by Mar 15, 2022 | Culture and Lifestyle
Mark Buckton helped edit this article.
The Taiwan football national squad had an impressive run at the Women’s Asian Cup competition in India last month, battling to qualify for the 2023 World Cup Finals in Australia & New Zealand.
In doing so they have captured much public attention. But Taiwanese fans and the media keep referring to the team using the outdated “Mulan” moniker rather than as the “Blue Magpies,” which causes much controversy and confusion over nation-state identification.
CTFA logo featuring the Formosan Magpie (courtesy of CTFA)
The “Formosan Blue Magpie” (台灣藍鵲) was chosen as Taiwan’s national bird in a public poll over a decade ago, receiving more than 50 percent of the 1.1 million votes cast – in the process beating out the “Mikado Pheasant” (台灣帝雉) into second place.
Taiwan Mountain Lady Bird
Most people who took part in the poll cited the bird as an indigenous Taiwan species found nowhere else in the world. It has very beautiful colors, including a distinctive azure-blue plumage, black from head to breast, and long tail feathers. It is sometimes called the “long-tailed Mountain Lady” (長尾山娘) in Taiwan.
It has been the official emblem of Taiwanese football’s governing body, the CTFA, since 2014. The Formosan Blue Magpie is depicted in flight carrying a soccer ball on the crest of jerseys worn by both Taiwan’s male and female national squads at international competitions.
When unveiling the new emblem at that time, the CTFA statement read, “It is appropriate for the Formosan Blue Magpie to represent the nation, since it has highly distinctive and colorful plumage. It is a native species of Taiwan, with its beautiful feathers and attractive appearance beloved by the public, and has been voted Taiwan’s national bird.”
“(It) prefers communal gatherings with fellow birds, and exhibits strong actions to defend its own nest. These characters are a good representation of teamwork, passion, and for players, to defend their honor during competition,” the CTFA added.
National Teams – Distinct Nicknames
Distinctive nicknames with native flavors are used by most national teams, exemplified by Taiwan’s opponents in Group A action. India is known as the “Blue Tigresses;” China is known as the “Steel Roses” (鏗鏘玫瑰); and Iran is known as “Team Melli Baanovaan” (“National Team Ladies”).
Taiwan progressed to their quarter-final encounter against the Philippines, with their nickname of “Malditas” (“Feisty Ladies”), then to The playoff round in which they defeated Thailand 3-0, nicknamed the “Chaba Kaew” (the name for a female pink elephant), before losing out to Vietnam 2-1, “The Golden Girls” from Hanoi.
The nicknames are well-known to fans around the world and serve as a brand for each country. For this reason, the time is ripe to ditch the controversial “Mulan” name and to take flight with Taiwan’s beautiful national bird, the “Blue Magpie” as a natural and logical choice, already worn proudly on the national squad jerseys by Taiwan’s women’s team.
Taichung vs. Taoyuan in the Women’s Football League (courtesy of CTFA)
Mulan Belongs In The Past
In an interview with the Taipei Times, veteran sports journalist Elton Chen (陳志祥) for Taiwan’s China Times newspaper said, “It’s now time for (the) name of “Blue Magpies” on the new CTFA emblem to represent Taiwan’s national squads. It is a symbol for people to rally around at international competitions. The old name of ‘Mulan’ (木蘭) should be retired as a nickname for women’s football.”
“Taiwan football must catch up with the times. Social changes and new digital technology, along with democracy and free elections, have taken hold in Taiwan, after the (years of) Martial Law and authoritarian government” Chen said.
“Mulan belongs to the old regime when Taiwan was under the KMT one-party state dictatorship, and military men were in charge of soccer.”
Since the 1970s Taiwan was a powerhouse in women’s football, winning titles in the Women’s Asian Cup (1977, 1979, 1981) in an era when most countries did not seriously look to develop football for women.
In the past, women had limited opportunities in most patriarchal Asian societies. Women had to wait for decades until their full participation in sports and gender equality issues became the norm.
Then, when China rejoined the international community, it pressured the Asian Football Confederation (AFC 亞洲足球聯盟) to ban Taiwan from competing under the name Republic of China (ROC).
As a result, in 1974, China managed to have Taiwan expelled from the AFC, which meant that in the late 70s and through most of the 80s, Taiwan had to play in the Oceania Football Confederation (OFC), only returning to the AFC fold in 1989, under the name of “Chinese Taipei”.
Taichung vs. Taoyuan (courtesy of CTFA)
KMT Military Adopt The Name Mulan
Another result of the AFC prohibiting the terms ROC and Taiwan was that the women’s squad started to use the name “Mulan” in 1975 – first used abroad during a tour to Thailand, Singapore, and in Indonesia two years later.
According to published reports, the idea came from then CTFA chairman General Cheng Wei-yuan (鄭為元), who wanted to honor Hua Mulan (花木蘭), the most famous female warrior in Chinese history.
Born in China’s Anhui Province, Cheng was himself an army commander who came to Taiwan with Chinese Nationalist troops after their defeat by the Chinese Communist Party. After resettling in Taiwan, he served in high-ranking military posts for the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) regime.
While still a senior army officer, he headed the CTFA in the 1970s, and a decade later, served as Defense Minister, in addition to being the Chairman of Taiwan’s Olympic Committee. Under the KMT’s authoritarian rule, most sports governing bodies were headed by military commanders.
In those years, the KMT regime’s Sinicization policies were quite effective at inculcating the Taiwanese public with a Chinese mindset, equipped with the compulsory learning of Chinese culture, history, and geography. It is not a surprise then for women’s sports to also carry the name of a historical figure from China hundreds of years ago.
Distorted History of China’s Mulan Story
Mulan is most often rendered as a Chinese woman who had to hide her gender to serve in the army as a horse-riding warrior. Her fellow soldiers never caught on. After more than a decade of constant military campaigns to vanquish enemy tribes, she returned to her home village and changed clothes to reveal her femininity, which greatly surprised her fellow soldiers.
The story became popularized for the Western audience through Disney’s animated cartoon in 1998, and then “Mulan” the live-action movie in 2020. The movie sparked numerous controversies, including criticism that it distorted Chinese history, catered to Han Chinese ethnonationalism, and that portions were filmed in China’s Xinjiang region, where news reports of concentration camps, forced labor, sterilization of women, and atrocities including genocidal policies are taking place against the Uyghur Muslim population.
Furthermore, Chinese American actress Liu Yifei (劉亦菲), who played Mulan in the lead role, stirred up her own scandal when she posted a message to support the Hong Kong police crackdown against democracy activists during the 2019 to 2020 protests. This led to widespread condemnation on social media under the #BoycottMulan hashtag.
In recent years, academics and historians have presented evidence that Mulan and her family were not Han Chinese. Rather, the name Mulan came from the folklore of “Umran” of the Sumbe people (Xianbei 鮮卑 in Chinese), considered to be ancestors of modern-day Mongolians and the indigenous Ewenki and Oroqen tribes in southern Siberia and the Manchuria region.
Taichung vs. Taoyuan (courtesy of CTFA)
These findings have led to a new critical look at the place “Mulan” has in Han Chinese culture. In this light, the story of Mulan is really a case of cultural appropriation and misrepresentation of a Sumbe warrior defending her homeland, possibly even against Han Chinese imperial expansionism.
In re-examining the Mulan story, historians and critics said instead of empowering women, it reinforces Chinese patriarchy, Confucian filial piety values, and traditional gender stereotypes Instead of being honored as a battle-hardened warrior, Mulan had to go home in the end, returning to her role as a serving daughter and housekeeper.
These controversies, and the outdated values the Mulan story implies, lead sports fans and the media in Taiwan to call for Taiwan’s football authorities to stop using the Mulan name.
Time For Change
Nick Wheeler, a Taipei resident originally from Suffolk, England, and a Taiwan football enthusiast, said he fully supports the notion of a change to the Blue Magpie, “as the bird is already on the national team’s jerseys,” and “with its beauty and uniqueness, it is a fitting symbol for Taiwan.”
In an interview with the Taipei Times, Wheeler said, “It seems inappropriate for the female team to be nicknamed Mulan, a historic character who disguises her gender,” Wheeler added, (the) “Taiwan national team is full of proud women who are honored to represent their country.”
Mark Buckton, another British resident also based in Taipei, agrees with the change, “Given all the historical baggage that comes with the name, and factual inaccuracies surrounding the origins of the real ‘Mulan,’ It is high time the CTFA and Taiwanese sports in general start to change the use of this outdated moniker wherever it is used.”
“Couple this to the less than positive global reaction to Disney’s ‘Mulan’ film, and with it being linked to clampdowns on democracy in Hong Kong, the time has never been better for change,” said Buckton, who hails from Manchester in northwest England, and is accredited with the CTFA to cover Taiwan’s domestic and international football.
(The) “Taiwan women’s national team as well as the women’s domestic league both deserve an original, Taiwan-based nickname that will help instill pride to move forward, instead of having to drag around the now widely ridiculed ball-and-chain that is all things ‘Mulan.’ Therefore the Formosan Blue Magpie, as seen on the CTFA emblem, is a natural choice as a rallying symbol for national football,” Buckton said.
Football Team Seen As A National Symbol
Cheng Shien-meng (鄭先萌), soccer broadcaster for Taiwan’s Sportcast TV and Fox Sports, also agrees with the move, noting that leading soccer powers all have well-known nicknames, for their citizens to rally around, which also serve as potent national symbols, and a designated calling card for the international audience.
During an interview, Cheng noted that England is well-known as the “Three Lions Army” (三獅軍團) in Taiwan, the Italian national team is the “Azzurri” (藍衫軍), along with Samba soccer (森巴足球) for Brazil, and La Albiceleste (藍白軍團) for Argentina.
Cheng said he supports fans and the media using ‘Blue Magpies’ for the Taiwan women’s team, as an alternate term to Mulan, and pointed out that nicknames for national teams are in general due to the concurring of the public will and firm support of fans – not by decree from the nation’s football governing body.
(Feature photo courtesy of CTFA)
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by Mar 15, 2022 | Culture and Lifestyle