“Chinese Taipei,” 中華台北, is what they call Taiwan in the Olympic Games, and this is its pathetic looking flag. The Beijing government considers Taiwan to be a part of the People’s Republic of China and as a result Taiwanese athletes can’t compete under its country’s official name. How totally embarrassing. It’s like Swedish athletes competing for a country called “Swedish Stockholm,” or Brits for “English London.”
It matters a great deal how we are recognized by others. If we are to establish a proper identity we need to be recognized by others in terms that we recognize ourselves. (I wrote a book about this!) If not, we will never quite know who we are. Taiwan, very obviously, does not know who or what it is. Ironically, the current KMT government agrees with Beijing that Taiwan is a part of China, but for them it’s still part of “The Republic of China,” the regime kicked out by Mao in 1949.
Actually, the Chinese characters imply a concession of sorts by Beijing. 中華台北, zhonghua taibei, sounds an awful lot better than the alternative 中國台北, zhongguo taibei. Zhonghua refers to China understood as a cultural unit whereas zhongguo refers to the Chinese state. It’s much better, that is, to be called “Chinese Taipei” than “China’s Taipei.”
Still, it is embarrassing. Our TV station took a commercial break when the Taiwanese athletes marched into the stadium during the Opening Ceremony. Maybe it was a coincidence. Maybe they decided to spare Taiwanese viewers the humiliation.