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January 2, 2009 in The China Beat


Copyright January 2, 2009 Jennifer Liu. Used by permission.


China Beat will be running a series of 2008 retrospectives over the coming weeks–pieces that both look back at events of the year (some well-trod ground, others largely unnoticed) as well as tying those earlier events into on-going trends and situations. In this piece, Jennifer Liu reflects on Taiwan’s 2008 Olympic experience, memories of which take on a different hue in light of Taiwan’s tumultuous autumn.

Olympic fever still hasn’t waned in China (especially in Beijing), but when I was living in Taiwan this summer, it seemed Olympic excitement had already run its course or maybe it never even took off. While China was gripped by Olympic fever, its “rogue province” took a much more detached attitude to the proceedings. According to Nielsen’s ratings, China, along with South Korea, had the highest rate of viewership for the Games – 94 percent of the total population watched some portion of the Olympics. Ratings in the U.S. were an impressive 69 percent. But in Taiwan, none of the cable channels even broadcast the Olympic Games – only the opening ceremony was shown. Furthermore, the single sport the Taiwanese seemed passionate about was their national one: baseball.

Baseball alone rallied Taiwanese crowds in similar ways to the Olympic excitement across the Straits. For Chinese Taipei’s first game against the Netherlands, the McDonald’s located on Xinsheng nanlu (across from National Taiwan University) provided patrons with a large screen showing the entire game. The fast food restaurant also gave each spectator (many of whom had eagerly lined up for hours outside before the game began) red thunder clappers and a free hamburger. At the Shinkong Mitsukoshi (新光三越) department store complex near Taipei 101, cheerleaders rallied the crowd. Some fans symbolically ate poached eggs (荷包蛋, hebaodan) – the Chinese word not only sounds like “Holland posting a zero,” but further implies it since an egg is shaped like a zero. The phrase was also a play on the notion that the Chinese Taipei team was going to “bomb” Holland, and indeed it did in a 5-0 victory.