Taiwan History

Taiwan vs. China at the 2003 Miss Universe pageant

Time for another trip down memory lane, but not a very pleasant one if you’re a fan of Taiwan being free of China’s scheming plans. Back in 2003 the Miss Universe pageant was being held in Panama, and Taiwan’s representative was the 25-year old Beverly Chen Szu-Yu (陳思羽). Ms Chen registered to participate in the event as “Miss Taiwan” and accordingly received her Taiwan sash to wear during the event. Panama, is, of course, along with a few other Central American countries, among the few nations that have full diplomatic ties with Taiwan. As such, it’s not surprising that Miss Taiwan received plenty of local media attention and support.

Following China's protests, Ms Chen was forced to switch between Taiwan & Chinese Taipei sashes

Following China’s protests, Ms Chen was forced to switch between Taiwan & Chinese Taipei sashes

However, Chinese representatives were up to their usual mischief and decided that something had to be done! I guess they were paranoid that Miss Taiwan would win the event and receive world-wide attention, causing them to lose face on a global scale. As a result of Chinese pressure, Miss Universe contest authorities issued a tearful Ms Chen with a somewhat bizarre compromise – for all on-stage events, wear a “Chinese Taipei” sash instead; for any off-stage activities, away from the media, the Taiwan sash was permitted to make a return. Ms Chen posed in a famous photograph wearing both of the sashes, highlighting the hypocrisy of this decision.

As quoted in a Taipei Times report from 2003, a Beijing official in Panama City told the Panamanian media, “Beauty pageants are good activities, but we hate to see it when some people have their own axe to grind and exploit this opportunity to create ‘two Chinas’ or ‘one China, one Taiwan.'” The Taiwanese representative from the Miss Taiwan Pageant Association replied with their views: “… it is as clear as day who is polluting the beauty pageant with political obstruction and who is “grinding an axe”.

Ms Chen on stage with the Chinese Taipei sash

Ms Chen on stage with the Chinese Taipei sash

In the end it was the Dominican Republic contestant who prevailed, being crowned Miss Universe 2003 (indeed, neither Miss Taiwan/Chinese Taipei or Miss China made it into the top 15). One final footnote that I found interesting – Miss China apparently couldn’t speak a word of English and was forced to spend the whole pageant trailing Miss Taiwan around “like a shadow” – apparently even following her to the bathroom. Taiwan sent a representative to attend the 2014 Miss Universe contest in Ecuador, but since that year has not sent any more contestants to the event, which Wikipedia notes is due to “unknown reasons”.

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