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LA Rams Marketing Plan For China Troubles Local Taiwanese Americans

A close-up of a printed sign of an NFL map that reads "Not A Fan of THIS map" accompanied by the abbreviation "WTF."
A Taiwanese American football fan holds a sign he made to show his dismay with an NFL map that appears to show Taiwan as part of China
(Courtesy Ken Wu)
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Taiwanese immigrant Paul Chen is pretty used to corporations treating his home country as part of China. While Chen, not to mention most islanders, see Taiwan as a self-ruled democracy independent of China, the mainland treats it as a renegade province — and most brands have fallen into line to penetrate one of the world’s most lucrative markets.

Those deemed as falling short of recognizing the “One China” policy have been pressured into apologizing to Chinese consumers, as luxury brands Coach and Givenchy did for T-shirt designs that indicated Taiwan is a country.

Pro wrestler and actor John Cena repeatedly made a mea culpa to Chinese fans in Mandarin for referring to Taiwan as a country while promoting the latest “Fast and Furious” movie earlier this year.

But Chen, who heads the Taiwan Center Foundation in Rosemead, felt a special pain when his local football team appeared to bend to China’s assertion that Taiwan is not a sovereign state.

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The NFL this month announced it had given the L.A. Rams exclusive marketing rights in China and Australia, while other teams were awarded smaller international markets or had to share countries.

The new strategy was accompanied by a map that shaded China red — and Taiwan along with it.

“We expect that the Rams organization would know better,” said Chen, noting that SoCal’s Taiwanese diaspora is the biggest in the country, estimated to be at least a quarter-million strong. (Nationally, the estimate may hover around 700,000.)

Chen said he and other Taiwanese American organizations are calling on the NFL to apologize for “this oversight or mistake” and to revise its marketing map accordingly.

"We grew up knowing that Taiwan has never been under the rule of Communist China," said Chen, who emigrated from Taiwan to Southern California when he was in junior high. "So all this needs to clear up."

What does the U.S. government stand on all this? It shares "strong, unofficial relations" with Taiwan and supports it militarily, but says it does not back its independence.

Those that support Taiwanese independence say the island is not only politically, but also culturally, distinct from China. And, practically speaking, marketing to both doesn’t make sense as Taiwan uses traditional characters while simplified script is the standard in China, Chen said.

The Taiwan-China controversy has been roiling the sports world of late, as tensions have risen in the Taiwan Strait.

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Taiwan’s president Tsai Ing-wen thanked Enes Kanter Freedom of the Boston Celtics after the center, an outspoken critic of human rights abuses in China and his native Turkey, said in a video clip that “Taiwan is not part of China.” Freedom has also lambasted former NBA player Jeremy Lin for playing in the Chinese Basketball Association and said he should “Stand with Taiwan!”

Then there's the long-standing controversy of Taiwanese athletes only allowed to compete under the banner of Chinese Taipei. Broadcasters earned the ire of China after calling the team Taiwan during last summer's games in Tokyo.

A masked Asian American man holds a printed sign that reads "Not a Fan of this map' and "Taiwan is not China."
Taiwanese American football fan Ken Wu showed his dismay with the NFL marketing map by bringing a sign to a recent game
(Courtesy Ken Wu)

Chen said Taiwanese Americans upset about the NFL map have said their piece and have not called for a boycott of the league or the Rams.

But that doesn’t mean they’ll stop making their grievances known. At a Dec. 21 Seattle Seahawks-Rams game at SoFi Stadium, one Taiwanese American football fan, Ken Wu, waved a sign reproducing the NFL map with the additional abbreviation of “WTF.”

Neither the NFL nor the Rams responded to requests for comment.

Have a question about Southern California's Asian American communities?
Josie Huang reports on the intersection of being Asian and American and the impact of those growing communities in Southern California.

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