Taiwanese fighter Jenny Huang is known as “Unpredictable”. She is 5-0, with her last 3 wins coming by submission, including a “Submission of the Year” candidate gogoplata win over April Osenio in her last fight. She is scheduled to face Angela Lee for the Women’s Atomweight Championship at ONE: Warrior Kingdom, March 11 in Bangkok, Thailand. One would presume she’s fearless. But there’s one thing that clearly rattles the judo black belt.
Huang initially agreed to an interview with IntheCage.ca but refused to do a phone or Skype interview, insisting only on submitting questions for a written interview. After submitting the questions, the site was contacted by her representative Duncan Hsing who informed the site that she would not be progressing with the interview unless all questions that referenced China were removed.
Why would one of the toughest women in the world be afraid to discuss her native Taiwan’s relationship with China?
Make no mistake, the Chinese-Taiwanese relationship is a complicated one. Modern Chinese-Taiwanese relations stem from the end of the Chinese Civil War, when Chiang Kai-Shek fled mainland China for Taiwan, ceding the mainland to the communist People’s Republic of China. For years, Chiang maintained a brutal, one-party dictatorship that sought to reclaim the mainland. As time wore on and that goal became clearly unattainable, Taiwan focused more on domestic issues, growing their economy and shifting towards a liberal democracy after Chiang’s death.
China, for its part, still regards Taiwan as a renegade province to be reclaimed by force, if necessary.
Today, Taiwan operates as an independent state, although still formally known as the “Republic of China”. Almost 75 percent of Taiwanese residents identify as Taiwanese rather than Chinese and last year Taiwan elected Tsai Ing-Wen, an independence-leaning President. These actions have irked the Chinese government, who have responded with a series of propaganda attacks and cutting off the Chinese tourist supply, neither of which appears to have had any effect.
The Chinese have also attacked individual celebrities, which may be what concerns Huang. Chou Tzu-Yu, a 16-year-old singer with the K-Pop band Twice, was forced to apologize last year after appearing with a Taiwan flag at a televised show in South Korea. The mere act of appearing with her home country’s flag angered the Chinese so much that an apology was demanded. However, the demand for an apology backfired, galvanizing Taiwanese support for the singer.
“I think not only celebrities but also the general public are reluctant to speak about China politically, a long-time “threat” to Taiwan,” explains Chang Jui-chuan, who has served as an Adjunct Lecturer at National Chengchi University in Taipei, Taiwan.
“China is truly a painful topic to most Taiwanese people. The KMT [Kuomintang; Chiang Kai-Shek’s party] is from China. They brought February 28th Massacres of 1947 to Taiwan, followed by White Terror political witch hunts, and then executed extreme language unification and cultural sanction.
People’s fears turned into obedience for survival; obedience turned into standards for everyone to look up to without having to question why. For Western views, this seems impossible. It is possible when you spend enough time having people under fear and control.”
A touchstone moment that conveyed attitudes are changing came in the form of 2014’s “Sunflower Movement”. A coalition of university students and other civic groups converged on and occupied Taiwan’s legislature, with their numbers peaking at over 500,000. Their main issue was the Cross-Strait Service Trade Agreement, which they felt would compromise Taiwanese sovereignty in favor of closer economic ties with China. The aftermath saw subsequent local and federal elections turn in favor of the independence-leaning Democratic People’s Party (DPP).
ONE Championship appears to be willing to appease China, as promotional material for Huang’s upcoming clash with Lee refers to her being from “Chinese Taipei”. Chinese Taipei is a name that China today uses to pressure international organizations like the Olympics and World Health Organization into using, with the aim of calling Taiwan’s sovereignty into question. Given ONE’s plans for further expansion to China, perhaps it is unsurprising that appeasement is their strategy.
Where Huang herself stands remains ambiguous. Instead of taking the opportunity to send a message to her homeland and her Taiwanese fans, or even responding with polite yet neutral answers, her representatives made the decision to renege on the interview entirely. Her representative Hsing’s last communication with IntheCage.ca was the statement “Jenny fights for all Chinese”. Whether that includes the almost-three quarters of the population of her homeland that do not identify as Chinese remains open to interpretation.
Attitudes are changing in Taiwan, but it remains clear that even the mention of China is enough to throw a scare into an otherwise unflappable Taiwanese fighter.