VOTE 2016: Two Ads, Two Worlds

Two recent ads, one supporting the KMT and the other the DPP, start from the same point but end up in completely different territory

The second-to-last week before the Jan. 16 elections has seen the airing of major campaign ads on behalf of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) calling for solidarity.[1] Though they share the same theme, the tone of the advertisements could not be more different. What’s more, they each echo a major ad used for the 2014 municipal elections, which suggests that they reflect the outlooks of the two sides.

The hottest topic of conversation at the moment is the KMT’s “Born in the 50s[2] ad.[3] It’s deliberately dark. The piano background music evokes personal crisis. Classic images of loneliness are used, like staring at the bathroom mirror in the dark with one’s face dripping, eating alone in a convenience store at midnight, and only seeing one’s family members when they’re already asleep. A middle-aged businessman, whom we mostly see alone and either from behind or from a distance, asks[4] “What have I done wrong?” He laments that “they” have demonized him, told him his friends working in China are selling out the country, told his children he and his friends were “brainwashed” from birth and that their country no longer exists, that they have laid exclusive claim to the word “justice” and deprived him of the social standing he deserves.

“They,” we can easily conclude, are the parties and civic movements that have risen up against the KMT and the remains of its former party-state. The protagonist misses both the generation above him and the generation below him, presumably because the former has passed away and the latter does not identify with him. Finally, he resolves that “they” are the ones who incite hatred and are the real villains. He resolves to vote for his beloved values and nation, finally opening the window to the Republic of China (ROC) flag, the KMT presidential candidates’ names, and the KMT party list, bathed in morning light.

In numerous particulars and most importantly in its sense of grievance and call to stand up for oneself against “them,” this video is quite similar to the 2014 KMT municipal campaign ad “Quietly, loudly speak up 11/29,” in which a middle-aged man (check) in a dark room (check) has his laptop slammed shut, protest signs pushed in his face, and his microphone snatched away by a young man who is literally made faceless since his head is cropped out of the picture. This harassment saddens the protagonist as the narrator notes that because he won’t protest he is considered “wrong” (check), and sad piano music plays in the background (check). Finally, he defends his ballot against the youngster who tries to pry it away from him, and then walks out to vote (check) as the narrator says, “Democracy is Taiwan’s, not the bullhorn’s. They can take away your voice, but they can’t take away your vote.” According to this ad, the mob (i.e. the Sunflower Movement) has trampled democratic governance, and it is time for the voters to reassert their sovereignty.

In both advertisements, the KMT calls for unity by defining in detail who the enemy is enemy — and yours. Presidential candidate Eric Chu’s (朱立倫) keynote “One Taiwan” ad does the exact same thing (i.e. “Some people say economic development is Satan”) although it is bright and uplifting in style. Instead of identifying values and goals all Taiwanese share and promising to uphold them, the KMT is calling for an Election Day counterattack those who would hijack the ship of state.

Though the DPP’s major ad this week, “Walk with the children,” was not designed as a direct response to this KMT ad, it functions as one nonetheless. The DPP also talks about coming together in solidarity and overcoming — but to overcome a predicament, not an enemy group. The hues are bright, the protest movement-style music uplifting. Dozens of people of all ages and demographics make appearances, giving a sense of community where the one-man KMT ads expressed isolation and alienation.

Unlike “Born in the 50s,” which identifies “us” very narrowly from the title onward, “Walk with the children” defines “us” as broadly as possible: “We in the villages, we in the cities, we who are walking, we who are running.” A Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) statue and Taiwanese independence flag are juxtaposed, and both a Taoist temple and a Christian church are pictured when the word “sacred” is said. Baseball, the national pastime for both blues and greens alike, is portrayed.

The primary visual metaphor, of being frozen in time, is the perfect vehicle for identifying a problem but not a villain. Wages, fairness, justice, and confidence are likewise at a standstill (停滯了, which can also mean “have become stagnant”), the narrator says. Instead of blaming “they” for this, he suggests you and I bear responsibility: “Perhaps we don’t understand each other enough. Perhaps we aren’t tolerant enough of each other.” But now we’ve seen each other better, and by joining hands bravely “we can definitely change something,” he assures us.



Whereas in the KMT ad the protagonist opens the window to the light of the ROC flag, Eric Chu, Jennifer Wang (王如玄), and the KMT as if they are saviors, in the DPP ad presidential candidate Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) and the DPP are integrated into everything else that’s happening. With its visual cues to the Dapu Incident, the environmental movement, and the gay rights movement, among others, the DPP has placed itself side by side with Taiwan’s progressive social movements. Whether that is truly where it stands can only be proven after the election, but at least it’s different from the KMT, which criticized these movements with its “they believe justice is theirs alone” critique.

The DPP’s call for voters to follow the children is the antithesis of Chiang Confucianism, which would have voting decisions made the other way around. And it is the same appeal DPP-endorsed independent mayoral candidate Ko Wen-je (柯文哲) made in the final ad of his triumphant 2014 campaign for mayor of Taipei, “How long has it been since you last listened to your children?” (Coincidentally, the KMT also made an ad involving children this week, but it was quite different.)

Ko’s 2014 ad is like the KMT’s aforementioned offerings in projecting a somber tone, using sad piano BGM, and appealing to the middle-aged and older, but its core message is the same as the new DPP ad: Follow your children’s lead and support the opposition. Also like the DPP ad, Ko’s is full of people. Likewise, the Ko campaign describes an antagonistic situation rather than an antagonistic group. The narrator tells parents their suffering children are just as hard working; they’ve just been treated unfairly by an exploitative city and political economy. He then tells parents that they can help and protect their children and grandchildren by voting (for the reformist Ko) in the next election.

Though Ko is pan-green, during his mayoral campaign he took great strides to unite blues and greens behind reform. In this speech, for example, Ko’s campaign manager, former New Party stalwart Yao Li-ming (姚立明) says Ko moved him to join the campaign by telling him: “You and I will stand together in front of everyone. I’m from a 228 victim family. You’re from a mainlander family. Your wife is from a mainland family too; she grew up in a military community. People think I’m deep green; people think you’re deep blue. The two of us have to stand together. The two of us can have rational discussions with each other. Then all of the people of Taipei will know blues and greens can reconcile … We may have different pasts … but we can have a shared present! And we can have a shared future!” In “Walk with the children,” the DPP suggests to voters that it can lead them into that shared future.

The KMT, meanwhile, insists a “silent majority” favors the status quo, and asks its voters to stand up against the people ruining their lives. How many aggrieved voters does the “Born in the 50s” narrator speak for? The 2014 election suggests there aren’t many of them. After all, opposing the KMT’s policies isn’t the same as opposing cross-strait businessmen, as proven by the good relationship New Power Party legislative candidate and Sunflower Movement leader Huang Kuo-chang (黃國昌) has with his father-in-law, an entrepreneur who does business in China.

Expect the Taiwanese to give a definitive answer on what they stand in solidarity for, and which parties they stand in solidarity with, this Jan. 16.

Anonymous is a translator based in Taipei.


[1] Although the KMT ad discussed here was actually produced by the Council for Industrial and Commercial Development (中華民國工商建設研究會) (CICD), it went viral after the KMT posted it on its own Facebook page, and KMT Culture and Communications Committee director-general Lin Yi-hua (林奕華) has defended the ad to the media. The CICD is so close to the current administration that President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), Vice President Wu Den-yih (吳敦義), former Vice President Vincent Siew (蕭萬長), and presidential candidate Eric Chu (朱立倫) can all be seen on the front page of its website.

[2] “The 50s” are the 50s of the ROC calendar, which is modeled after imperial dynasty calendars where Year 1 is the first year of the reign of the new sovereign. Year 1 of the Republican Era is 1912; thus 2016 is Year 105.

[3] All but one of the videos linked in this piece have English-language captions. If the captions don’t load, click the CC box in the lower right-hand corner of the video player.

[4] His voice resembles defeated KMT Taipei mayoral candidate Sean Lien’s (連勝文), by the way.

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