News, Newsletter — July 29, 2015 at 11:40 am

How Katy Perry’s dress brought Taiwan to tears and drew the ire of the Chinese Communist Party


Katy Perry has always know how to create a spectacle on stage but it seems this time, she’s stolen the limelight for all the wrong reasons.

The American pop star made headlines as she adorned herself in Taipei’s flag and dressed in a glittery dress covered in sunflowers, a flower that just happens to be the emblem of Taiwan’s student led anti China protests in 2014.


The ‘Sunflower movement’ as it became know as comprised of ten of thousands of people occupying the country’s legislature and the surrounding areas in protest of proposed deal with mainland China. The  protests lasted several weeks and even involved the occupation of parliament by dozens of students. The movement is the latest chapter in a long running narrative whereby many Taiwanese consider themselves an independent nation state, in opposition to China’s position that Taiwan is merely a renegade province.


The choice of clothing and especially the flag hit close to home for many in the audience, even bringing some to tears. Many expressed their gratitude to Perry for bringing the spotlight onto Taiwan’s quest for independence.

twitter katyOf course it is entirely possible that Perry’s choice of attire was not intended to stir up controversy. In fact, it seems more than likely. She was quoted as saying “I don’t even know how to speak Mandarin. That’s what you speak, right?” on a video posted to Youku. This hardly seems aligned with someone using symbolism and vitriolic fervor to stir up revolutionary ideas in a contested territory dispute. Perry has previously performed in Guangzhou and Shanghai wearing the same dress according to The Shanghaiist and had previously performed with a sunflower shaped microphone since a least June last year with backup dancers dressed as sunflowers. On it’s own, the sunflower imagery could have been seen as purely coincidental but it was the wearing of the flag that really stirred up controversy. So why did she do it?


Well according to some at the show, it was not a calculated decision to make a political statement – the flag was merely handed to  Perry by the crowd. A Weibo user made his thoughts on the matter clear. “I don’t think Katy Perry knows the controversy behind carrying the Taiwanese flag, but whoever passed her the flag is disgusting to have dragged her into politics. Are you a real fan?”


In any case, the story didn’t have much opportunity to spill across the Taiwan Straight as any mentions of the event were quickly censored in mainland China according to Taiwanese news site The Epoch Times. Whilst in much of the rest of the world, the performance was dominated by imagery of Perry wearing the flag and sunflower dress, in China, the focal point of the story was that the 30 year old turned up two hours late to the performance.

Beijing has shown to be incredibly strong handed in regards to performers that comment on local politics. Celebrities showing support in the “Occupy Central” movement in Hong Kong were banned from performing on the mainland and Kenny G quickly pulled a photo of himself displaying a victory sign in front of the occupy movement when it drew criticism from the communist party last year. Any challenges to its authority has led the Chinese government to ban artists that are considered a threat to ‘national sovereignty’ meaning that Perry may no longer be welcome to perform on mainland China.


With a growing middle class and an increasing appetite for Western pop music, China has been identified as a key market for album sales and concerts. Many pop stars have made attempts to break into the market and within a few short months, Perry has managed to amass half a million followers on micro blogging site Weibo. An inability to have future performances on the mainland could easily derail plans to establish a presence in the area though.