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Senior China Diplomat Subject of Ridicule, Protest, Curses in Taiwan: Two People from Different Planets

November 6, 2008

He stepped off the plane with a mission: Make history by becoming the most senior Chinese official to visit Taiwan. Sign a landmark trade deal. Draw the wayward island closer to motherland China.

Chinese envoy Chen Yunlin did all those things during his trip that ends Friday. But his five-day visit also highlighted how — socially and politically — Taiwan and China are not merely like two separate countries. They are more like different planets.

While Chen hobnobbed with tycoons and officials on Taiwan’s banquet circuit, he was mocked by comedians, cursed by rowdy street protesters and scrutinized by the island’s aggressive media.

By WILLIAM FOREMAN, Associated Press Writer

China's top negotiator with Taiwan, Chen Yunlin, center, is ... 
China’s top negotiator with Taiwan, Chen Yunlin, center, is escorted by security to his waiting car after being forced to stay for some hours in the Regent Hotel in Taipei, Taiwan, early Thursday, Nov. 6, 2008. Chen was trapped in the hotel during a dinner meeting with ruling party leaders due to a raging protest of over a thousand pro-Taiwan supporters outside the hotel, denouncing his visit. Chen, chairman of China’s Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits (ARATS), is on a five-day visit to Taiwan.(AP Photo)

The press dubbed his Elvis-style pompadour hairdo “airplane head.” A newspaper headline asked, “Who knows how much hair gel he uses?”

A popular chant by street protesters who dogged him was, “Chen Yunlin scram!” They unfurled a huge banner from a window at his hotel that called him a “Communist bandit.” He was trapped in a banquet hall past midnight Wednesday by demonstrators who surrounded the venue and blocked traffic.

A nightly TV comedy show that features impersonations of political figures targeted him, too, with a comedian appearing as a stiff, poofy-haired Chen with two thuggish bodyguards at his side and mimicking the slow, stodgy way Chinese leaders speak.

Parody and protests are common in Taiwan’s raucous democracy. They wouldn’t be tolerated in Chen’s communist police state back home, just 100 miles on the other side of the Taiwan Strait. The nation’s top leaders must be respected — by everyone.

Despite the insults and mockery, Chen’s visit was remarkable because it would have been virtually impossible a year ago.

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