Writer Wu Ming-yi protests at Man Booker reference to ‘Taiwan, China’

Nominee had nationality changed on website under pressure from Beijing

Tense cross-strait relations between mainland China and self-ruled Taiwan continue to worsen after a Man Booker international prize nominee had his nationality changed from Taiwan to "Taiwan, China" under pressure from Beijing.

There was further anger in Taiwan after mainland Chinese state media urged the issuing of an international arrest warrant for a politician from Taiwan for what it deemed pro-independence remarks.

Taiwan is where the Nationalist KMT set up government after it lost the civil war to Mao Zedong’s Communists in 1949. China reacts swiftly to any references to Taiwan as a country or an independent entity. Beijing considers Taiwan sovereign territory and has threatened to take it back by force if the democratic island ever tries to declare independence.

Wu Ming-yi's novel The Stolen Bicycle is one of 13 novels long-listed for the Man Booker international prize this year. But he expressed his dismay after the prize organisers changed his place of origin on their website.


"Since the publication of the long-list for this year's Man Booker international award, my nationality on the webpage has been changed from Taiwan to Taiwan, China, which is not my personal position on this issue," Mr Wu wrote on his Facebook page.

Born in Taipei in June 1971, Mr Wu is considered one of Taiwan’s most innovative young novelists.

Economic muscle

In the past few months, China has forced many institutions to change their references to Taiwan and it uses its economic muscle to press home its claims.

These include the airline Qantas, which changed its website and marketing materials so Taiwan was no longer listed as a separate country, and the Marriott hotel chain, which struck out references to Taiwan as a country in a customer survey.

Last month, Chinese authorities banned a Taiwanese film, Missing Johnny, from release on the mainland after accusations that an actor in the film supported independence.

The US is required by law to protect Taiwan in the event of invasion and so the island of 23 million people remains one of the region’s geopolitical flashpoints.

Relations across the strait of Taiwan have deteriorated since Tsai Ing-wen from the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party was elected president in 2016, although she maintains she favours maintaining the status quo.

However, the island's premier William Lai described himself to the Executive Yuan parliament last week as a "Taiwan independence worker" and said he believed Taiwan was a sovereign, independent country.

Invasion threat

This prompted the nationalistic Global Times tabloid in mainland China to say Mr Lai should be prosecuted under China's 2005 anti-secession law, which threatens to answer independence calls with invasion.

"If evidence of his crimes are cast iron, then a global wanted notice can be issued for him," the paper, which comes from the same stable as the Communist Party's official mouthpiece People's Daily, said in an editorial at the weekend.

Taiwan's Mainland Affairs Council described the Global Times comments, and subsequent remarks by the government, as "intimidating and irrational" and said Taiwan was committed to cross-strait peace and stability.

Last month at the country’s annual parliament, Chinese president Xi Jinping warned Taiwan would face the “punishment of history” for any attempts at separatism.

Clifford Coonan

Clifford Coonan

Clifford Coonan, an Irish Times contributor, spent 15 years reporting from Beijing