Eva Tsai. East Asian Pop Culture: Analysing the Korean Wave. Editor: Chua Beng Huat & Koichi Iwabuchi. Hong Kong University Press, 2008.
What the star does can only be posed in terms of the star doing it [original emphasis], the extraordinariness of difficulty of his/her doing it, rather than in terms of the ostensible political issues involved. (Dyer 1979, p. 79)
Although it is not without historical precedences, the 1990s and 2000s have seen a heightened effort by cultural promoters in Asia to bring together big and familiar names from the region to make and market a variety of media and cultural commodities. In 2004, Pepsi put nine popular Hong Kong and Taiwan stars in a multi-market, region-wide advertising campaign. Around the same time, hallyu, or the Korean Wave, marshaled a new breed of Asian-Korean celebrities. The entertainment pages in Asia’s major newspapers and magazines contain a flurry of stories and images of pop stars from close and distant neighbors making “hurricane-style” visits. The omnipresence of Asian celebrities — made possible by trans-Asian cultural traffic and constituencies — becomes, inescapably, a matter of public culture. While the star still draws attraction by a self-sustaining logic as noted by film scholar Richard Dyer, political issues are moving to the foreground, especially in the inter-Asian context.
In this chapter, I strategically juxtapose two Asian pop stars who both became “grounded” amid trans-border politics in 2004. Aboriginal-Taiwanese pop diva Chang Hui-Mei (A-mei) faced “patriotic” protesters in China and unpatriotic charges “back home” from Taiwanese politicians. Song Seung-Heon, the leading man in the hallyu hit drama, Autumn Fairytale, admitted to draft-dodging by illegal means and began mandatory military service despite efforts by fans to keep him on a highly anticipated drama about to begin production. Treating pop stars as accessible sites of contentious public meanings in inter-Asia, this research experiments with an inter-referential approach by examining analogous experiences in which much valued transnational stars became implicated in public debates about national loyalty. The discourses and experiences of the diverse publics (e.g., the press, authorities, and fans) who claimed a stake in the predicaments of Chang and Song illuminated an intimate relationship between politics and entertainment in Asia. Chang and Song are hardly the only celebrities coping with the respective dynamics of cross-strait politics and the morality behind South Korean conscription in times of globalization. But their explicit and difficult entanglement with the official definitions of patriotism and the subsequent affective engagement of their cross-strait and transnational fans underscore issues of irreconciliation in border-crossing, from stars’ resistance to politicization, the infantilization of popular culture and its participants, to the inappropriateness of criticizing across the national and gender border. Stardom and fandom in this chapter re-politicize the “politically correct” ambassadorial function of popular culture in the transnational context and recast notions of East Asian publics through affective terrains.
Pop Stars as an Oblique Site of Inquiry
A site of inquiry rather than proof of fame, the phenomenon of trans-Asian pop stars allows ordinary participation in the trans-Asia cultural traffic. It also raises questions about the public meanings of “Asia” because of celebrities’ capacity to involve multiple publics in intimate ways. Building on the political concern in star studies, this section situates pop stars in Asia’s politicized contexts and raises signposts for dealing with the un/popular mixture of pop stars and politics.
Traditionally a contingency of film studies, research on celebrities and stars as “intimate strangers” (Schickle 2000) has grown over the years in media and cultural studies with a focus on Asia. Some studies draw a relationship between the star texts and cultural identities along lines of gender, ethnicity and sexuality (Chou 1997; Gallagher 1997; Martin 2003; Lee 2004; Darling-Wolf 2004). Others focus on contextualizing the star persona in specific industrial, cultural and historical conditions (Raine 2001; Tsai 2005; Fung and Curtin 2002). Transnational stars in these studies become de-centered, “oblique” venues for discussing a range of converging issues like cultural formations and identity politics.
Understanding the social embodiment of stars is a classic agenda in film-originated star studies. The ideological criticism put forth by Dyer (1979) is concerned with how ideological work in contemporary, mass-mediated societies helps settle the contradictory values and meanings around certain constructed personalities. This explains why certain individuals effectively appear “larger-than-life.” Yet in most of the film-based star analysis and western celebrities studies, there has been little interest in making explicit or contesting the national borders. Other shifting borders within the nation, such as sexuality (DeAngelis 2001), race (Dyer 1986; Nakamura 2002), and gender (Stacey 1994) have formed the basis of analysis. But there is no reason why the “at-large” cultural influence of stars must be national in scope when cultural borders are being rapidly remapped today. As Meaghan Morris reminds us, “… when cultural goods are trafficked, we are entitled intensively to study their uptake in any of the contexts in which they circulate, without always following them back to a ‘source'” (2004, p. 252).
The “uptake” of pop stars in Asia is, precisely, their politicization in a region where nation-states still figure actively and prominently into the identities of people. There are a variety of circumstances in which entertainers become part of politics. Chang’s and Song’s involvement in politics was publicity of the unflattering kind. Both entertainers faced a career crisis and a media feeding frenzy. The perception of stars being victimized by politics may even produce the illusion that entertainers can somehow remain apolitical. Indeed, a politicized view of a pop star can be unpopular unless it is couched in the politically correct (still political!) language of cultural exchange.
But in Asia, ideological changes and divides in the region have yielded opportunities for pop stars’ involvement in political affairs. An example would be Kao Jin Su-mei (a.k.a. May Chin), former actress known for her role in Ang Lee’s Wedding Banquet and a legislator in Taiwan since 2001. With her newly claimed Ataya heritage, she has become a representative of the disenfranchised aborigines, leading famously the descendants of the former Takasago people in several protests to demand that Japanese government remove the names of volunteer soldiers from the Yasukuni Shrine.
Meanwhile, as vibrant public expressions and political society emerge in Asia and contend with the nation-state’s narrow definition of what is political, the inability and unwillingness of pop stars to handle political issues can be seen as a failure to perform their duty as citizens. The recent one-man protest initiated by Korean film stars like Jang Dong-gun against the South Korean government’s plan to reduce screen quotas under the pressure of the United States prompted a Hong Kong critic Ip Iam Chong (2006) to lament the political apathy of Hong Kong film directors and stars.
Inspired by the outspokenness of some stars from other countries, the expectation for pop stars to develop a political voice seems to be gaining ground. The perspective that politics and entertainment do interpenetrate has its merit — a position this chapter is siding with. But it also opens a can of worms, that is, a political game that can be quite ruthless and hierarchical, preserving certain positions of substantiation — often more alternative, anti-establishment — while excluding other questionable “political” practices. The place of fans as politicized publics, for instance, seems to have been overlooked given their association with the “depoliticized” stars.
Doing Inter-Referential Research in Asia
Since I have already trotted into the area of inter-referencing, let me use this opportunity to elaborate my inter-referential approach toward the politicization of trans-Asian pop stars and the perspectives that have informed this experiment. But first, inter-referencing is hardly mimicking, like demanding that pop stars adopt certain political causes. If political consequences are inevitable in Asia’s public culture, it becomes necessary to identify and differentiate between ways of politicization instead of assuming safety in a prescribed solution. It does not seem productive to ask why stars in one nation (particularly “our nation”) cannot be as gutsy as the outspoken movie stars in another nation. Getting to the circumstances in which the celebratory language of pop stars is burst open and pluralized beyond the control of publicity — like Chang’s and Song’s reluctant engagement with cross-strait and transnational politics — can be equally illuminating, if not more so because it is only then that we have successfully undone the “superlative” rhetorical catch identified in Leo Lowenthal’s (1962) critique of celebrities.
The year 2004 was a demoralizing year for Chang’s and Song’s fans. It was supposed to be a glorious year for both stars. Chang had planned a concert in China, which was the most anticipated event since her Beijing concert in 1999 and Shanghai concert in 2002. Song was riding high on the tide of “hallyu” owing to the popularity of Autumn Fairytale and Summer Scent. All eyes were on his next starring role in Sad Love Story, a drama also backed by Japanese and Taiwanese investors.
But on 12 June 2004, Chang was forced to cancel her appearance in Hangzhou because of safety concerns. Outside the venue, a group of selfidentified “patriots” held a banner that read “Pro-Taiwan Independence Green People Not Welcome,” apparently reacting to the online circulation of a “green list” that supposedly identifies the political leaning of Taiwanese entertainers. In the next month and a half leading to Chang’s scheduled solo concert in Beijing, tension loomed over the straits. Chang held a successful concert at Capital Stadium on 31 July 2004. But she had barely enough time to catch her breath before finding herself in the hot water of another patriotic test. On a radio show, Taiwan’s Vice President Annette Lu urged Chang to weigh her career in China against the security of her fellow Taiwanese living in a “quasi-war state” (Wang and Chang 2004, p. 1). Chang told the media that politics should be left in the hands of “daren” [grown-ups, authorities] “I am just a singer doing what I am supposed to do. When I stand on the stage, I do my best to deliver a perfect performance. I don’t have the capacity to join the world of the ‘daren.’ Let’s leave the matter to ‘daren’ to handle since they know the best” (Yuan 2004, p. A3).
About a month after the public debate on Chang’s dilemma quieted down in Taiwan, South Korean police were conducting its largest draft-dodging scandal investigation. The arrest of ten baseball players and two brokers led the police to identify athletes and entertainers who sought to get out of compulsory service. This included Song, who at the time was filming the music video of Sad Love Story in Australia. In a public statement to the Korean press and his fans, Song admitted having manipulated medical records to dodge conscription. He expressed regret for his misconduct and willingness to follow the government order. “I’d like to take this opportunity to be more mature,” he wrote in an open statement. Song returned to Seoul to cooperate with the investigation after finishing shooting the music video. Support from his fan groups in Taiwan, China, Hong Kong, and Japan poured in to urge the Military Manpower Administration (MMA), the South Korean government, and related authorities to credit Song’s contribution to the phenomenal “hallyu” in Asia. Following a very public physical checkup and an international send-off, Song began 24-month army service on 16 November 2004.
The above narratives weaves Chang’s and Song’s predicaments into a common “coming-of-age” story. Both stars have been subject to some kind of a patriotic test. The description juxtaposes the two entertainers whose unlike audiences and career paths became possible references for each other in the trans-Asian cultural traffic — a fertile soil for tapping into the materiality of what Kuan-hsing Chen (2001; 2005b) called a not-yet-postcolonial and not-yet-post-Cold-War Asia. Working primarily in the area of politics, Chen is committed to forming alliances with third world cultural critics and turning to alternative, non-western dominated frames of references to breathe new life into the practices of knowledge production. In “Asia as Method” (2005a), he further elaborates the potential gain in working toward a new Asian imagination, which makes it possible to own up to the historical legacies in the region from the colonial, cold-war, and imperial structures of power.
In line with Chen’s syncretic approach, the inter-referencing task of this chapter hopes to enlarge the critical discursive space on Asia by tackling the relations of the popular, political and public. I will comment on the critical intervention by academics (a kind of politicization of the popular), raise the possibility of popular cultural flows in inter-Asia as a space that accommodates publics, and end with a caution on the exclusion of the official-political by the popular-public.
Claiming to speak or write on “Asia,” as suggested by critical historians (Ching 2000; Chun and Shamsul 2001; Sun 2000a; 2000b), has constituted a political practice. The movement of inter-Asia cultural studies has begun to tease out Asia’s complex dynamics from various disciplinary locations. This interventionist effort to complicate the meanings of Asia from intellectual circles is political, but its distance from the popular experience and discourses where politicized definitions of Asia could just as well emerge has not been sufficiently bridged. A certain “public” has perpetually eluded the radar detection of academic discourses that speak in the name of the “popular.” Criticizing leftist media critics in Taiwan for holding moralist standards on what is acceptable as the “public,” Ning Ying-bin (2004) has pointed out that despite its exploitativeness, low-brow variety shows on commercial TV channels for publicity purposes are more accessible to the working class, the “deviant,” and the truly marginalized people than public television programs. Though not quite so subversive, the at-large “public” in this research does imply various bodies (e.g., fans, academics, government) and styles (e.g., rational, affective) of interactions.
For those who have studied the cultural flows in Asia, the prospect of a pan-Asian identity is precarious and political. It demands a re-definition of terms by acknowledging experiences from different histories and positions. For instance, can trans-Asian cultural traffic, characterized by Morris (2004, p. 257) as a “new space of circulation that can tolerate, bear, and make use of relations of unlikeness, even while the liberating experiences of recognizing or constructing resemblances” be re-conceptualized as a public zone? My answer to it begins by accounting for, briefly, the personal — that is, my relationship, access, and sensitivity to the at-large public of Asia. Informed by interpretive, ethnographic, reflexive, and empirical strategies of inquiry, my pursuit of publics in Asia — which I can’t and am unwilling to simplify to the likes of the “Chinese public” and the “Korean public” — led me to multiple issues of reconciliation. By reconciliation I mean working out spaces of recognition, not doing away the political with cultural. As Jing Wang (2001) suggests in her critique of the Chinese “popular,” the popular can’t be treated automatically in opposition to the state or to the high brow. The rise of creative culture industries and Korean popular culture indicate that government authorities are actively involved in producing popular culture. The issue comes down to our capacity to handle and translate their relationship in the non-fixed relations of the popular, public, and political.
Surviving Patriotism in the Post-National Age
The rise of Chang Hui-Mei is a classic Cinderella story in two senses. She lived out the promise of individual transcendence of the culture industry and she — a Puyuma descendant from Taitung — has made it to the top in a society dominated by Han-ethnic Chinese. The “A-mei phenomenon,” coined after the sale of two million albums in 1996, was said to symbolize the advent of a new taste, the ascent of aboriginal culture, and the salvation of homesick urban audiences (Yang 1997; Lo 1998a; Lo 1998b; Wang 1998). No one ever doubted Chang’s ability to sing, given her experience as a tested champion on a television audition and as a pub singer before her debut. She also proved to be a true live diva, capable of moving her audience with a powerful and versatile voice and unrestrained body language, whether it is in a cozy setting or a stadium show attended by tens of thousands of people. In 1999, Chang held sold-out concerts throughout Southeast Asia. Her concert in Beijing, the first solo pop concert ever held at the Workers Stadium with a seating capacity of 50,000 people, nearly paralyzed the nearby subway system. A veteran fan from Beijing, who walked two kilometers before she was able to hail a cab, recalled the intoxicated feeling: “I was sitting on the mezzanine, watching this tiny person perform on stage. But I was elated. My goodness, so many people were singing the same song with me” (Interview, 15 Oct 2005).
If politics is narrowly defined as the offensive game wheeled by the bigwigs, then this seems to be the story before Chang became politicized. The year 2000 was often perceived as the watershed year that ended the age of innocence following her performance of the ROC anthem at the inauguration ceremony of President Chen Shui-Bian and the subsequent mainland censorship. Rather than reducing the “political” problem to a tale of two nationalisms, the question inspired by Chang’s predicament is this: In the experience of transnational cultural traffic in Asia, how does one negotiate with different modes of attachment that may not form in a necessary order one’s sense of belonging? The response addresses the central thesis in Arjun Appadurai’s grapple with the global staying power of patriotism, that is, to give recognition to social forms of alternative loyalty besides the kind prescribed by the nation-state (1993). Starting with a contextualization of Chang in the history of the “patriotic entertainer,” I present in the following an account of the complex ways Chang’s veteran fans in Taiwan and China negotiate with loyalty amid cross-strait tensions and competing political discourses. Their “being here” and “being there” for Chang over the past nine years is not just a simple display of loyalty, but a period in which they create opportunities for cross-border understanding.
Specter of Teresa
The politicization of Chang did not begin in 2000. It was embedded in an interpenetrated relationship between entertainers and politics under the Cold War framework. It was also linked to the legacies of one of the first trans-Asian pop stars and a model aiguo yiren [patriotic entertainer]: Teresa Teng. Born into a family of Kuomingtang (KMT) nationalist soldiers and debuting at a young age, Teng’s sweet ballads brought solace to homesick mainlanders and the general population in Taiwan in the wake of the nation’s secession from the United Nations in the 1970s. Teng’s music became popular in China in the 1980s despite an official denouncement. Throughout her career, Teng performed for the purpose of relieving overseas Chinese residents like many patriotic entertainers, who were various kinds of performers (e.g., dance troupes, musicians, film actresses, Beijing opera singers) involved in entertaining the KMT troops on the front line, on ally ships, and in overseas Chinese communities following their retreat to Taiwan after 1945. For them, performing was tantamount to performing patriotism — a virtue many even valued over other gains like fame or wealth. Teng was not only given a formal recognition for being a “patriotic entertainer” by the ROC Government of Information Office in 1981, but also remained politically active as seen in her support of the students movement in Tiananaman in 1989. After she died of acute asthma in Thailand in 1995, she was given a national burial in Taiwan which was broadcast live on television.
Although it has never been explicitly defined, the construction of patriotic entertainers in Taiwan has a transnational dimension delimited by the Taiwan-China relation in the Cold War structure. Teng and other “patriotic entertainers” only performed in the territories of “free China” and of its allies. How does this history affect Chang and her Taiwanese fans, who grew up in a relatively democratized and depoliticized age where “patriotic entertainers” seemed to have become obsolete in the advent of merging Asian and Chinese-language markets under globalization?
As Chang’s career began to cross over to China, the Taiwan press gave Chang and Teng similar rhetorical treatment particularly when their “mainland penetration” occurred in similar circumstances of cross-strait tension (Lee 2000a). In Chang’s case, it was shortly after Lee Teng-Hui enunciated the two-state formula. A magazine reporter wrote: “Even at a low point in cross-strait relations a ‘special harmony’ existed. It showed the power of popular culture” (Shih 1999, p. 42). If anything, this familiar rhetoric of the triumph of popular culture over politics underscored the persistence — not irrelevance — of patriotism since, for people living in differing political realities, its definition can only complicate and pluralize. Nancy Guy’s research (2002) on the reactions to Chang’s singing of the ROC anthem reveal that for those who learned the song under the KMT regime, China’s reaction only reinforced the image of an authoritarian state. As for the new DPP government, which desired to present the prospect of ethnic reconciliation in the context of Taiwan-centered indigenization [bentuhua], keeping a song so tightly associated with KMT indoctrination was read by some as a compromise.
The “specter of Teresa” refers not to the ghost nation imagined under the KMT regime, or its presumed competitor, that is, the DPP’s nation-building project. It is the lesson that the object of loyalty can no longer be thought of as so singularized and “safe.” In 2004, President Chen Shui-Bian’s attempt to “help” Chang by calling her a “patriotic entertainer” after what the Vice President had said received a news headline (Liu 2004), but it could not put a lid over the burning anxieties about prescript loyalty display like the aitaiwan [loving Taiwan] discourse or possible betrayal which plagues Taiwanese business professionals in China. More significantly in the 2004 public discussion about Chang’s predicament was the emergence of an aborigine voice that expressed a more chequered political subjectivity.
Can the virtual body of a celebrity escape the projection of political desire? The protest in Hangzhou revealed that patriotism mattered to segments of the public that may become affected — in the sense of transmission of intensities — by the circulation of popular symbols of stars whether or not they are fans. This demands a reconceptualization of publicness through the recognition of borders. Moreover, patriotism as a kind of structure of emotions is determined to intersect with the affective sensibility of fans particularly in Asia because the political and historical entanglements in this region have found unconstrained spaces of dialogues utterly wanting. Drawing on the “new patriotism” discussion in a special 2003 issue of Journal of Communication Inquiry, patriotism is not automatically an irrational expression or a citizen virtue, as its definitions now include “multiple and changing political cultural loyalties not only in relation to the nation-state but also regarding intersections of global, local, national, regional, ethnic, and religious affiliations” (Gavrilos 2003, pp. 333-334). I now turn to the recasting of the structures of emotions in fandom in politically affecting terms.
From Mattering Map to Territorial Map
Drawing on my fieldwork with twelve veteran fans living mostly in Taipei and Beijing, I want to explicate the power of their affect generated from their experiences with Chang’s music, encounters with each other, and responses to Chang’s suffering. Seminal to this discussion is the definition of “affect” developed by Lawrence Grossberg in his work on fandom. He argues that fans of any kind should be understood in relation to a different sensibility distinguishable from the cultural critic’s typical pursuit of “meanings” or “pleasure.”
Affect is closely tied to what we often describe as the feeling of life. You can understand another person’s life: You can share the same meanings and pleasure, but you cannot know how it feels … Affect is what gives ‘color,’ ‘tone’ or ‘texture’ to our experiences. (1992, pp. 56, 57)
Grossberg’s identification of the affective dimension is extremely important because he located a language that speaks to the realm of mattering — where things matter. Such “obvious” passion often takes a backseat to the behavioral description of the fans, which rarely gets to the bottom of “why” (e.g., why Elvis? Why Gucci bags?) What does it matter that it matters? Affect produces the so-called “mattering maps,” which direct people’s investments in the world and offers a place in the world for absorption (1992, p. 57).
This question must be dealt with in relation to the biographically situated researcher. I have come to see myself as a beneficiary of the affective investments by Chang’s fans in Taiwan and China, but not so much in the straightforward sense that “I got information” from them. In the process of being let into an area of their mattering maps, real mileage was yielded and strait-crossing was made possible. My first trip to China, a research trip to meet Chang’s fans in Beijing, was inspired by S1, a highly reflexive woman in her 30s from Taiwan who actively creates cultural and physical mileage by writing, traveling, and maintaining a website. Once in Beijing, my journey with the fans to see a pinpan [assorted] concert in Tianjin infolded me into their mattering maps, local and emotional. There was a fan who traveled from as far as Mongolia to see Chang perform that night. In 2002 and 2004, the Taipei-based S1 traveled to Shanghai and Beijing to see Chang’s concerts and meet the fans who have been reading her website dedicated to Chang. Ever since Chang’s debut, S1 has been actively visiting her tribes in Taitung during the off-peak seasons to understand the culture that has nurtured a proud claimant of aboriginal identity so disenfranchised in Taiwan’s hegemonic Han culture.
The double points I am making are these: First, the fans have directed their affective energy from their mattering maps toward creating actual mileage and bonds. The distance covered is relative, but the recognition of the border and what makes the border-crossing possible are equally important. S8, a native of Beijing who brought his college schoolwork to study on the trip, said “if it wasn’t for A-mei, I don’t even know when I would get out of this town” (16 Oct 2005). The moments they spend waiting for Chang at the airport, talking about her (often finishing up each other’s anecdotes) in between places, and seeing her perform form extraordinary narratives distinguishable from their routine everyday at home, school, or work. Second, my embodiment in this highly affective care allowed me to experience affect as the “encounter between the affected body and an affecting body” (Massumi, quoted in Shouse 2005). The “hotness” of this research experience is precisely how the fans’ mattering map gets articulated to the researcher’s mattering map. As Elspeth Probyn aptly put it: “When affect becomes hot, it becomes untouchable and untouched by that wonder and by a necessary gratitude to the ideas that allow us to think and write. Writing affect should inspire awe and awe inspire modesty” (2005, para. 14, 15).
The Irrational Forces of Politics
The political implication of affect has been suggested, such as in Van Zoonen’s borrowing of “affective intelligence” — a quality mixing emotions and reasons — to explore political citizenship among the entertained constituencies in the West (2005). While she analyzes the convergence of the popular and the political (e.g., political celebrities, West Wing, Big Brother), the “popular” in her research already actively incorporates a political character. Yet in Chang’s case, the popular cultural constituencies — from the star to the fans — did not want those two domains to mix, particularly when “politics” is monopolized by the state. Grossberg has suggested that the fan’s relation to the culture need not be located on the terrain of commercial popular culture. The politicization of pop stars in Asia opens up the terrain promisingly, though probably not in the normative direction as suggested by Van Zoonen. In this section, I would like to sketch out some potential terrains that have been suggested in the responses of Chang’s cross-strait fans.
The most obvious and also significant terrain is a passionate, tragic sensibility that Chang has been innocently and repeatedly maligned by the irrational forces of politics. S10, a doctor in her mid-20s working in Shandong, found the accusation of Chang’s pro-Taiwan independence “non-sensible,” especially when singing the ROC anthem could not have been her decision:
I knew it. A-mei grew up in the mountains. How could she understand politics? She didn’t mean anything by singing it. It got played into the hands of politicians. It’s tragic. (Interview, 25 Oct 2005)
S6, a petite woman in her 30s from Beijing who was drawn to Chang’s invigorating quality which made her “a contrast to the melodramatic soap world on television,” simply asked: “How strong must the hearts of her fans get” (16 Oct 2005)? The chain of events that had been set off in 2000, which remained a difficult topic, has infused a darker hue into S6’s world. When asked to compare, 2004 was more difficult to bear because “it’s the feeling that you watch it unfold before your eyes and yet there’s nothing you could do about it” (S6). The fans felt helpless watching her being protested against in Hanzhou and besieged back in Taiwan. The weeks following the cancellation of her concert were described as disorienting, despondent, and devastating.
This shared sentiment of tragicness is significant because it forms the affective reserves from which Chinese fans organize and expand their mattering maps. For instance, the prohibitive climate in 2000 prompted her fans to take a more pro-active stance toward building networks, which included the setup of a large fan organization in China. In the absence of promotional industry, the fans took on the promotional tasks themselves, staging sales events for Chang outside the biggest record shops in town and approaching shoppers with self-made gifts. S12, an enthusiastic young man recounted the experience:
We just wanted her music to be heard … We played some material provided from Warner. But I actually felt Warner didn’t have to provide us with anything. The fans were plenty resourceful. We could handle it. Of course, if we were talking about getting her on TV or something, then we probably couldn’t. But we will for sure build a reputation for A-mei. The vigor was very real. (15 Oct 2005)
Just an elementary school kid when he first heard Chang’s song on the radio, S12 is now 21 and a computer science major in college. To give Chang a collective birthday gift, he once spent a week producing a song file by arranging a composition from Chang’s repertoire, coordinating fans from different places to record the singing, and editing the segments into a mp3 file. Like many other Chinese fans I came in contact with, S12 felt close to Chang and was moved by her amazing threshold of tolerance and giving spirit.
The affective terrain of the fans grew into other forms and practices — in fact, it must by the nature of affective investment. Here I want to keep the discussion at this core and dynamic level for the purpose of elaborating the divergent cross-strait experiences. Specifically, while fans on both sides of the Taiwan Strait felt that Chang was catapulted into the throes of politics by irrational forces during the second half of his career, the emotional basis can be different. For one thing, Chang’s performance at the 2000 presidential inauguration was a moment of pride, at least for the Han-ethnic Taiwanese. A fan in her late 20s who went swimming on the morning of the inauguration witnessed swimmers streaming out of the pool almost in unison just to watch on a rarely noticed television Chang perform (Interview, 23 Sep 2005). The pride came not from a natural respect for the ROC anthem, but from its being noticed as if for the first time by the general public. In this case, the political helped justify the fans’ taste. But for S5, a 20-year-old student in eastern Taiwan who grew up between her Taroko tribe and the Hualien city, she did not experience the same “pride,” or even the same “tragicness” even though she empathized with Chang’s repeated and reluctant entanglement with politics. Much more outspoken about her political views than the twentysomething Taiwanese fans I met, S5 situated Chang’s plight in the history and media representation of aborigines in Taiwan rather than in the Taiwan-China tension. As S5 became engaged in active learning of the aboriginal culture and politics, Chang’s meaning for her also changed from that of a role model to a mainstreamed, co-opted star relativized by the more “authentic” aboriginal entertainers.
The emotional responses presented here were generated in different research circumstances, generations, and the interviewees’ historical awareness of their identity formation. Since the Taiwanese fans I met spanned four different generations, their political experiences are expectedly more heterogeneous than the Chinese fan group raised in post-socialist China. A fan told me in a “just-telling-it-like-it-is” manner: “Chang’s fans are already divided between blue and green camps” (Interview, 12 Aug 2005). This is a reality that any Taiwanese fan involved in the heated online debate in 2004 could clearly sense. But even this political configuration is limited by a statist imperative. Despite its unifying pitch, the cross-strait notion of fans as publics must accommodate unshared sentiments about Chang’s predicament as well as unaffected sentiments with each other.
Different Questions of Border-Crossing
I would like to offer an exemplar of the cross-strait relationship that illustrates experiences of affecting and affected feelings about the star and about each other. I return to S1, who was moved by the passion and hospitality of the Chinese fans. Their online (e.g., collective writing) and offline (e.g., concert going) interactions have come to create a vocabulary casting Chang as a queen figure in a warm, generous, love-giving and ever expanding cosmos. My purpose here is not so much to present an ideal or inevitable cross-strait relationship, as to acknowledge the historicized emotional structures behind the obvious strait-crossing.
S1 situates herself in a bensheng Taiwanese generation that experienced political liberalization but may still lack perspectives to completely swim out of KMT ideological teachings and de-stereotype the mainland Chinese. She has only become able to associate with the mainland Chinese after recognizing even more boundaries that relativize the statist agenda, beginning from the marginal position of aboriginal cultures. S1’s job puts her in contact with two groups of teenagers with drastically different resources and value systems. On the one hand, she is surrounded by the most privileged ethnic-Han, urban, middle-class kids in Taipei; on the other hand, she also works with aboriginal, less-confident, much less resourceful children in the countryside. Chang’s debut was a shocking statement to her:
She debuted at a time when there was a lot of news about child prostitution in Jianshih. But she proudly announced that ‘I am aborigine.’ She’s got to be the healthiest aborigine in history, completely comfortable with her identity and family. This attitude is so different from the culture I have come to know. What’s going on? (12 Aug 2005)
Driven by a curiosity to understand Chang’s ability to publicly claim her marginal identity, S1 began visiting Chang’s tribe in Taitung regularly. Her purpose was more “ethnographic” than “star-chasing,” as she avoided the congested festivals for tourists and documented her visits in the format of special reports posted on her website. Despite her repeated visits and gradual familiarization with the area, S1 still felt ambivalent about her tourist gaze. She warns other fans wishing to visit the tribe: “Save the trip if you are going for a chance to meet Chang Hui-mei!” S1 carries an attitude of productive yielding as she turns travel experiences into opportunities to de-naturalize the image of aborigines as being optimistic and big-hearted since it is actually the outcome of unequal power relations.
Since 1999, S1’s in-depth writing and multi-media presentations of Chang’s performance have made her website an inviting forum of exchange. This is also how her interactions with several veteran Chinese fans began. They exchanged and commented reflectively on each other’s writing about Chang’s music. S1 surprisingly felt an ease in communicating with a group of young people who were interested in discussing Chang’s music and still possessed a knowledge of classical Chinese literature. Once a staff member in a large fan organization in Taiwan, S1 now keeps a distance from other fan groups mainly because of the failure to evolve into a more open-minded community. Besides, she is deeply affected by the Chinese fans’ raw passion and urgency to introduce Chang’s music to a broader audience. Thus she runs her website according to an inclusive principle that makes Chang’s performances accessible without requiring registration or membership. She said:
I don’t want anything. I don’t want money or nothing. I just want you [A-mei] to be good, to be known by everyone. I call this “doing reputation.” If you want to get to know her, you can get to know her. You don’t need to pay because she is good. Good stuff. I have always thought this should be the way it is (16 Sep 2005).
The practice of “doing reputation” in this case is analogous to the fan-initiated sales efforts mentioned by S12. According to her, fans acting as agents of dissemination are only fitting for a diva like Chang. Significantly, muyi tianshia, a classical Chinese expression referring to exemplary wives of ancient Chinese statesmen is evoked by S1 to refer to the magnanimous, noble demeanor of Chang following the political brouhaha. The precise expression as well as related descriptors (e.g., loving, tolerant) were also used by several of the Chinese fans I met. They were particularly using it to describe Chang’s having survived the injuries with an unbelievable and rightful kindness.
Getting to know the Chinese fans allowed S1 to be critical of Taiwan’s stereotypes of mainland Chinese and of the island politics. Having seen Chang perform in China also made her more sympathetic to the predicaments of Taiwanese business professionals and workers in China. She witnessed how hardworking they were in a not-necessarily-friendly environment. She said:
… when you look at the faces of Taiwanese business professionals, each and everyone has homesickness written on it. It’s a pity that they are called taibao [Taiwan compatriot] there and “Chinese pigs” when they come back. (16 Sep 2005)
S1’s ability to perceive Chang as a transnational worker whose work identity is not given enough recognition brings us back to the heart of the matter, that is, there are many borders that have yet to be foregrounded to effectively problematize patriotism. The overriding family trope in fandom breaks down here because while S1 cared for Chang like a family member, she saw Chang as a young woman working away from home, with the home’s name being multiple and ambivalent. After visiting Orchid Island, she remarked: “why doesn’t Orchid Island go independent?!”
Feeling Patriotism from a Distance
Just as Chang’s patriotic dilemma would not make sense unless contextualized in the historical formation of “patriotic entertainers” in Taiwan under the Cold War structure and growing economic dependence on China, the patriotic implication of Song Seung-Heon’s draft scandal is rooted in historical and emotional structures of South Korea’s gendered citizenship. The economy and discourse of the Korean Wave complicate exclusive ideas of national loyalty for Song as a transnational celebrity, his fans participating in trans-Asian cultural traffic, and various culture industry agents with vested interests in domestic and regional markets. Using these contexts as my base to grasp from a distance the gravity of draft-dodging in South Korea, I probe the meanings of overseas fans’ mobilization during the crisis when a major draft-dodging investigation interrupted Song’s starring part in the highly anticipated television drama production, Sad Love Story. Significant as inter-referential springboards for Chang’s fans is the similarly tragic, affective, and communicational experience through which Song’s fans remake the meaning of the star amid an adverse atmosphere. Although the fans’ actions were not directly confrontational to the geopolitical problematic inscribed in South Korean conscription, their mobilization leading up to the spectacular send-off outside the boot camp in Chunchon, Kangwon Province, should be considered a crucial feminized, transnational initiative calling into question a not-yet-post Cold-War Asia.
From the start of the investigation Song had been quick to admit publicly the “mistake” he made while at his career break. While filming the music video for the drama in Australia, he faxed the Korean press a handwritten letter of apology which also explained his pressing commitment in remorseful anguish. When he returned to Seoul on September 20th, a thinner Song apologized in front of the press for “having evaded conscription as a South Korean man” (www.nocutnews.co.kr). The scandal involving Song and other celebrities drew heavy public debate in the media and internet polling sites. One poll that drew the intense participation of Taiwanese fans was posted on Joongang Ilbo (Central Daily), which asked netizens to determine “what should happen to Song on the matter of military service?” from the following choices: “join immediately,” “finish filming the drama before service,” “substitute service,” and “no service.” There was much speculation among his fans that such public opinion indicators would influence Song’s fate in the drama production.
Despite its airtight stipulation, conscription as an institution in South Korea rests on something more dynamic than Article 3.1 of the ROK Military Service Law. The institution survives through mutual persuasion, co-optation, and constant negotiation between government authorities and different publics. The morality of military service can be found in major media stories. It wasn’t too long ago that two public figures implicated in draft-dodging scandals received punishing consequences. One case was the defeat of the Grand National Party presidential candidate Lee Hoi-Chang (also Yi Hoe-Chang), who was expected to have an easy win in the 1997 election until his two sons were found to have avoided military service by suspicious methods. The second case was Yoo Seung-Jun, a pop teen idol who angered the Korean public after he became an American citizen in 2002, which allowed him to obtain a service waiver. Earlier in his budding singing and dancing career, Yoo had announced that he would perform his military duty as a Korean citizen. This was a praiseworthy gesture for a 1.5 generation yoenuh-jok (salmon) who had immigrated to the United States with his parents when he was only 14 years old. However, after acquiring American citizenship, Yoo went from a role model citizen to an “ugly American” whose English name — Steve Yoo — was sarcastically adopted by Korea’s mainstream media (Lee 2003). His presence was considered such a corrupting force that the Ministry of Justice denied his entry into Korea several weeks later upon request from the Military Manpower Administration (MMA). These media stories of transgression suggest that the power like fame and public office, that comes with celebrities as public figures can be jeopardized — denied even — when they trip upon values central to the collective identities of a group. In this case, the seemingly universal demand for a healthy Korean man to perform the military service not only reflects on one’s character, but also sustain the ideology of patriarchy.
Nevertheless, patriotism in South Korea should not be viewed as an unchanging national characteristic. Ideological teachings in South Korea from literature to war memorials have championed different heroic male figures in a history narrated as a patriarchal lineage in continuous crisis (Jager 2003). According to Insook Kwon, conscription anchors in 1990s political culture because it is still serviceable to anti-communism and nationalism, the twin-engines driving the narrative of self-sacrifice for one’s nation. Thus, not only has there been an absence of resistance to conscription in South Korea’s rich protest history, popular support for conscription has only intensified in the period following the pro-democracy movements which threw military dictators out of public office and the supposed end of the Cold War (Kwon 2001, p. 29). This is indicative in the newly amended (4 May 2005) Nationality Law which prohibits Korean males holding dual citizenship to give up their Korean citizenship until they have fulfilled their military service.
Perhaps more powerful in Kwon’s feminist exploration of conscription is that the system has been the indispensable glue binding some of the most crucial notions of being authentically Korean, such as masculinity, femininity, motherhood, and fatherhood. Mothers become symbolically important during the men’s conscription experiences, playing the nurturing role that grants them the historically justified patriotic motherhood. The Youth Report, a weekly variety show that puts conscripts and celebrities together during prime-time hours, also exploits the culturally powerful mother-son bond by dressing the mother-guest in traditional garb as she waits for her chance to meet her conscripted child on the show (Moon 2005b, p. 79). For women not in the mother’s role, this entertaining show also unites selected couples to create the expectation of heterosexual romance. The show personalizes conscription and contributes to the moral structure of feeling along with other accessible storytelling formats like news, television dramas, and films.
The above historicized background to South Korean conscription aims to illuminate the indispensability of conscription as a legal, social, and ideological process. The gravity of draft-dodging in general must then confront the multiple subjectivities enabled by the military service and its discourses. It would also be necessary to observe how the associated patriotic morality gets reinvented — perhaps in the absence of critical opinion even from the progressive movements — in the infrastructure of South Korea’s nationalist political culture. Specific to Song’s draft-dodging incident, however, is his embodiment of a different type of masculinity generated and celebrated by the Korean culture industry as evidence of Korea’s own transnational cultural prowess. Albeit difficult, this new circumstance from popular culture seems to call for reasons to address South Korean conscription beyond the terms of domestic politics.
Conscription Meets the Constituencies in Hallyu
I was really shocked to see his picture from the airport. It wasn’t so much that he looked disconcerted. I have never seen Song Seung-Heon like that. He was always dashing, with makeup and hairstyling. But we all felt he looked like a prisoner in that photo taken at the airport. Not the typical dashing, spirited Song we are used to seeing. (A1, 8 Sep 2005)
A veteran fan from Taiwan who had seen Song in person on many other occasions conveyed her thoughts on pictures of Song returning from Australia to cooperate with the police investigation. A series of news photos had been posted on a major fan forum, showing a very “un-star like” Song donning a white sweatshirt, blue jeans, and carrying his own bag making a statement to the press. In another picture published on the day of physical checkup, Song was shown wearing a blue medical gown and a metal name plate. He waited expressionlessly in a fluorescent-lit office with his hands folded on his abdomen, looking no different from two other actors — Chang Hyuk and Hae Jae-suk — in the same boat. Stripped of the rakish looks of his Sad Love Story character whose images had begun to circulate around the same time, Song appeared more and more “civilian” as it became clear that MMA would draft him almost immediately. He was well on his way to transforming into the idealized Foucauldian docile body — a soldier.
For the fans, what Song went through was an enormously difficult subject. It would not be an exaggeration to say that watching him go through public criticism and speculation “was like the end of the world.” Even after a year had passed, the incident was a emotional trigger for a veteran Taiwanese fan (A4) representing a large fan organization who declined my interview request. Nonetheless, corresponding with her cued me to the fans’ feelings, particularly their self-aware vulnerability and low-key assertiveness to protect their star from any unfavorable judgment. For instance, A4 did not see any point discussing Korean conscription. “So what?” she asked me and cited the ineffectiveness of this line of criticism from Korea’s most valued market — Japan. Even A1, who cordially opened up her rich involvement in transnational fan networking, emphasized that the fans were not trying to appeal to the South Korean authorities for any “special treatment” like a service exemption. That is why the “United Support Letter” issued by five fan organizations from Taiwan, China, and Hong Kong prior to Song’s return to Korea adopted a non-confrontational and non-imploring tone to influence the resolution of the crisis. According to A1, respecting the decisions of the Korean government was also a measure to protect Song from sinking into deeper water.
The immediate question facing the overseas fans was indeed practical — that is, to drum up and lend support to Song. It seemed meaningless and groundless to critique the impact of South Korean conscription. The lack of apparent justification is understandable. Kwon’s interviews with Korean women activists during the students movement and democratization movement in the 1980s also revealed a curious lack of motivation and agenda to challenge conscription altogether (2001). So if the most anti-establishment women in Korea found it difficult to formulate a debate around mandatory military service in their own country, what could Asian women outside Korea — who are doubtless the constituencies of the Korean Wave — do tempering with issues concerning the “boys” and a foreign government? And what good does raising the agenda do now that Song’s “heavenly body” is squarely disciplined by the Korean MMA?
I spell out these points of contention not to bypass or lay “tough” readings on the fans’ experiences. Rather, I hope to pursue further articulation of the interpenetration between trans-Asian cultural traffic and regional politics. Song’s status as a red-hot hallyu star predicated that his draft-dodging would be no simple domestic affair. In fact, the Steve Yoo incident had already illuminated the power of the transnational entertainment workings and the porousness of Korean national loyalty. As Hee-eun Lee (2003) pointed out, the Korean pop music industry is the “biggest habitat for salmons” like Yoo. The hybridized reality of Korean popular culture has not prevented the invention of the “other” category from within. Could a different mode of hybridity in hallyu — rendered in the realm of transnational fandom specifically — make a difference in the definition of Korean national loyalty? Following Shin Hyunjoon’s suggestion to mine regarding the under-represented cultural practices in intra-Asian cultural traffic (2005), I will turn to examine the communicational practices engaged by Song’s fans in Taiwan and China as a way to interject the “Chinese-Asian” experience in the Korean Wave.
To Whom It May Concern: Without Song, Korean Wave Is a Sad Love Story
The dramatic gathering of hundreds of women fans from Korea, Japan, Taiwan, and Hong Kong to send Song off outside the Chunchon preparatory camp on the morning of 16 November 2004 was a telling testament to Song’s transnationalized stardom built at the juncture of inter-Asian cultural traffic and market legitimation. It was the crystallization of fan mobilization and a media event with dramatic elements. According to a Taiwanese fan (A3) who provided her narrative account and 52 news photos from that day, Song was surrounded by a crowd while inching toward the camp entrance. Close-up pictures from Yonhap News showed the mini dramas of Song looking down, frowning, biting his lower lips, and exhaling through his teeth during this supposedly short walk. A3 used “war-like” to describe the meeting between cameras (reporters) and guns (camp guards) at the moment Song entered the camp, since the reporters were trying to get Song to answer questions. Song eventually came out, still lowering his head frequently, exhaling through his teeth, and unsuccessfully containing rolling tears from spilling over.
This moment fraught with femininity and emotions casts a melodramatic aspect that seems to find resonance in many gendered Korean conscription stories. As a result it does not reveal the complexity of fan mobilization and the different strategies overseas fans have exercised to influence this sentimental outcome which unfortunately is devoid of critical possibilities. Instead of analyzing this staged event, I would like to discuss the issuance of the “United Support Letter” by fans in China, Taiwan and Hong Kong and a letter-writing campaign from a large fan organization in China. There were many other mobilization efforts by overseas fans during this period, but these two are highlighted here to complement what was not as visible at the send-off scene — the Chinese-speaking fans (particularly those from China) — as well as to illuminate Chinese fans’ nuanced and non-unison attempts to communicate with the non-exclusive audience of Korean government authorities.
Encouraged by news reports, public opinion climates, and personal communication from Korea, both efforts were organized during a worrisome period before anyone really knew who had the final say on Song’s fate and when. From the cultural producers and capitalists (e.g., Song’s management agency, broadcasting station, drama production agencies, overseas investors) to the equally image-conscious national governmental units (e.g., MMA, Tourism Bureau), multiple companies apparently had an inter-related ideological or economic stake in Song’s participation in Sad Love Story. What did the overseas fans say to these Korean authorities and how did they present their arguments to the selected ears and eyes out there?
According to A1, who maintained communication with key fan organizers from other places during the crisis, the open letter was not intended to appeal to the Korean authorities. The letter begins by empathizing with Song’s suffering from the overwhelming publicity. It then describes how encounters with Song’s work in the Korean Wave had led the overseas fans to new experiences like traveling and taking an interest in Korean culture. Praising his professional ethics and giving nature, the letter states the fans’ unwavering stance behind his courage to tell the truth and closes with a warm and firm stance to stand by him throughout the hardship. The letter takes a nuanced position without suggesting to anyone in any decision-making place what to do. Yet when the letter was reported in a Taiwanese news story, the headline pleaded explicitly to the Korean authorities, using the exact words to designate government authorities: “Please daren, don’t conscript Song Seung-heon” (Wu 2004, p. C4). The difference in tone and meaning was clarified on the fan site but it was also pointed out that the reporter found a fan making the plea.
For the present purpose, which is to understand the moment at which the popular meets the political, what is intriguing is the smart third (with the first and second being, respectively, a direct imploration to the MMA and a demand for his staying on the drama) route carved out by the United Support Letter’s self-aware purpose and strength as dissemination. I am referring to the central problematic of dissemination and communication in John Peters’s Speaking into the Air (1999). Trekking historical, discursive, and philosophical terrains from Socrates’ time to our technological utopia, Peters fleshes out the dialectical conundrum between human desire (including that of the communication theorists!) for genuine connection and the cold hard evidence of irreconciliation as small or as large as unrequited love, unanswered letters, and unheard voices.
Dialogue ideology keeps us from seeing that expressive acts occurring over distances and without [an] immediate assurance of reply can be desperate and daring acts of dignity. That I cannot engage in dialogue with Plato or the Beatles does not demean the contact I have with them. (Peters 1999, p. 152)
If we judge by the outcome, the open letter by the fans in Hong Kong, China, and Taiwan seemed inconsequential. It didn’t even make a demand! But if we understand it as a disseminational practice that acknowledged the probable divide between adoring Chinese-Asian female fans and Korean officialdom — a relation that also implies the gender hierarchy in Korean society, then we are beginning to see the open letter not as a failure, but a revelation of politics, bodies, and language.
In at least two ways, the open letter did more than “merely express” unconditional support for Song. It became politicized by the Taiwanese news report that hailed the addressee. The letter’s outline also provided the model argument for a subsequent letter-writing campaign from China that addressed directly to the Korean authorities, and which had a specific request (to postpone Song’s conscription until he finishes filming Sad Love Story), and enabled the materialization of nationalized, feminized, and pressing voices.
To all of our members, to support more effectively our beloved Seungheon, the management team would like to solicit open letters to relevant Korean governmental bodies that include the Ministry of Foreign Relations, the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, and the Military and Manpower Administration. Please leave messages here: Write down your love and support for Seung-heon! Write down your expectation for him to carry on the promotion of Korean culture to China! The management team shall print out everyone’s messages and send them to the concerned governmental bodies by international express mail. Sisters, let’s take action! Use our love to protect our Seung-Heon!
These words, posted on 23 September 2004 on a large mainland Chinese fan site, were part of a transnational mobilization effort that tried to steer the public opinion climate toward favoring the postponing of Song’s conscription. In fact, two online polls in Korea showed over 50 percent of support for this resolution. Already in the Korean press, there was a debate weighing the cost of Song’s contribution as a hallyu star against the gain of his immediate draft. A group of pro-government UriParty lawmakers even submitted a petition to the MMA to demand the draft postponement (Park 2004).
Still, the fans were not in very much control, especially judging from their just-in-time realization of the Korean holiday delay on the likelihood of an official announcement. The 54 postings responding to the above solicitation from 23 to 27 September seemed at first like melodramatic messages that amounted to a mad “essay contest,” which, in the Chinese context, has come to mean a game of pure performance devoid of substance. To illustrate, X20 began her letter by expressing her “vehement impulse to shout and desire for release” which she had to put into writing to convince “your honorable nation” of the “significance of Mr. Song Seung-Heon to China’s hundreds of millions of Chinese.” But this performance — which probably mattered in the larger sense only as a performance because it was unlikely to be read by the media or by authorities carefully — cannot be dismissed as uniform and unsophisticated. In fact, in the unlikely prospect of scrutiny, these messages managed to produce rhetorical variations that knowingly deployed hyperbolic elaborations of Song’s virtues (e.g., a real man for taking the fall for a more general social problem) and contribution (e.g., exceptional cultural ambassador).
Furthermore, many letters adopted a diplomatic language (e.g., “your honorable country”; “no intention to interfere with other nation’s domestic politics”) to gear up for a criticism of the Korean government. Some fans admonished the South Korean government’s misjudgment of Song’s national loyalty. X29 disputed the conflation between draft-dodging and unpatriotism. X9 called on Korea’s double standards in allowing “national” athletes shorter terms of service while overlooking the perennial private interest in sports. She wrote: “He [Song] brought a handsome income and worked hard to promote the Korean culture to the world. Isn’t this patriotic conduct? Why must conscription be the only patriotic embodiment?” Following this logic, many fans advised the South Korean government to be kind to their people (X30). When this piece of advice was ignored, some fans flung down the gauntlet and signaled a suffering bilateral relationship that all had a beginning because of Song.
The fans revealed themselves to be ordinary fans, a poor student, a middle-class office worker, a 60-year-old lady, a mother, a rational star chaser, a motivated fan-webmaster, a trend-setter in China, an overseas fan, and one of the 4000 powerful Chinese fans of Song. Though the veracity of these fans’ self-proclaimed identities should be taken with a grain of salt, they spoke as Chinese citizens and exercised this positionality to address to those running South Korea — a country which many said did not exist in their mental map until Song made it stand out from the “undifferentiated color mass” on the map (X7).
How do we interpret the imperial pitch exercised by Song’s fans in China during this crucial time? By adopting an ambassadorial rhetoric, the fans found a way to engage with Korean nationalism in a bilateral relationship. It probably reveals more about the nationalist and gendered uses of hallyu. Keeheyung Lee’s chapter in this volume critiques the framing of hallyu as a nationally-endorsed cultural phenomenon. The backing of local politicians, government agencies like the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, and academics has made hallyu serviceable to the Korean national image. It is just that within the hierarchy of masculinities in South Korea, militarized masculinity still takes precedence over other — softer, more economically inclined — notions of masculinity. The conflict occurs at both a transnational but gendered moment.
Caught Shiris in Trans-Asian Straits
This chapter has juxtaposed the predicaments of two popular Asian stars — Chang Hui-Mei and Song Seung-Heon — whose transborder capacities from their respective positions in mandarin pop and hallyu became limited around 2004. As pop stars, they were agents of love and affect, singing love ballads and playing tender roles. But this time, they underwent an overwhelming test of patriotism from “the political and public at large” within and outside their fan base. Chang’s and Song’s dilemmas in this circumstance provided an opportunity for understanding patriotism as a political and popular force in trans-Asian popular culture. Surely, we can discuss patriotism independently of the stars. But when they intersect — and they do more often than is acknowledged — “love for a star” and “loyalty for a political-cultural affiliation” unleash and feed on similar reserves of emotions.
This chapter deals with Asian pop stars as popular, political and public sites. In the two juxtaposed cases, the celebrities clearly bridged the individual and public culture of the democratic age as suggested by P. David Marshall (1997). The fans were involved in the political realm, whether it was by communicating with government authorities or articulating their political identities. Though full of tension, the intersections between non-fan publics and the stars and fans as the embodiment of the popular were clear in both cases. This is at least a result of the stars themselves bearing important public experiences and morality. In Chang, we see the public of Taiwanese transborder workers in China facing the same dilemma as well as the publics who find power in her inclusive representability. In Song, we see the Korean national subjects that support the necessity of Korean conscription, perhaps still under the effect of militarized modernity (Moon 2005a). Some fans emerged as politicized bodies, speaking, as Song’s Chinese fans did, as Chinese citizens. Other fans, as in the strategic coalition by fans in Taiwan, Hong Kong, and China, carved out a space neither purely occupied by fans nor by national subjects.
In the words of the stars, fans, and other publics, there were traces of emotional structures, thus traces of histories. A position this chapter has taken is that popular culture does not resolve political issues by being politics’ naïve “other.” Kuan-Hsing Chen’s reading of Dousan and Banana Paradise passionately uncovers the need to give mutual recognition to the sorts of emotional structures different populations occupying the same social space inherit from different trajectories of histories (2002a; 2002b). A more recent Taiwanese film, Love of May (2004), not only deals with the issue of inter-generational, cross-strait reconciliation, but also suggests the bridging power of popular music — specifically, the music of the Taiwanese band May Day. These stories become resources in popular culture narratives for grasping divergent experiences, but they are not, in themselves, sufficient spaces for reconciliation. In the world where narratives of stars, of fans, and of different publics intersect, the emotional structures of different groups of people need even more spaces for interaction and inter-referencing. Perhaps the mode of entering the Asian space is not through the trope of fluidity and mobility, but by being caught at the border or by some kind of terrain. Then it becomes necessary and meaningful to seek out the configurations of the terrains under the currents.