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Monday, September 10, 2012

Taiwan Clipped In to Pedaling Influence: How Taiwan's Government Is Writing Its Own Cycling Narrative Through Paid Media


 Not too long ago I began raising questions regarding the placement of Taiwan's Sun Moon Lake on a list of world's best cycling paths assembled by CNN. The whole report seemed as if the writer had never been to Taiwan and knew nothing of the history of Sun Moon Lake or its environs.

I wrote Here   :
I would welcome the author to please provide some "ancient Chinese" literature and/or artwork regarding the lake and its surrounding scenery. Qing literati were quite clear in casting the mountain areas as mysterious, savage, degraded places that were filled with evil, ugly, degraded people and things. 
I would suggest the author leave poetics at the door and stick with the facts.

And then as the article made its way through the digestive tract of the Taiwanese media I commented again Here  :

My questions are:
  • How can the Tourism Bureau possibly have amassed enough definitive data to draw the conclusion that there had been an increase in cycling traffic due to the CNN article... especially in a few short weeks?
  • Which methods are they using to collect data?
  • How is the Tourism Bureau defining "foreigner"? I would assume they mean caucasians, but they may be including other foreign visitors.

My feeling on the matter is that the Tourism Bureau is paying for press and they are determined to show results of their marketing efforts.
I have emailed CNNGo for clarification and I have yet to receive a reply. I have also emailed the Taiwan Tourism Bureau for clarification.
...and later:
Taiwan Today had a recent article detailing the Merida cycling event at Sun Moon Lake. I made the observation that this event seemed suspiciously linked to a CNN-GO article and the Taiwan Tourism Bureau's desire to promote it. The Taiwan Today article actually and suspiciously mirrors and even quotes the CNN article's most erroneous statements, which I devoured in an earlier postHERE   .
The TT Article begins to look more like an attempt by Tourism Bureau underlings to toady up to their superiors.
Sun Moon Lake, a natural alpine lake located in central Taiwan’s Nantou County, is surrounded by high forest mountains with stunning landscapes. The lake—named because its eastern part is round like the sun and its western part is narrow and long like a crescent moon—has been voted year after year by local and foreign visitors, including those from mainland China, as one of Taiwan’s must-see tourist spots.
Statistics from the Sun Moon Lake National Scenic Area Administration show that the number of visitors skyrocketed from 2.6 million in 2009 to 6.3 million in 2010, after the launch of a cable car service Dec. 28, 2009. The service became an instant hit as it offers a bird’s-eye view of the lake’s beauty in a relaxing 1.87-kilometer ride between the lake and the nearby Formosan Aboriginal Culture Village.
In 2011, the number of visitors declined slightly to 5.3 million. But the administrative office is confident that its efforts over the past few years in building a round-the-lake bikeway will soon spark another tourism boom, as hundreds and thousands of bicycle enthusiasts from around the world come flocking to the lake to indulge their passion for bicycling and soak in the beautiful local scenery.
I was then sent a link to a wonderful article that delves into the seedy relationships CNN has forged with governments around the world to promote tourism... if the price is right. Yes, CNN is using its status as a news source to pitch ad copy for foreign governments on its website. These fanciful turns of phrase are not being parsed by some dreamy-eyed Orientalist looking to squeeze fantasies of the exotic from slabs of concrete, but rather, they were cobbled together in the boardrooms and corridors of a propaganda office. In Taiwan's case, the Government Information Office (GIO).

Although the particulars may vary, the story may well be the same for Taiwan's encounter with CNN.

CNNi's pursuit of and reliance on revenue from Middle East regimes increased significantly after the 2008 financial crisis, which caused the network to suffer significant losses in corporate sponsorships. It thus pursued all-new, journalistically dubious ways to earn revenue from governments around the world. Bahrain has been one of the most aggressive government exploiters of the opportunities presented by CNNi. 
These arrangements extend far beyond standard sponsorship agreements for advertising of the type most major media outlets feature. CNNi produces those programs in an arrangement it describes as "in association with" the government of a country, and offers regimes the ability to pay for specific programs about their country. These programs are then featured as part of CNNi's so-called "Eye on" series ("Eye on Georgia", "Eye on the Phillipines", "Eye on Poland"), or "Marketplace Middle East", all of which is designed to tout the positive economic, social and political features of that country. 
The disclosure for such arrangements is often barely visible. This year, for instance, CNNi produced an "Eye on Lebanon" series, which that nation's tourist minister boasted was intended "to market Lebanon as a tourism destination". He said "his ministry was planning a large promotional campaign dubbed 'Eye on Lebanon' to feature on CNN network."
Yet one strains to find the faded, small disclosure print on this "Eye on Lebanon" page, even if one is specifically searching for it. To the average viewer unaware of these government sponsorships, it appears to be standard "reporting" from the network.

Seeing as this was a government promotion it is no wonder it quickly entered Taiwan's media feed through Taiwan's CNA, the official government news agency.

What is even more unsettling is how the CNN/GIO report on Sun Moon Lake echoes of some of the similar copy propagated during Taiwan's period of Martial Law during the Cold War (1949-1988).

During the era when Taiwan was governed as a single-party authoritarian state, much of the information available to the world regarding Taiwan was crafted by propaganda men with the goal of transforming Taiwan, in the international collective imagination, from Japanese Formosa to an inseparable Province of China that was the bastion of Free China and Chinese culture. Publications such as the Free China Journal and Sinorama published countless essays that were carefully constructed to provide foreign readers with the "appropriate" terms and narratives chosen by the Chinese Nationalist (KMT) government. Terms such as "mainland" and "Free China" were used in rapid succession to become the accepted terms where there had once been lack. If Taiwan was not viewed as Chinese after WWII, the Chinese Nationalist government hoped to write the union into existence. This extensive effort was semi-successful abroad, but failed to resonate where it mattered-- in Taiwan.

This effort by Taiwan's government is especially interesting in how they have started to re-write the story back to a China-centered narrative. This is not simply about cycling or tourism, but it is also about culture.

The activist role of government in Taiwanese culture is brought to the fore in this revealing interview from the Huffington Post with Taiwan's Minister of Culture.

The need for a Culture Ministry is already a warning sign. Culture is like shit... it happens. Culture is not crafted or dictated. It can be shaped by the state, but in essence it is simply something shared.

In looking at her comments it seems she is attempting to localize Taiwan in a Greater China. I would love to rip it apart line by line, but maybe it can be fodder for someone at another blog.

I guess in the type of relationship forged between CNN and the GIO, neither party rolls over and asks the question, "Was it good for you?"

Sunday On Route 130


On Sunday I slipped into the stinkiest pair of unwashed bibs that I had forgotten to wash after Wednesday's night ride. I stunk. The more the heat from my body warmed up the lycra, the more rank I became. It was awful. 

I was also hoping to try out a new cleat position to eliminate knee soreness that has held me back for so long. 

The goal was to test my speed and endurance over 140km with a climb over the Miaoli Route 130; a hill that serves as a pretty good mark of climbing health. 

I reluctantly slipped onto the streets of Taichung and headed for the hills half expecting an early rain squall to send me home. The weather was blustery, but not precipitation. 


I felt I had more power in the new position. My hips were a bit tired, but I hoped to work that out with this ride. 


Before long, I was hacking it up over the hill to Jhuolan for my morning coffee before starting the real climb. The hill on the Highway 3 between Dongshih and Jhuolan is not hard... just an annoyance. I big-ringed it all the way up to my own relief and landed with a bunch of other cyclists who were also looking to add some fuel to the reserves. 




The climbing was stiff, and I proceeded with caution. No knee trouble at all. This was the best I had felt in a long time. 


I passed the Hamburger Helpers (Ginger) that dot the Route 130 and made the Mile High Cafe with decent effort. I could do better, but not on this day. 

IMG_9347 IMG_9357

There was hardly any weekend traffic to speak of, so the ride out of the hills was sublime. I cranked out the kilometers over smooth, deserted country lanes and kept up a good clip home. 

Nothing too special, but this little ride has given me a huge boost in confidence to start puching myself back into climbing shape.