Celebrity Deathmatch: The Bear vs. The Chicken

A clash of sex symbols from different eras encapsulates the conflict between youth activism and the status quo

Celebrity feuds are a global phenomenon. Think Kardashian vs. Hilton, Cruise vs. Science, or Bieber vs., well, Everybody. All these feuds have two things in common: beautiful people, and nastiness in the media. Oh, and they grab headlines. The current celebrity feud in Taiwan, however, adds new elements to the mix — the underlying themes of old-school vs. school, conservatism vs. liberalism, and a touch of pro-unification vs. pro-independence.

In one corner, Ms. Hsiung Hai-ling (熊海靈), whose surname in Mandarin is “The Bear.” The 53 year-old was at the pinnacle of her entertainment career in the 1980s. Also known as “Long Legs Sister,” Hsiung appeared in several films, had a brief career as a recording artist, and had a few TV roles years ago. In the 1980s, when the media was still heavily censored by the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) government, Hsiung was known for pushing the envelope, especially by how much skin she revealed in her public appearances. To my parents’ generation, she was regarded as a sex symbol and carried with her a certain degree of controversy. I must admit that prior to her recent media appearances (more about this in a second), I had never heard of “The Bear.”

The other contestant in this celebrity showdown is Ms. Cheng Jia-chun (鄭家純), or “The Chicken.” Her celebrity nickname, “Fried Chicken Girl” (雞排妹), derives from her first claim to fame, her appearance in a commercial for a fried chicken restaurant. Cheng regularly appears on TV shows, has recorded a music album, and as a model for men’s magazines has often displayed her voluptuous figure. For amateur sabermetrics enthusiasts, this shouts similar career paths for the two femmes fatales.

This is about as far as similarities go, however. The two women differ in more than just age: they have very different backgrounds, with conflicting views on a variety of issues.

10334412_441071652695047_5614520761819074941_n“The Bear” is of Waishengren (or “Mainlander”) descent and has been very vocal in her criticism of recent street protests. She also recently announced her intention to run for a Taipei City councilor position with the pan-blue and “pro-China” People First Party, whose chairman, James Soong (宋楚瑜), met Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) in Beijing last week. Hsiung is also rumored to have spent a significant amount of time in China. This background is eerily similar to those of two other outspoken critics of the recent protests: Mr. Chang An-le (張安樂), or “White Wolf” (the third animal to join our battle) and former judge and New Party legislator Hsieh Chi-ta (謝啟大).

Chang and Hsieh are both pro-unification, anti-protests, and spent several years in China during the past decade due to legal problems here in Taiwan. They are also both very controversial. Hsieh, who spent 10 years in China, was heavily criticized for her appointment in July last year as an official with the Taipei City government. Amid allegations of nepotism (not to mention that she appeared on Chinese TV shows attacking the Sunflower Movement), Hsieh announced last week that she was stepping down and would not receive a government pension. As for Mr. Chang, well, his organization used to murder people.

For her part, “the Chicken,” whose involvement with the recent occupation of the Legislative Yuan has earned her the sobriquet “Youth Activist Goddess,” is of Taiwanese descent. Her views are pro-independence, as she made clear when she told critics in China that according to her definition, the term Neidi (內地), or “interior,” refers to the interior of her country, namely Nantou, and not China, as many entertainers and artists from Hong Kong and Taiwan often say, which implies that Taiwan is an outlying territory of “Mainland China.”

“The Bear” resurfaced a few weeks ago when she blasted the student activists. Her stance appeared to be of the “law-and-order” variety, with accusations that the students were creating “anarchy” and “disorder” and were ignorant of social issues. She also questioned the motives of student leaders Lin Fei-fan (林飛帆) and Chen Wei-ting (陳為廷), declaring that the two had “political ambitions” and adding that if they had any decency they would not run for political office in the next 10 years. “The Bear” also declared recently that all the student activists should be locked up due to their actions and supposed crimes. She was recently quoted saying that she felt “extremely pissed off that it took so long for student activist Hong Chung-yen (洪崇晏) to be arrested.” (Plainclothes officers picked Hong off the street last week and shoved into a cab, actions that were widely criticized by the legal community.)

As a Senpai (“master”) addressing her Kohai (“apprentice”), Ms. Hsiung has also turned her sights on Ms. Cheng, accusing the latter of lacking “family morals” and “respect for her predecessors in the entertainment industry.” She also declared that Ms. Cheng “will be out of the entertainment business within three years.” In other remarks, Hsiung opined, “If I win a public office then she [Cheng] should take her clothes off” and added that Cheng “should line up to entertain her clients.” On Cheng taking off her bra during a political event last month (there was no nip-slip incident), Hsiung called the move “Degrading and disgusting.” And of course, she had to raise the obligatory questions about the authenticity of Ms. Cheng’s breasts.

In response, “the Chicken” has responded on her Facebook page by raising doubts about Ms. Hsiung’s chances of winning in the elections. Ms. Cheng also stated the accusation that concerned her the most was the charge that her breasts were surgically augmented, as this would mean that she was selling “a fake product” to her audience. Ms. Hsiung has also threatened to take legal action against Ms. Cheng, though she later withdrew that statement.

Now my expertise is psychiatry and not plastic surgery, but my initial response would be that Ms. Cheng’s mammary glands are less artificial than Mr. Wang Puchen’s (王炳忠) Beijing accent. (Mr. Wang gained notoriety during the student protests by voicing very pro-China views and singing an off-tune “Republic of China Hymn” during his public appearances. His Beijing accent is a recent acquisition.)

Ms. Hsiung has faced a public backlash, especially on the Internet. Some of it is ageist and sexist in nature. However, some of the criticism directed at her may have merit. In an op-ed for Newtalk.tw, columnist Guan Ren-jian (管仁健) argued that Ms. Hsiung should be mindful of her own glass house before throwing stones. Turning to “family values” and her position on law-and-order, Guan reminded us of Ms. Hsiung’s siblings brushed with the authorities. Her sister was charged with selling fake medication (a court cleared Ms. Hsiung of all charges in the affair), while her brother was convicted for the illegal possession of firearms.

Mr. Guan also pointed out that Ms. Hsiung’s accusations that Ms. Cheng’s seductive pictorials and scantily clad appearances were “low and disgusting” smacked of double standards. As recently as 2008, Ms. Hsiung appeared at a fundraiser for President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) “flashing her cleavage at Secret Service Personnel.”

Ms. Hsiung’s repeated comments on the need for law and order notwithstanding, she herself was involved in a physical clash with a young woman during an April 12 event as she was delivering flowers to the police force and beleaguered Zhongzheng First Police Precinct Chief Fang Yang-ning (方仰寧). It is alleged that Hsiung snatched the young woman’s glasses, though in keeping with recent law enforcement practices, only the young woman was detained by police for questioning.

In many ways, the celebrity feud has become a metaphor for the fundamental difference in Taiwanese politics today. A significant segment of Taiwanese from my generation sees “The Bear” and “the Wolf” as part of a foreign, pro-China, anti-democratic, and ultra-conservative movement, one that is no longer relevant to Taiwanese society. To the Wolf, the Bear, and their supporters (such as Mr. Wang and the pro-government White Justice Social Alliance), Ms. Cheng and student activists like Lin and Chen represent everything that is wrong with Taiwan today. They “break the law,” “disturb the peace,” are ignorant of “how things work,” and question the status quo.

This theme will be at the very center of Taiwanese politics for the next decade or so. The headlines that currently appear in the entertainment pages are just a preview of what will in the not-too-distant future occupy the front pages.

Tony Chiu is a geriatric psychiatry fellow in Northern Taiwan. A graduate of the National Taiwan University of Medicine, he advocates for the independence of Sanchong District in New Taipei City and the paving of the Taiwan Strait. You can reach him at tonychiupsy@gmail.com. He comments on the PTT board under the handle “IronChef.”

3 Responses to “Celebrity Deathmatch: The Bear vs. The Chicken”

May 12, 2014 at 11:28 am, SJ said:

Enlightening and entertaining article. Thank you.


May 17, 2014 at 7:40 am, Iwa Kyu Gau said:

As the saying goes, out with the old and in with the new.


May 18, 2014 at 4:45 am, Jenny Hsieh said:

a well-written article! not biased at all, keep up the effort!!


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