It’s hard to avoid feeling embarrassed for the Kuomintang, whose every attempt to appeal to young people is cringier than the last. This was the case earlier this month, when Kuomintang politicians took to awkwardly dancing to promote a street dancing competition in Taipei.
Why the street dancing competition? I really have no idea. Presumably, they thought this would help them gain votes. Now their efforts have been endlessly memed. I can’t even count the number of variations at this point.
Young people in high school and college dance troupes are often in the habit of practicing their routines at the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial, Sun Yat-Sen Memorial, and other public places that feature as prominent symbols of the Kuomintang’s one-party rule.
There are calls for the removal of monuments of Chiang Kai-shek dating back to the martial law period, during which Chiang Kai-shek and his son Chiang Ching-kuo ruled over Taiwan with an iron fist; some have compared this phenomenon with popular movements to remove statues of Confederate leaders in the US.
Perhaps the Kuomintang leadership mistakes the kids dancing around the statues as loyalty to its vision of history, though it is often young people calling for the removal of these monuments.
The Chiang family is still active in politics. In fact, Chiang Wan-an, Chiang Kai-shek’s great-grandson, appears in the dance video—one of the youngest of the lot, at age 42. That’s nepotism for you. Chiang Wan-an is descended from one of Chiang’s illegitimate children and grew up with a different surname, Chang, which he and his father, John, changed to Chiang when they entered politics, in order to cash in on the cult of personality surrounding the Chiang dynasty.
In the video, it emerges that newly elected KMT chair Eric Chu is very distinctly the best dancer. Though not exactly a young politician, at age 60, his movements are surprisingly spry, perhaps due to his lanky physique.
Chu has made several efforts to reach out to young people, including rebranding his wardrobe to appear more hipsterish when he sought the Kuomintang’s 2020 presidential nomination. This occurs at a time in which Kuomintang politicians have been scoffed at for wearing grandfather pants with waistbands that go up to their elbows. As noted earlier, the Kuomintang is not a political party that knows how to wear pants.
Nor is this the first time Chu has appeared in a bizarre dance-related advertisement. As the Kuomintang’s presidential candidate in 2016, Chu appeared in an awkward dance video with two grade-schoolers, in a performance along the lines of a children’s television show. (Was this, too, an attempt to reach out to the young? None of the grade-schoolers featured in the video would be able to vote, as the voting age at present is 20.)
In the more recent video, Chu is heard to say the word “CHOREOGRAPHY” in English. Although a number of Kuomintang politicians have academic backgrounds in the US, including former president Ma Ying-jeou, many are reluctant to use English in public. Even Taiwan’s current president, Tsai Ing-wen of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), only began to use English in public messaging in the last few years. For what it’s worth, however, Chu, a former professor of accounting at the City University of New York, never seems to shy away from using English in public interviews.
By contrast, other politicians appearing in the video are dubbed over in English. New Taipei city councilor Chaing Ken-Huang’s mouth does not move, but the words “HIP HOP” are spoken in an electronic voice while he is dancing. Taoyuan city councilor Chiu Yi-sheng awkwardly says “LOC-KING,” in his own voice, followed by Chiang Wan-an—another Kuomintang politician who should be a fluent English speaker, due to his having attended graduate school in the US—saying, “BREA-KING.”
Mystifyingly, after this, legislator Hung Meng-kai is dubbed over with the same electronic voice as Chaing’s, saying “POP-PING,” despite that his mouth is clearly moving. Did they forget the microphone?
It’s not uncommon for politicians to try and use dance as a way to signal youthfulness and a sense of fun. In the US, Barack Obama was famous for his somewhat nerdy but ultimately graceful moves, while Donald Trump’s dance to “YMCA” was more in the Kuomintang style.
I remember observing and reporting on a political rally by Taipei city councilor Hsu Shu-hua of the DPP in which she made a dramatic entrance by suddenly appearing in the midst of a K-pop style female dance group. Hsu, who was then running for legislator, was probably hoping to play up an image of youthfulness via sex appeal—her Kuomintang opponent, Cindy Wang, did the same, through various cosplay photographs of herself as a female “knight-errant” from wuxia fantasy tales of chivalry popular in the Sinophone. This messaging says something about how female politicians are perceived in public discourse.
Candidates have likewise made use of hip-hop in recent years to try to appeal to young voters. Taipei mayor Ko Wen-je and former Kaohsiung mayor Han Kuo-yu, the Kuomintang’s 2020 presidential candidate, were among those to release ads featuring hip-hop. The last time that the Kuomintang held the presidency (the Ma Ying-jeou administration of 2008-2016), the Mainland Affairs Council released hip-hop ads to encourage supporters to go and vote.
On the opposite end of the political spectrum, Shieh Jhy-wey, currently Taiwan’s ambassador to Germany, has released videos of himself rapping, calling on the Kuomintang to return assets that it retains from property seizures during the authoritarian period. Chen Shui-bian, who became the first non-Kuomintang president of Taiwan in 2000, also rapped during his time as Taipei mayor. Similarly, I remember him declaring a rave in Taipei sometime around the turn of the millennium, quite possibly the high point of Taike techno.
Either way, looking at these older ads, I’m puzzled by how much higher the production values are than in the Kuomintang’s most recent dance ad. You don’t need to be Hou Hsiao-hsien—who incidentally, shot campaign ads for the military in the past, and has been criticized for selling out to the Kuomintang—to make sure the candidates have their lines straight in a campaign video.
Politics itself is a bit like a dance, and maybe the best dancer wins. But the Kuomintang, a party in dire straits due to its unpopularity among young people, apparently can’t dance—-either figuratively or literally.