A meme poking fun at China created by Taiwan's Foreign Affairs Ministry went viral on Facebook this week, as nearly 2,000 accounts shared the March 25 post.
The meme shows a cartoon Formosan black bear contemplating studying abroad in "West Taiwan" – a reference to China – before choosing to study in Taiwan. In the Chinese text, China is referred to as "mouth country," a reference to China's strict censorship, local media reported.
In February, Chinese film censors reportedly used the word "mouth" in lieu of the word "kill" in the subtitles of the American TV show Hannibal, according to Taiwan News and screenshots shared on the Chinese social media platform Sina Weibo.
The meme resembles two famous photos of Canadian hip hop musical artist Drake looking troubled and elated that have inspired hundreds, if not thousands, of internet posts since 2015. Paired together, the meme typically shows "Drake" rejecting one idea on the left side of the frame and then supporting a second and contrasting idea on the right.
China claims Taiwan as a province and has used its influence to force companies and governments to refer to the island as "Taiwan, Province of China" or "Chinese Taipei." Taiwanese on occasion may flip this distinction to make fun of China, referring to it as "Taiwanese Beiijng" or in this case, "West Taiwan."
The meme accompanied a post about scholarships available to American students interested in studying in Taiwan, including a new scholarship from the U.S. State Department and the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship program.
The post was met with a mixture of reactions by Facebook users, from appreciation to questions about whether the meme was too immature. Some users also debated whether Taiwan is a "country," which is not an uncommon reaction on prominent social media posts about the island.
Humor is not a surprising move for Taiwan's government, which courts younger users on platforms like Facebook and Instagram with less formal posts, said Kathy Cheng, whose writes about Taiwanese culture on her blog Tricky Taipei.
"The [Ministry of Foreign Affairs] team is known to use social media strategically to get their messages across. They have a lot more leeway to be creative and take risks with memes on Facebook and Instagram. It's not the case with Twitter," she said.
"On Twitter, they stick closely to straight diplomatic communications in English. Whereas on Facebook and Instagram — where their audiences are younger Taiwanese demographic — they can respond to trending topics and use humor to connect with people."
Many of Taiwan's government ministries also make use of mascots and social media "stickers" on messaging apps like LINE to promote their campaigns. Besides the Formosan black bear, one of Taiwan's most popular characters is the Shiba Inu "Zongchai," who was created by Taiwan's health authorities in 2020 to advertise COVID-19 news.