which is China’s largest TV network after state broadcaster China Central Television, issued a statement on its official Weibo microblog account apologizing for the gaffe.
The map was produced by a Beijing-based media company, the statement said, though blame for the “grave broadcasting error” was attributed to a lapse in oversight by the show’s directors and producers. The apology, posted Tuesday evening, said that those responsible were “at once subjected to severe criticism, required to carry out deep self-reflection, and delivered appropriate punishment.”
The statement also assured upset audiences of the station’s “strict, unified, and firm attitude regarding the completeness of the motherland’s territories and the unity of the nation.” Following the incident, Hunan TV would continuously strive to “strengthen awareness of politics, duty, and ideology,” the statement said. Hunan TV did not respond to requests from Sixth Tone for comment.
Now in its 15th year, the show — whose full title is “Chinese Bridge: Chinese Proficiency Competition for Foreign College Students” — is a joint venture between Hunan TV and the Confucius Institute, an educational institution affiliated with the Chinese Ministry of Education. The institute, which operates Chinese language and culture study courses around the world, has faced criticism for perceived limits on freedom of speech within its programs.
In a screenshot from the original version of ‘Chinese Bridge’ (above), a map of China in the background shows only the mainland shaded in red. In a screenshot from the new version (below), the background has been digitally altered to erase the map.
Following the realization that Taiwan hadn’t been given the red treatment, the show’s producers quickly moved to remedy the situation, recalling the physical tapes of the episode and removing the show from Hunan TV’s online portal, Mango TV. The current version available on Mango TV shows that the offending four seconds have been digitally altered to replace the onscreen map.
The swift rectification, however, appears not to have appeased some angry web users. “This kind of mistake cannot be forgiven!” exclaimed the top-rated commenter under an article on Sixth Tone’s sister publication, The Paper. “Sentence the heads, subdivision heads, and those handling this project for endangering national security,” said another user. “Also, the relevant party members must be punished internally, and the scope of Hunan TV’s production must be limited.”
Others took out their anger on the design company purportedly contracted by Hunan TV to produce the offending map. Since the incident, the Weibo page of the company — known in English as Beijing Nothing — has become the target of vitriolic attacks by other Weibo users. “May your entire family get blown up,” wrote one. “There are taibazi in this motherfucking company,” speculated another user, using a mainland slur for Taiwanese people.
At the time of publishing, Beijing Nothing had not responded to Sixth Tone’s requests for comment.
Still others used the incident as a segue to voice frustrations at Chinese television’s perceived growing reliance on foreign — particularly South Korean — talent. “Please stop inviting Korean people [onto your shows],” wrote the author of the highest-rated comment under Hunan TV’s apology. “I already really hate bangzi [a racial slur for Koreans].”
But a small minority of web users have shown more restraint in their responses. “Way to go, Mango TV,” wrote one user in response to Tuesday’s apology. “There’s nothing greater than knowing your mistakes and righting them. This is why I’ve always quietly supported Mango TV.”
(Header image: Contestants in the ‘Chinese Bridge’ studio in Changsha, Hunan province, Sept. 5, 2016. VCG)