From ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ Controversy to Taiwanese Identity

From ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ Controversy to Taiwanese Identity
Photo Credit: IMDb

What you need to know

How did Tom Cruise's jacket in "Top Gun: Maverick" spark a global controversy over Taiwan?

By Ross Feingold and Zoy Ku

Following the release of the second trailer of Top Gun: Maverick, the controversy over Tom Cruise’s jacket might resurface. Cruise’s character, Captain Maverick, had four patches on the back of his jacket, including the Republic of China (ROC) flag and the Japanese flag in the original film. But fans noticed the patches were replaced in the new trailer.

Twitter users and international media reports said the flags were likely removed because of the investment made by China’s Tencent. The disappearance of the two flags was seen as an act of censorship to avoid offending the Chinese audience. This theory can certainly be true. However, the ROC flag could also have been removed simply because it is a flag that older Americans might recognize from World War II or Cold War events, but not the current audiences.

Discussions of the Top Gun controversy also spread to media stories that incorrectly referred to the ROC flag as the “Taiwanese flag.” On the Top Gun: Maverick Wikipedia page, the section about the censorship controversy has undergone multiple revisions, implying that its neutrality is disputed.

For those who believe that Taiwan is part of the Republic of China (as opposed to the People’s Republic of China), this flag is not the "Taiwanese flag" but the ROC flag. And for those who believe with equal passion that the ROC flag represents a foreign political entity that asserted sovereignty over Taiwan and Penghu without legal basis after WWII, it is also certainly not the “Taiwanese flag.” In fact, those who seek to establish a new country with a new constitution have proposed designs for (but never actualized) what would be a Taiwanese flag that can truly represent Taiwan.

Even the meaning of the English word “Taiwanese” can be disputed. In the past, the word “Taiwanese” usually referred specifically to people whose families migrated to Taiwan centuries earlier, as distinguished from the “mainlanders” who arrived in Taiwan with the ROC government's retreat from China in 1949. Some might even argue that Taiwan’s aboriginals are the only persons qualified to be called “Taiwanese,” given that the aboriginals predate the arrival of migrants from China by thousands of years. To further complicate the issue, the word “Taiwan” appears to be based on European colonists’ ethnonym for the Taivoan, an indigenous group in southern Taiwan. The name “Taiwan” then made its way into the Hokkien dialect and later Mandarin and English.

國會政黨聯盟黨慶 現場國旗飄揚
Photo Credit: CNA
The Republic of China flag has three elements: “Blue Sky, White Sun, Blood-Drenched Earth” (青天白日滿地紅).

This subject can be confusing both for people in Taiwan as well as persons outside Taiwan. Politicians in Taiwan are not making it any easier as they ambiguously position themselves as neither pro-ROC nor pro-independence while they seek to win January’s election. Thus, some government officials have created new ways to describe the country’s name, depending on which audience the message is intended for. Variations include the Republic of China on Taiwan, the Republic of China (Taiwan), and the Republic of China Taiwan.

It is historically and factually inaccurate to describe, in English, the ROC’s “Blue Sky, White Sun, Blood-Drenched Earth” (青天白日滿地紅) flag as the “Taiwanese flag.” Such errors are not helpful to solidifying the international status of the Republic of China or a future Taiwan Republic. The first step to establishing a consistent Taiwanese identity should be a consensus across Taiwan’s political spectrum about which title and flag Taiwan should use for national representation. Ideally, when the message is clear, non-Mandarin speakers outside of Taiwan can also better understand such an identity.

Ross Darrell Feingold (@RossFeingold) is a Taiwan-based lawyer, political analyst and host of the Taiwan Hashtag program, an English language commentary about current events in Taiwan. He previously served as the Asia Chairman of Republicans Abroad.

Zoy Ku is a writer who grew up in Taiwan and now resides in Europe.


The News Lens has been authorized to publish a translated and updated version of this Mandarin-language commentary from SET News.

TNL Editor: Daphne K. Lee (@thenewslensintl)

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