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Tensions between Taiwan and China have ratcheted up over the last two years, peaking with Nancy Pelosi's visit to Taiwan in August. The Taiwanese who have lived peacefully on the mainland for many years are now questioning their place in an increasingly hostile environment.
Street scene in Shanghai
SHANGHAI — Weng was invited to a party by a mainland Chinese friend on the night that U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi arrived in Taiwan in August. The theme of the party was different from the previous ones: "Welcoming Taiwan back to China and celebrating the reunification of our country."
China has of course long claimed ownership over Taiwan, but relations between the two have deteriorated further since Pelosi's visit, which prompted China to conduct military exercises in areas that overlap with Taiwan's territorial waters.
The situation has made life difficult for Taiwanese people like Weng living on the mainland. In response to the party invitation, Weng responded with a joke. “Haha, what if Taiwan is not going back, wouldn't that be a slap in the face?”
He is 37 years old and has lived in China for 16 years. He had even bought an apartment at the request of his ex-girlfriend’s parents and settled down here.
On the same night as Pelosi's plane landed, the internet in China was abuzz with emotional posts: "When Pelosi arrives in Taiwan, it is time for the unification of the motherland", "Unification of Taiwan by force", "No one will be left behind on the island", "the unification of the motherland is unstoppable" … The top 10 trending topics on Sina Weibo (China’s equivalent to Twitter) were all related to Pelosi's visit to Taiwan, with "#Taiwan media reports Pelosi landing at 22:00" receiving nearly 1.3 billion views in one night.
That night, when China announced a series of joint military operations around the island of Taiwan, one person I spoke to received a flood of WeChat messages from mainland friends, all expressing concern: "Are you okay? How is your family in Taiwan?" Another received a number of messages from friends in China suggesting that he should bring his family to China and return to Taiwan when the storm has passed.
After Taiwanese President Tsai Ing Wen's re-election, the COVID–19 outbreak, Pelosi's visit to Taiwan, after the ongoing military drills to lock up the island, one third of Wang’s Taiwanese friends have left the mainland, and many who had planned to come to China have changed their minds. According to the data released by Taiwan's General Accounting Office, 242,000 people went to work in mainland China in 2020, down 153,000 from the previous year, a decrease for the seventh consecutive year.
The continued deterioration of cross-strait relations has caused Taiwanese living in mainland China to increasingly feel the friction and mistrust that comes with this identity, and has prompted them to re-examine their life choices.

Hostile turn

Chen's four-year-old daughter was having trouble at kindergarten.

She was singled out by children of the same age in her class and told, "We want to destroy the Taiwanese." The scene, which took place at a private kindergarten in Shanghai in March 2022, made Chen feel doubly ridiculous. 38 years old, Chen moved to Shanghai in 2014 and currently works in a management position in a foreign company.

"Before I came, my elder sister who works in Shanghai warned me that independent thought and criticism of the government are red lines over here, and that a lot of things cannot be said casually. I've been living over here for eight years now, and I'm actually mentally prepared for and accepting many things." Still, he said, his daughter's situation at the kindergarten was beyond his imagination.

The trend of "strong Mainland and weak Taiwan" will continue.

Lin remembers that the mainland public has shown a very friendly side to her for a long time in the past, a friendliness that is curious about people from areas they consider to be more developed, and wanting to learn something from each other.

Lin, a stage actress, moved to Shanghai alone in 2016 because of the lack of job opportunities available in mainland China back home. Many of her colleagues would reach out to her for a chat, asking friendly questions about the differences she felt on both sides of the border. In that friendly atmosphere, she found that some Taiwanese around her would even take advantage of the friendliness of the mainlanders to get positions that did not match their abilities as well as extra help. "Some people would just beg in a Taiwanese accent, and many of their mainland friends would be happy to offer help on either life or work."

Tsai's stand

But things have changed these past two years. As a number of Taiwanese living in mainland China have reached a consensus on this point, namely that the end of 2019 and the beginning of 2020 was a turning point.

2019 ended with the six-month-long campaign against legislative amendments in Hong Kong extending into Taiwan's presidential election. Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen repeatedly announced her solidarity with Hong Kong, and the DPP adapted the slogan "Hong Kong today is Taiwan tomorrow".

On the day the election results were announced with Tsai's re-election, China's state newspaper The Global Times published an editorial saying that no matter how much uncertainty there is in the Taiwan Strait situation, one thing is certain: the trend of "strong Mainland and weak Taiwan" will continue, with the mainland's comprehensive power becoming stronger and stronger, and the gap between Taiwan's power and that of the mainland will only continue to widen day by day.

Chen felt that this split rose steeply in early 2020. "At that time, many articles began to openly use emotive words like 'unification of Taiwan' and 'annihilation of Taiwan'. My apolitical friends and colleagues have also started discussing the topic in the past year or two, and the words they use are becoming more emotionally provocative." He feels sad, "I have been working in Shanghai, which is a very civilized and modern city, and if Shanghai people think this way, then people elsewhere will probably have an even more intense attitude."

Rehearsing for national day celebrations in Taipei

Daniel Ceng Shou-Yi/ZUMA

Double identity

In June 2022, Weng was forced to break up with his long-term girlfriend of nearly three years. The girlfriend and her parents are both civil servants in a southwestern province in mainland China, and her family believed that Weng's Taiwanese identity would affect their family's official career. After struggling again and again, the girlfriend chose to side with her parents. After the two separated, the girl's parents even sent a message to Weng, thanking him for sparing their daughter.

Weng moved to Mainland China in 2006, attracted by the huge consumer market and rapid economic growth in mainland China. Since then, he has moved around four cities, working for Taiwanese, Chinese and foreign companies, and is now starting his own business in both Chengdu and Beijing. He says that he has a general impression of Mainlanders as friendly and straightforward, and that life on the mainland is indeed very convenient. But in the past two years, cross-strait relations have been so "tense" that he seems to be a walking "human target".

I feel like a second-class citizens here.

"In foreign companies, it's fine, but in private companies, I'm often asked whether I support 'unification' or 'independence'," he says. Even on the night of Pelosi's visit to Taiwan, a reporter sent him a direct message asking which side he would support if the two sides of the Taiwan Strait went to war. Instead of replying directly, Weng expressed his hope in social media that the two sides of the Taiwan Strait would live in peace and not go to war. He then saw that journalist wrote: "I support the country to recover Taiwan by force."

When Taiwanese arrive in the mainland, one question would face them all: are you pro-unification or independence? Even though Weng really wants to integrate into Mainland Chinese society, he still finds himself treated differently: he needed additional documents when taking the train and checking-in in hotels, and even when doing COVID tests. And people would force him to say "Taiwan is a part of China". As another Taiwanese put it, "I feel like a second-class citizens here."

For some Taiwanese whose families are from Mainlander backgrounds, they have always felt their situation to be a delicate issue regardless of geopolitical trends. "The identity of our generation is very embarrassing, as the Taiwanese do not consider us Taiwanese and the Mainlanders do not recognize us as Mainlanders. In any environment, we need to change our roles accordingly." But many of them still prefer Taiwan despite Mainland China's rapid economic development.

Second-rate in Shanghai

Weng is determined to stay here. He even applied for Chinese nationality and to join the Chinese Communist Party, but received no reply. "I just want to be acknowledged that I am part of them after living here for 16 years." When it comes to the increasing tension between the Straits, he is indifferent. "Just no war, co-exist peacefully, let me make my money here."

After working in Shanghai for six years, Lin decided to leave. She said she loved living in Shanghai, but she felt herself not competitive enough to work in the industry. According to her, top talents from Taiwan would still be top talents when they came to Mainland China, while second-rate people would become third-rate in here. "There are so many talented people here (in Mainland China) that Taiwanese people do not have an advantage now.

Chen agrees. "The golden times when the Mainland could offer much opportunities to Taiwanese are gone. Now the Mainland's local talents have matured." He decided to move back to Taiwan after experiencing Shanghai's lockdown. But he has his concerns: Taiwanese who know of his work in China sometimes deliberately ask him about his work there, and he usually responds briefly with "just fine", but he is still inevitably accused of "betraying Taiwan".

"Nationalism has risen to a stage where many people have become irrational, thinking that there is only A and B in the world and no C. Coupled with provocative media coverage , many Taiwanese will think that people like us who have worked on the mainland are just traitors to Taiwan."

Chen would prefer to be a global citizen as opposed to being completely rooted in Taiwan. "If there were opportunities in Singapore, the U.S. or Europe, I would definitely choose those places."

Chen's four-year-old daughter was having trouble at kindergarten.
She was singled out by children of the same age in her class and told, "We want to destroy the Taiwanese." The scene, which took place at a private kindergarten in Shanghai in March 2022, made Chen feel doubly ridiculous. 38 years old, Chen moved to Shanghai in 2014 and currently works in a management position in a foreign company.
"Before I came, my elder sister who works in Shanghai warned me that independent thought and criticism of the government are red lines over here, and that a lot of things cannot be said casually. I've been living over here for eight years now, and I'm actually mentally prepared for and accepting many things." Still, he said, his daughter's situation at the kindergarten was beyond his imagination.
Lin remembers that the mainland public has shown a very friendly side to her for a long time in the past, a friendliness that is curious about people from areas they consider to be more developed, and wanting to learn something from each other.
Lin, a stage actress, moved to Shanghai alone in 2016 because of the lack of job opportunities available in mainland China back home. Many of her colleagues would reach out to her for a chat, asking friendly questions about the differences she felt on both sides of the border. In that friendly atmosphere, she found that some Taiwanese around her would even take advantage of the friendliness of the mainlanders to get positions that did not match their abilities as well as extra help. "Some people would just beg in a Taiwanese accent, and many of their mainland friends would be happy to offer help on either life or work."
But things have changed these past two years. As a number of Taiwanese living in mainland China have reached a consensus on this point, namely that the end of 2019 and the beginning of 2020 was a turning point.
2019 ended with the six-month-long campaign against legislative amendments in Hong Kong extending into Taiwan's presidential election. Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen repeatedly announced her solidarity with Hong Kong, and the DPP adapted the slogan "Hong Kong today is Taiwan tomorrow".
On the day the election results were announced with Tsai's re-election, China's state newspaper The Global Times published an editorial saying that no matter how much uncertainty there is in the Taiwan Strait situation, one thing is certain: the trend of "strong Mainland and weak Taiwan" will continue, with the mainland's comprehensive power becoming stronger and stronger, and the gap between Taiwan's power and that of the mainland will only continue to widen day by day.
Chen felt that this split rose steeply in early 2020. "At that time, many articles began to openly use emotive words like 'unification of Taiwan' and 'annihilation of Taiwan'. My apolitical friends and colleagues have also started discussing the topic in the past year or two, and the words they use are becoming more emotionally provocative." He feels sad, "I have been working in Shanghai, which is a very civilized and modern city, and if Shanghai people think this way, then people elsewhere will probably have an even more intense attitude."
Rehearsing for national day celebrations in Taipei
Daniel Ceng Shou-Yi/ZUMA
In June 2022, Weng was forced to break up with his long-term girlfriend of nearly three years. The girlfriend and her parents are both civil servants in a southwestern province in mainland China, and her family believed that Weng's Taiwanese identity would affect their family's official career. After struggling again and again, the girlfriend chose to side with her parents. After the two separated, the girl's parents even sent a message to Weng, thanking him for sparing their daughter.
Weng moved to Mainland China in 2006, attracted by the huge consumer market and rapid economic growth in mainland China. Since then, he has moved around four cities, working for Taiwanese, Chinese and foreign companies, and is now starting his own business in both Chengdu and Beijing. He says that he has a general impression of Mainlanders as friendly and straightforward, and that life on the mainland is indeed very convenient. But in the past two years, cross-strait relations have been so "tense" that he seems to be a walking "human target".
"In foreign companies, it's fine, but in private companies, I'm often asked whether I support 'unification' or 'independence'," he says. Even on the night of Pelosi's visit to Taiwan, a reporter sent him a direct message asking which side he would support if the two sides of the Taiwan Strait went to war. Instead of replying directly, Weng expressed his hope in social media that the two sides of the Taiwan Strait would live in peace and not go to war. He then saw that journalist wrote: "I support the country to recover Taiwan by force."
When Taiwanese arrive in the mainland, one question would face them all: are you pro-unification or independence? Even though Weng really wants to integrate into Mainland Chinese society, he still finds himself treated differently: he needed additional documents when taking the train and checking-in in hotels, and even when doing COVID tests. And people would force him to say "Taiwan is a part of China". As another Taiwanese put it, "I feel like a second-class citizens here."
For some Taiwanese whose families are from Mainlander backgrounds, they have always felt their situation to be a delicate issue regardless of geopolitical trends. "The identity of our generation is very embarrassing, as the Taiwanese do not consider us Taiwanese and the Mainlanders do not recognize us as Mainlanders. In any environment, we need to change our roles accordingly." But many of them still prefer Taiwan despite Mainland China's rapid economic development.
Weng is determined to stay here. He even applied for Chinese nationality and to join the Chinese Communist Party, but received no reply. "I just want to be acknowledged that I am part of them after living here for 16 years." When it comes to the increasing tension between the Straits, he is indifferent. "Just no war, co-exist peacefully, let me make my money here."
After working in Shanghai for six years, Lin decided to leave. She said she loved living in Shanghai, but she felt herself not competitive enough to work in the industry. According to her, top talents from Taiwan would still be top talents when they came to Mainland China, while second-rate people would become third-rate in here. "There are so many talented people here (in Mainland China) that Taiwanese people do not have an advantage now.
Chen agrees. "The golden times when the Mainland could offer much opportunities to Taiwanese are gone. Now the Mainland's local talents have matured." He decided to move back to Taiwan after experiencing Shanghai's lockdown. But he has his concerns: Taiwanese who know of his work in China sometimes deliberately ask him about his work there, and he usually responds briefly with "just fine", but he is still inevitably accused of "betraying Taiwan".
"Nationalism has risen to a stage where many people have become irrational, thinking that there is only A and B in the world and no C. Coupled with provocative media coverage , many Taiwanese will think that people like us who have worked on the mainland are just traitors to Taiwan."
Chen would prefer to be a global citizen as opposed to being completely rooted in Taiwan. "If there were opportunities in Singapore, the U.S. or Europe, I would definitely choose those places."
Tensions between Taiwan and China have ratcheted up over the last two years, peaking with Nancy Pelosi's visit to Taiwan in August. The Taiwanese who have lived peacefully on the mainland for many years are now questioning their place in an increasingly hostile environment.
Street scene in Shanghai
SHANGHAI — Weng was invited to a party by a mainland Chinese friend on the night that U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi arrived in Taiwan in August. The theme of the party was different from the previous ones: "Welcoming Taiwan back to China and celebrating the reunification of our country."
China has of course long claimed ownership over Taiwan, but relations between the two have deteriorated further since Pelosi's visit, which prompted China to conduct military exercises in areas that overlap with Taiwan's territorial waters.
The situation has made life difficult for Taiwanese people like Weng living on the mainland. In response to the party invitation, Weng responded with a joke. “Haha, what if Taiwan is not going back, wouldn't that be a slap in the face?”
He is 37 years old and has lived in China for 16 years. He had even bought an apartment at the request of his ex-girlfriend’s parents and settled down here.
On the same night as Pelosi's plane landed, the internet in China was abuzz with emotional posts: "When Pelosi arrives in Taiwan, it is time for the unification of the motherland", "Unification of Taiwan by force", "No one will be left behind on the island", "the unification of the motherland is unstoppable" … The top 10 trending topics on Sina Weibo (China’s equivalent to Twitter) were all related to Pelosi's visit to Taiwan, with "#Taiwan media reports Pelosi landing at 22:00" receiving nearly 1.3 billion views in one night.
That night, when China announced a series of joint military operations around the island of Taiwan, one person I spoke to received a flood of WeChat messages from mainland friends, all expressing concern: "Are you okay? How is your family in Taiwan?" Another received a number of messages from friends in China suggesting that he should bring his family to China and return to Taiwan when the storm has passed.
After Taiwanese President Tsai Ing Wen's re-election, the COVID–19 outbreak, Pelosi's visit to Taiwan, after the ongoing military drills to lock up the island, one third of Wang’s Taiwanese friends have left the mainland, and many who had planned to come to China have changed their minds. According to the data released by Taiwan's General Accounting Office, 242,000 people went to work in mainland China in 2020, down 153,000 from the previous year, a decrease for the seventh consecutive year.
The continued deterioration of cross-strait relations has caused Taiwanese living in mainland China to increasingly feel the friction and mistrust that comes with this identity, and has prompted them to re-examine their life choices.

Hostile turn

Chen's four-year-old daughter was having trouble at kindergarten.

She was singled out by children of the same age in her class and told, "We want to destroy the Taiwanese." The scene, which took place at a private kindergarten in Shanghai in March 2022, made Chen feel doubly ridiculous. 38 years old, Chen moved to Shanghai in 2014 and currently works in a management position in a foreign company.

"Before I came, my elder sister who works in Shanghai warned me that independent thought and criticism of the government are red lines over here, and that a lot of things cannot be said casually. I've been living over here for eight years now, and I'm actually mentally prepared for and accepting many things." Still, he said, his daughter's situation at the kindergarten was beyond his imagination.

The trend of "strong Mainland and weak Taiwan" will continue.

Lin remembers that the mainland public has shown a very friendly side to her for a long time in the past, a friendliness that is curious about people from areas they consider to be more developed, and wanting to learn something from each other.

Lin, a stage actress, moved to Shanghai alone in 2016 because of the lack of job opportunities available in mainland China back home. Many of her colleagues would reach out to her for a chat, asking friendly questions about the differences she felt on both sides of the border. In that friendly atmosphere, she found that some Taiwanese around her would even take advantage of the friendliness of the mainlanders to get positions that did not match their abilities as well as extra help. "Some people would just beg in a Taiwanese accent, and many of their mainland friends would be happy to offer help on either life or work."

Tsai's stand

But things have changed these past two years. As a number of Taiwanese living in mainland China have reached a consensus on this point, namely that the end of 2019 and the beginning of 2020 was a turning point.

2019 ended with the six-month-long campaign against legislative amendments in Hong Kong extending into Taiwan's presidential election. Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen repeatedly announced her solidarity with Hong Kong, and the DPP adapted the slogan "Hong Kong today is Taiwan tomorrow".

On the day the election results were announced with Tsai's re-election, China's state newspaper The Global Times published an editorial saying that no matter how much uncertainty there is in the Taiwan Strait situation, one thing is certain: the trend of "strong Mainland and weak Taiwan" will continue, with the mainland's comprehensive power becoming stronger and stronger, and the gap between Taiwan's power and that of the mainland will only continue to widen day by day.

Chen felt that this split rose steeply in early 2020. "At that time, many articles began to openly use emotive words like 'unification of Taiwan' and 'annihilation of Taiwan'. My apolitical friends and colleagues have also started discussing the topic in the past year or two, and the words they use are becoming more emotionally provocative." He feels sad, "I have been working in Shanghai, which is a very civilized and modern city, and if Shanghai people think this way, then people elsewhere will probably have an even more intense attitude."

Rehearsing for national day celebrations in Taipei

Daniel Ceng Shou-Yi/ZUMA

Double identity

In June 2022, Weng was forced to break up with his long-term girlfriend of nearly three years. The girlfriend and her parents are both civil servants in a southwestern province in mainland China, and her family believed that Weng's Taiwanese identity would affect their family's official career. After struggling again and again, the girlfriend chose to side with her parents. After the two separated, the girl's parents even sent a message to Weng, thanking him for sparing their daughter.

Weng moved to Mainland China in 2006, attracted by the huge consumer market and rapid economic growth in mainland China. Since then, he has moved around four cities, working for Taiwanese, Chinese and foreign companies, and is now starting his own business in both Chengdu and Beijing. He says that he has a general impression of Mainlanders as friendly and straightforward, and that life on the mainland is indeed very convenient. But in the past two years, cross-strait relations have been so "tense" that he seems to be a walking "human target".

I feel like a second-class citizens here.

"In foreign companies, it's fine, but in private companies, I'm often asked whether I support 'unification' or 'independence'," he says. Even on the night of Pelosi's visit to Taiwan, a reporter sent him a direct message asking which side he would support if the two sides of the Taiwan Strait went to war. Instead of replying directly, Weng expressed his hope in social media that the two sides of the Taiwan Strait would live in peace and not go to war. He then saw that journalist wrote: "I support the country to recover Taiwan by force."

When Taiwanese arrive in the mainland, one question would face them all: are you pro-unification or independence? Even though Weng really wants to integrate into Mainland Chinese society, he still finds himself treated differently: he needed additional documents when taking the train and checking-in in hotels, and even when doing COVID tests. And people would force him to say "Taiwan is a part of China". As another Taiwanese put it, "I feel like a second-class citizens here."

For some Taiwanese whose families are from Mainlander backgrounds, they have always felt their situation to be a delicate issue regardless of geopolitical trends. "The identity of our generation is very embarrassing, as the Taiwanese do not consider us Taiwanese and the Mainlanders do not recognize us as Mainlanders. In any environment, we need to change our roles accordingly." But many of them still prefer Taiwan despite Mainland China's rapid economic development.

Second-rate in Shanghai

Weng is determined to stay here. He even applied for Chinese nationality and to join the Chinese Communist Party, but received no reply. "I just want to be acknowledged that I am part of them after living here for 16 years." When it comes to the increasing tension between the Straits, he is indifferent. "Just no war, co-exist peacefully, let me make my money here."

After working in Shanghai for six years, Lin decided to leave. She said she loved living in Shanghai, but she felt herself not competitive enough to work in the industry. According to her, top talents from Taiwan would still be top talents when they came to Mainland China, while second-rate people would become third-rate in here. "There are so many talented people here (in Mainland China) that Taiwanese people do not have an advantage now.

Chen agrees. "The golden times when the Mainland could offer much opportunities to Taiwanese are gone. Now the Mainland's local talents have matured." He decided to move back to Taiwan after experiencing Shanghai's lockdown. But he has his concerns: Taiwanese who know of his work in China sometimes deliberately ask him about his work there, and he usually responds briefly with "just fine", but he is still inevitably accused of "betraying Taiwan".

"Nationalism has risen to a stage where many people have become irrational, thinking that there is only A and B in the world and no C. Coupled with provocative media coverage , many Taiwanese will think that people like us who have worked on the mainland are just traitors to Taiwan."

Chen would prefer to be a global citizen as opposed to being completely rooted in Taiwan. "If there were opportunities in Singapore, the U.S. or Europe, I would definitely choose those places."

Chen's four-year-old daughter was having trouble at kindergarten.
She was singled out by children of the same age in her class and told, "We want to destroy the Taiwanese." The scene, which took place at a private kindergarten in Shanghai in March 2022, made Chen feel doubly ridiculous. 38 years old, Chen moved to Shanghai in 2014 and currently works in a management position in a foreign company.
"Before I came, my elder sister who works in Shanghai warned me that independent thought and criticism of the government are red lines over here, and that a lot of things cannot be said casually. I've been living over here for eight years now, and I'm actually mentally prepared for and accepting many things." Still, he said, his daughter's situation at the kindergarten was beyond his imagination.
Lin remembers that the mainland public has shown a very friendly side to her for a long time in the past, a friendliness that is curious about people from areas they consider to be more developed, and wanting to learn something from each other.
Lin, a stage actress, moved to Shanghai alone in 2016 because of the lack of job opportunities available in mainland China back home. Many of her colleagues would reach out to her for a chat, asking friendly questions about the differences she felt on both sides of the border. In that friendly atmosphere, she found that some Taiwanese around her would even take advantage of the friendliness of the mainlanders to get positions that did not match their abilities as well as extra help. "Some people would just beg in a Taiwanese accent, and many of their mainland friends would be happy to offer help on either life or work."
But things have changed these past two years. As a number of Taiwanese living in mainland China have reached a consensus on this point, namely that the end of 2019 and the beginning of 2020 was a turning point.
2019 ended with the six-month-long campaign against legislative amendments in Hong Kong extending into Taiwan's presidential election. Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen repeatedly announced her solidarity with Hong Kong, and the DPP adapted the slogan "Hong Kong today is Taiwan tomorrow".
On the day the election results were announced with Tsai's re-election, China's state newspaper The Global Times published an editorial saying that no matter how much uncertainty there is in the Taiwan Strait situation, one thing is certain: the trend of "strong Mainland and weak Taiwan" will continue, with the mainland's comprehensive power becoming stronger and stronger, and the gap between Taiwan's power and that of the mainland will only continue to widen day by day.
Chen felt that this split rose steeply in early 2020. "At that time, many articles began to openly use emotive words like 'unification of Taiwan' and 'annihilation of Taiwan'. My apolitical friends and colleagues have also started discussing the topic in the past year or two, and the words they use are becoming more emotionally provocative." He feels sad, "I have been working in Shanghai, which is a very civilized and modern city, and if Shanghai people think this way, then people elsewhere will probably have an even more intense attitude."
Rehearsing for national day celebrations in Taipei
Daniel Ceng Shou-Yi/ZUMA
In June 2022, Weng was forced to break up with his long-term girlfriend of nearly three years. The girlfriend and her parents are both civil servants in a southwestern province in mainland China, and her family believed that Weng's Taiwanese identity would affect their family's official career. After struggling again and again, the girlfriend chose to side with her parents. After the two separated, the girl's parents even sent a message to Weng, thanking him for sparing their daughter.
Weng moved to Mainland China in 2006, attracted by the huge consumer market and rapid economic growth in mainland China. Since then, he has moved around four cities, working for Taiwanese, Chinese and foreign companies, and is now starting his own business in both Chengdu and Beijing. He says that he has a general impression of Mainlanders as friendly and straightforward, and that life on the mainland is indeed very convenient. But in the past two years, cross-strait relations have been so "tense" that he seems to be a walking "human target".
"In foreign companies, it's fine, but in private companies, I'm often asked whether I support 'unification' or 'independence'," he says. Even on the night of Pelosi's visit to Taiwan, a reporter sent him a direct message asking which side he would support if the two sides of the Taiwan Strait went to war. Instead of replying directly, Weng expressed his hope in social media that the two sides of the Taiwan Strait would live in peace and not go to war. He then saw that journalist wrote: "I support the country to recover Taiwan by force."
When Taiwanese arrive in the mainland, one question would face them all: are you pro-unification or independence? Even though Weng really wants to integrate into Mainland Chinese society, he still finds himself treated differently: he needed additional documents when taking the train and checking-in in hotels, and even when doing COVID tests. And people would force him to say "Taiwan is a part of China". As another Taiwanese put it, "I feel like a second-class citizens here."
For some Taiwanese whose families are from Mainlander backgrounds, they have always felt their situation to be a delicate issue regardless of geopolitical trends. "The identity of our generation is very embarrassing, as the Taiwanese do not consider us Taiwanese and the Mainlanders do not recognize us as Mainlanders. In any environment, we need to change our roles accordingly." But many of them still prefer Taiwan despite Mainland China's rapid economic development.
Weng is determined to stay here. He even applied for Chinese nationality and to join the Chinese Communist Party, but received no reply. "I just want to be acknowledged that I am part of them after living here for 16 years." When it comes to the increasing tension between the Straits, he is indifferent. "Just no war, co-exist peacefully, let me make my money here."
After working in Shanghai for six years, Lin decided to leave. She said she loved living in Shanghai, but she felt herself not competitive enough to work in the industry. According to her, top talents from Taiwan would still be top talents when they came to Mainland China, while second-rate people would become third-rate in here. "There are so many talented people here (in Mainland China) that Taiwanese people do not have an advantage now.
Chen agrees. "The golden times when the Mainland could offer much opportunities to Taiwanese are gone. Now the Mainland's local talents have matured." He decided to move back to Taiwan after experiencing Shanghai's lockdown. But he has his concerns: Taiwanese who know of his work in China sometimes deliberately ask him about his work there, and he usually responds briefly with "just fine", but he is still inevitably accused of "betraying Taiwan".
"Nationalism has risen to a stage where many people have become irrational, thinking that there is only A and B in the world and no C. Coupled with provocative media coverage , many Taiwanese will think that people like us who have worked on the mainland are just traitors to Taiwan."
Chen would prefer to be a global citizen as opposed to being completely rooted in Taiwan. "If there were opportunities in Singapore, the U.S. or Europe, I would definitely choose those places."
Twenty-five years in the making, China has developed a mass surveillance state, from Beijing alleyways to rural villages. And citizens don't object because they've been co-opted into it.
A protester stands beneath an umbrella hung to block a surveillance camera in Hong Kong
BEIJING — In 2021, a local police bureau in Beijing published an initiative on the Sharp Eyes project. Its description offers a chilling taste of how China's future of mass surveillance will be.
“Security cameras automatically capture the people’s faces, and match with house rental information, records in hospitals, hotels, and school, and summarize an activity log of different groups of people. With all information and data collected, an alarm model would be created to automatically identify abnormal activities."
Just exactly how the model will be implemented is not yet known. But combined with China's existing surveillance system, the Sharp Eyes project could allow community workers to proactively go to individuals' doors to investigate a crime that has not even been committed yet.
Its goal is to create a system that is literally meant to "prevent crime before it happens."
But how do the security cameras create such a huge digital leviathan system? It is the result of a surveillance system that China has been building for 25 years.
In 1998, China's Ministry of Public Security started the "Golden Shield Project", which focused on building a basic database and technology platform, as well as an initial network firewall to realize "Technology for a Stronger Police". The "Safe City" public video surveillance project took the 2008 Olympic Games as an opportunity to roll out the project to all major and medium-sized cities.
At this stage, China was still learning on its feet. In the wake of terrorist attacks such as the Sep. 11 attacks in 2001 and the London Underground bombings in 2005, police departments around the world had been installing cameras in public places in major cities to help with law and order.
China soon surpassed the West in surveillance technology. After 2016, it became the world's largest surveillance market, with government purchases accounting for 60% of the nearly trillion dollar Chinese market. According to analysts, of the nearly one billion cameras in the world today, more than half are Chinese.
By this reckoning, every four cameras in the world has a Chinese government procurement. In 2017, a BBC journalist was allowed to challenge the Sky Eye system and make a documentary in Guizhou in southwest China, where in less than seven minutes, his face was flagged by a database and then intercepted by police in the city.
In 2016, the Chinese government began a new round of large-scale video camera construction known as the "Sharp Eyes Project". While video surveillance in major countries around the world is only limited to key public areas in cities, the Chinese government wants to achieve "no dead ends and full coverage". "Full coverage, full network sharing, full-time availability and full control" were to be achieved at county, township and village levels. The core of this project in urban residential areas is the Chinese special "grid-based management".
Grid-based management, as it indicates, involves community workers being in charge of a grid of residential areas, speculating over security concerns and nipping troubles in the bud. Surveillance is no longer only used to monitor specific groups of people or to uncover specific criminal offenses, but it was given a sense of social service functioning and preventing security risks.
What is notable is that the users of the surveillance system have expanded from police to ordinary people, playing the role of "the residents' housekeeper", and they might just be a familiar grandma next door. The government is no longer in direct confrontation with society everywhere, but uses society to monitor society.
A dense network of social surveillance is spread over 9.6 million square kilometers and a population of 1.4 billion. Every place and every individual will eventually be in a specific grid, and each grid has enough cameras that collect data, and there are corresponding grid personnel to collect information and resolve risks.
A protester smashes a security camera during a demonstration against Hong Kong's government.
Miguel Candela/SOPA Images/ZUMA
The implicit "surveillance state" represented by the "Sharp Eyes Project" and grid management embody a clear choice of the Chinese government in social governance, which differs from other explicit "police state" authoritarian states. On the one hand, Beijing does everything it can to collect social information, on the other, it is fully vigilant against the excessive development of police power. Both trends have become more and more obvious in the past decade.
With the development of the market economy since the 1980s, constraints on mobility since the Mao era could not be continued with the flow of work force and the growth of the population. Since the mid-80s till now, China's population has grown from 1 billion to 1.4 billion, while criminal offense cases increased to 4.7 million in the year of 2020, nine times more than 40 years before. With the growing concern about criminal offenses, case clearance rate has dropped from 70% to less than 40%. This indicates the pressure in maintaining security Beijing is facing with China's rapid economic growth.
But what is unique is that China is always conscious in restricting an over-powerful police force. Even in the 1990s, when China's crime rate issues had reached its peak, the police/population ratio was 7.4 per 10 thousand, significantly lower than the world average of 35 police per 10 thousand. At the core of Beijing's politics, there has been concerns over the "political credibility" of the police force, the head of which, for example, had been recently fired for being politically "unreliable" rather than being corrupt.
Paradoxically, a monitoring system that implies strong control may not necessarily be opposed by the population under surveillance. In many official propaganda films, the people interviewed are happy to see the Sharp Eyes project implemented, and even neighboring communities would compete with each other for who could install the equipment first. China has packaged this whole social surveillance system as "welfare" because "safety" itself is the greatest benefit to the people.
Without its role in "revolution", the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has claimed its legitimacy in China's rapid economic growth. But when economic growth slows down, "security" would be another benefit it provides. "Safety" and "security" are clearly narratives that Beijing is proud of, while the two concepts have became an overwhelming priority. In its propaganda, Western countries — particularly, the United States — are portrayed as having endless disasters and crimes, while China is "the safest country in the world".
The cultural psychology of Chinese society is another key to understanding Beijing's success in implementing its surveillance projects without obstacles. Some surveys have shown that many people actually hold a fairly supportive attitude towards surveillance programs, believing that sacrificing freedom for "safety" is a pretty good deal. The cultural obsession with "safety" and the government's manipulation in the name of it have created a mutually reinforcing cycle.
CCTV cameras watch over an intersection in downtown Beijing
Todd Lee/ZUMA
Today's pandemic prevention policy in China is very different from that of the rest of the world, which may be the result of the ultimate interpretation of the logic of "safety". No matter whether the virus has changed or not, the behaviors of officials are dominated by the excuse of "security," and the public is persuaded by fear to fall in line. The flexibility and adjustments that a normal society should have is now unacceptable in Beijing's logic.
The CCP has always stressed Mao's concept of “returning to the mass line," to achieve social control by giving the people a sense of agency in decisions. Relying on the so-called "mass" is the fundamental idea of the CCP's governance.
The recent advances in technology have made large-scale digital surveillance possible. And so now with the long-standing "mass line" governance, China can combine it with the tech advances to build a sophisticated social surveillance system.
The "Sharp Eyes Project" and "grid-based management" show Beijing's system is efficient in identifying and diminishing security risks, perfectly avoiding the "dictator paradox" in being less dependent on violent agencies.
Twenty-five years in the making, China has developed a mass surveillance state, from Beijing alleyways to rural villages. And citizens don't object because they've been co-opted into it.
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Mass demonstrations and civil disobedience continue to take place in Iran, shaking both its ruling regime and the world. But beyond the headlines, gauging what effects they will really have is a trickier exercise. Mada Masr asked Iranian political scientist Fatemeh Sadeghi about the biggest acts of civil disobedience Iran has seen in decades.


Central to the tragic absurdity of this war is the question of language. Vladimir Putin has repeated that protecting ethnic Russians and the Russian-speaking populations of Ukraine was a driving motivation for his invasion.
Yet one month on, a quick look at the map shows that many of the worst-hit cities are those where Russian is the predominant language: Kharkiv, Odesa, Kherson.
Then there is Mariupol, under siege and symbol of Putin’s cruelty. In the largest city on the Azov Sea, with a population of half a million people, Ukrainians make up slightly less than half of the city's population, and Mariupol's second-largest national ethnicity is Russians. As of 2001, when the last census was conducted, 89.5% of the city's population identified Russian as their mother tongue.
Between 2018 and 2019, I spent several months in Mariupol. It is a rugged but beautiful city dotted with Soviet-era architecture, featuring wide avenues and hillside parks, and an extensive industrial zone stretching along the shoreline. There was a vibrant youth culture and art scene, with students developing projects to turn their city into a regional cultural center with an international photography festival.
There were also many offices of international NGOs and human rights organizations, a consequence of the fact that Mariupol was the last major city before entering the occupied zone of Donbas. Many natives of the contested regions of Luhansk and Donetsk had moved there, taking jobs in restaurants and hospitals. I had fond memories of the welcoming from locals who were quicker to smile than in some other parts of Ukraine. All of this is gone.
According to the latest data from the local authorities, 80% of the port city has been destroyed by Russian bombs, artillery fire and missile attacks, with particularly egregious targeting of civilians, including a maternity hospital, a theater where more than 1,000 people had taken shelter and a school where some 400 others were hiding.
The official civilian death toll of Mariupol is estimated at more than 3,000. There are no language or ethnic-based statistics of the victims, but it’s likely the majority were Russian speakers.
So let’s be clear, Putin is bombing the very people he has claimed to want to rescue.
Putin’s Public Enemy No. 1, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, is a mother-tongue Russian speaker who’d made a successful acting and comedy career in Russian-language broadcasting, having extensively toured Russian cities for years.
Rescuers carry a person injured during a shelling by Russian troops of Kharkiv, northeastern Ukraine.
Vyacheslav Madiyevskyy/Ukrinform via ZUMA Press Wire
Yes, the official language of Ukraine is Ukrainian, and a 2019 law aimed to ensure that it is used in public discourse, but no one has ever sought to abolish the Russian language in everyday life. In none of the cities that are now being bombed by the Russian army to supposedly liberate them has the Russian language been suppressed or have the Russian-speaking population been discriminated against.
Sociologist Mikhail Mishchenko explains that studies have found that the vast majority of Ukrainians don’t consider language a political issue. For reasons of history, culture and the similarities of the two languages, Ukraine is effectively a bilingual nation.
"The overwhelming majority of the population speaks both languages, Russian and Ukrainian,” Mishchenko explains. “Those who say they understand Russian poorly and have difficulty communicating in it are just over 4% percent. Approximately the same number of people say the same about Ukrainian.”
In general, there is no problem of communication and understanding. Often there will be conversations where one person speaks Ukrainian, and the other responds in Russian. Geographically, the Russian language is more dominant in the eastern and central parts of Ukraine, and Ukrainian in the west.
Like most central Ukrainians I am perfectly bilingual: for me, Ukrainian and Russian are both native languages that I have used since childhood in Kyiv. My generation grew up on Russian rock, post-Soviet cinema, and translations of foreign literature into Russian. I communicate in Russian with my sister, and with my mother and daughter in Ukrainian. I write professionally in three languages: Ukrainian, Russian and English, and can also speak Polish, French, and a bit Japanese. My mother taught me that the more languages I know the more human I am.
At the same time, I am not Russian — nor British or Polish. I am Ukrainian. Ours is a nation with a long history and culture of its own, which has always included a multi-ethnic population: Russians, Belarusians, Moldovans, Crimean Tatars, Bulgarians, Romanians, Hungarians, Poles, Jews, Greeks. We all, they all, have found our place on Ukrainian soil. We speak different languages, pray in different churches, we have different traditions, clothes, and cuisine.
Like in other countries, these differences have been the source of conflict in our past. But it is who we are and will always be, and real progress has been made over the past three decades to embrace our multitudes. Our Jewish, Russian-speaking president is the most visible proof of that — and is in fact part of what our soldiers are fighting for.
Many in Moscow were convinced that Russian troops would be welcomed in Ukraine as liberating heroes by Russian speakers. Instead, young soldiers are forced to shoot at people who scream in their native language.
Starving people ina street of Kharkiv in 1933, during the famine
Diocesan Archive of Vienna (Diözesanarchiv Wien)/BA Innitzer
Putin has tried to rally the troops by warning that in Ukraine a “genocide” of ethnic Russians is being carried out by a government that must be “de-nazified.”
These are, of course, words with specific definitions that carry the full weight of history. The Ukrainian people know what genocide is not from books. In my hometown of Kyiv, German soldiers massacred Jews en masse. My grandfather survived the Buchenwald concentration camp, liberated by the U.S. army. My great-grandmother, who died at the age of 95, survived the 1932-33 famine when the Red Army carried out the genocide of the Ukrainian middle class, and her sister disappeared in the camps of Siberia, convicted for defying rationing to try to feed her children during the famine.
On Tuesday, came a notable report of one of the latest civilian deaths in the besieged Russian-speaking city of Kharkiv: a 96-year-old had been killed when shelling hit his apartment building. The victim’s name was Boris Romanchenko; he had survived Buchenwald and two other Nazi concentration camps during World War II. As President Zelensky noted: Hitler didn’t manage to kill him, but Putin did.
Genocide has returned to Ukraine, from Kharkiv to Kherson to Mariupol, as Vladimir Putin had warned. But it is his own genocide against the Russian-speaking population of Ukraine.

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