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Thursday, April 16, 2015

Feng Chun-kai: Cycling's Orphan of Asia


As I followed the 2015 edition of the Paris-Roubaix cycling race, I kept an eye or for Team Lampre-Merida as they had sent Taiwan native, Feng Chun-kai, to help his team battle it out over the rough chiseled cobbles of the legendary cycling monument.

Luck wasn't about to crack a smile on Feng or his Lampre teammates as a crash after 100k essentially swept them from the competition. Team captain, Filippo Pozzato managed to scrounge a middling 65th place with his entire support crew decimated in the early action.

When asked about his historic appearance as the first Taiwanese to ride Paris-Roubaix, Feng had the following to say:
"This has been an outstanding experience for me and I'm very honoured to have received the opportunity to race the Paris-Roubaix," Feng explained. I learnt that in this race the most important things are experience, form and a little bit of luck. I'm not in top shape because of a contusion to my knee that I suffered in a crash in the Tour of Taiwan, I approached the early cobbled sectors in the rear part of the bunch and so I had to stop or to run in the fields in order to overtake the riders who had crashed.

"I could not achieve the goal of reaching Roubaix, but I'd like to take part in the race again in the future in a better form in order to try do obtain a better result. I learnt a lot from my team mates and the sport directors of the team."--Cycling Quotes
As I searched for the team results I noticed something that may very well be all too familiar to the Taiwanese athlete.

There was a complete inconsistency in how Feng was represented compared to his teammates, and this inconsistency provides a revealing look at the indignities faced by not only Taiwanese athletes, but Taiwanese in general, are faced with at the international level.

A few examples:

The first comes from the most popular website to provide information and coverage of the Paris-Roubaix. Feng's nationality is designated as "Chinese Taipei", or the abbreviation TPE. He is not provided with a national flag. This may simply be due to the oversight of the webmaster or Feng's late addition to the P-R squad. Portugal's Nelson Oliveira is also missing his basic information. There may have been some confusion as to which flag to use. The designator of Chinese Taipei was a concession made to placate China when Taiwan sought to resume its participation in the Olympic Games. Of course, Taiwan is NOT Chinese and Taipei is merely a metropolitan area within Taiwan.


The next example comes from the Paris-Rubaix results page from Pro Cycling Stats. For Feng's designator of nationality they use the flag of the Republic of China (Taiwan). This is consistent with the flag that is commonly used for Taiwan. The flag is really that of the Republic of China, which was a state founded in China in 1912, during Taiwan's 17th year as a Japanese colony. When the R.O.C. government representatives arrived in Taiwan following Japan's surrender in WWII, they brought with them the R.O.C. flag and four years later the R.O.C. government arrived wholesale. Japan retained legal sovereignty over Taiwan until 1951, when, under the Treaty of Peace between Japan and the Allies, Japan relinquished its sovereignty over Taiwan, but failed to transfer sovereignty to another state. The matter remains, legally, unresolved.

In the meantime, the R.O.C. government under the Kuomintang (KMT) authoritarian one-party-state, attempted to represent Taiwan as either Free China, Chinese Formosa, or The Republic of China on Taiwan as the KMT unsuccessfully attempted to claim representation over the whole of China. The R.O.C.'s/KMT's symbols and ideology were promoted by KMT party officialdom as representative of Taiwan while the majority of Taiwanese were denied any voice in their own representation.

Since the end of martial law in 1988, many of the symbols of the KMT party state have been reconfigured to represent Taiwan and ONLY Taiwan. The R.O.C. flag is one of these symbols.

In the results posted by the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) The official governing body of professional bicycle racing, a private organization that administers and oversees (or chooses not to oversee) international bicycle competiton and regulation as all as informing the International Olympic Committee (IOC) on the format standardized competition, Feng is listed again as TPE or "Chinese Taipei". This makes sense as the UCI is trying to conform to the IOC guidelines for Taiwan's participation in the Olympic Games. It may not be ideal, but it is the title Taiwan's government has agreed to use for its participation.

According to the UCI Constitution:

Article 3
The UCI will carry out its activities in compliance with the principles of:
a) equality between all the members and all the athletes, licence-holders and officials, without racial, political, religious, or other discrimination;b) non-interference in the internal affairs of affiliated federations;c) compliance with the Olympic Charter in everything to do with the participation of cyclists in the Olympic Games;
d) the non-profit-making purpose: the financial resources shall be used only to pursue the purposes set forth in this Constitution. UCI members have no rights thereto. 

Lastly, from the report posted by Cycling News, a widely read cycling news translation and link website, we see Feng has become Chinese. Is this intentional pressure? Is this the result of sloppy or ignorant reporting? We will probably never really know. I wrote to the media group responsible for the website for a clarification, but have yet to receive a reply.

It is hard to entirely blame the international media for the laziness or confusion as Taiwan's international access was controlled by KMT party apparatchiks for decades with the propagandist aim of convincing the world to nuke the Chinese and return the KMT to power. These were not dreams shared by most Taiwanese, but rather the view of a tiny minority at the very top of a Leninist party state.

The result has been a confused message both internationally and domestically in Taiwan where Taiwanese have been both encouraged and discouraged from showing support for their athletes and how that support is shown.

Taiwan Matters has an old post with a great collection of official reactions and commentary of Taiwan's display of the ROC flag.

Every major poll shows most Taiwanese people identify themselves as exclusively Taiwanese. With young people who did not grow up under martial law the phenomenon is even more pronounced. A recent poll put the figure for an exclusive Taiwanese identity at 90%.

It is about time Taiwan's athletes receive the same dignity as other competitors. If we return to Article 3a. in the UCI Constitution
a) equality between all the members and all the athletes, licence-holders and officials, without racial, political, religious, or other discrimination;
It raises questions whether the current formula for Taiwan's participation respects this clause.

It is apparent from the press releases from Feng's Lampre-Merida team (with Merida being a Taiwan based sponsor) that Feng is clearly claimed by Taiwan. 

Team LAMPRE-MERIDA is once again proud to be pioneer in the expansion of the cycling boundary, considering that it has signed the first Taiwanese rider ever in its hostory: in 2015, Chun Kai Fei will be the first Taiwanese to take part in the World Tour circuit.
Born in 1988 in Qing’an Village, Feng is very popular in Taiwan, a Country whose cycling industry is at the top of thw world production.
Thanks to the cycling successes he achieved, Feng is the leading figure of the Taiwanese cycling movement: in 2007, when he was very young, he became Asian champion of the points race on track; in 2010 he became pro, collecting during his career three national road title (2010-2011-2013), one national time trial title (2013), one stage in Tour of Thailand in 2012 and the gold medal in the 10 km scratch.
The deal for the passage of Chun Kai Feng in the blue-fuchsia-green team has been made official in a press conference in Taiwan, where the rider was introduced by William Jeng, Merida Bikes company’s senior vice president.
LAMPRE-MERIDA decided to give this opportunity of improvement to an athlete that is considered to be ready to face the challenge of the elite of cycling, endorsing the Asian cycling movement that in the next years will become more and more important for the cycling world.
We consider Chun Kai Feng owns the skills and the fighting spirit to demonstrate that the Taiwanese cycling has come to a level that gives the opportunity to his leading figure to debut in the World Tour – team manager Copeland explained – The first part of the season will be important for him for getting settled and to adapt himself to the language and the European culture: our team’s members are very warm and accepting people, so Feng will have no problem in receiving the necessary support by everybody in the team, especially by the most experienced cyclists.During the first half of the year we’ll complete the evaluation of his skills and we’ll give him the support for what concerns the training programs, aiming to set a race planning that will give Feng the opportunity to exploit in the best way his qualities during the second part of the season  

The math is really simple... Taiwan is Taiwan.