By Assunta Ng
Politics is about punching the enemy when he is not expecting it. At the Chinatown parade last Sunday, the “punch” was actually a small, but very controversial, flag.
For the first time in the parade’s 50-year history, its organizer, the Seattle Chinese Chamber of Commerce, invited China’s Consul General Gao Zhansheng of San Francisco, to be a part of the parade.
Traditionally, Taiwan officials are represented in the parade. Upon learning that the Chinese consul general would show up, Taiwan’s director general Daniel Liao excused himself from participating.
Instead, he sent his deputy director general Sam Peng.
To diffuse tension and prevent any unforeseen conflicts, Dennis Su, the event co-chair, introduced Gao to Peng at a restaurant prior to the parade. “They were friendly towards each other,” said Su.
“They even shook each other’s hands.”
But Peng surprised many Chinese Americans, including Su, when he waved Taiwan’s flag of the Republic of China during his ride in the parade. In the past, no Taiwan officials has held a flag during the Chinatown parade. Peng’s deliberate act would draw attention to the controversial “two-China” policy. The U.S. government has a one-China policy, that the People’s Republic of China is the sole government of China.
Gao was in the first part of the parade, so he was unaware that Peng, who was behind several other groups, would carry a Taiwan flag.
Designed with fanfare, Gao’s entry was accompanied by more than 200 dancers and participants in colorful costumes, reflecting the diverse minority groups of China. He and his group released white pigeons to symbolize goodwill and friendship toward the Seattle Chinese community. As he stepped out from the BMW at the end of the parade and approached the stand, Peng had just arrived and waved the flag at the people watching. Gao was furious and avoided the stand until Peng passed.
A few people who saw this said in Chinese, “Put that flag down.”
“This event should not be about politics,” said Gao in a brief interview later. “We all came to showcase Chinese culture. They should not do this kind of petty act. I was very unhappy when they did that. Look, I didn’t bring any flags myself. We are the legitimate government recognized by the U.S. government.” It should be noted that one of the groups that followed Gao did raise a big China flag.
“I was surprised that Peng still did such a petty act,” said Su. “But then, I was also not surprised because it’s Peng’s job,” to irk the Chinese side. “And it’s Gao’s job to show his anger towards this incident.”
“This is a free country. There’s not much I can do,” added Su.
Contrary to the Chinese–Taiwan officials who tried to outdo each other, the local politicians who walked in the parade didn’t bring fancy cars, tricks, or any surprises. They walked on foot to meet and greet.
Each of the 10 political candidates who participated in the parade paid the $100 entry fee. Aside from four Seattle City Councilmembers campaigning at the parade, the most notable rivals were the gubernatorial candidates Attorney General Rob McKenna, a Republican, and Congressman Jay Inslee, a Democrat.
Both brought their Asian American supporters along.
Melanie Brown, who is white, was sitting on South Jackson Street and missed the political China–Taiwan drama on South King Street. The Chinatown parade has been her favorite parade for the past 15 years.
“I love the color and diversity of the groups.”
Su said this was the biggest turnout, with more than 10,000 people attending, since he chaired the event nine years ago. The success of the parade is determined by the number of groups participating, which in turn lead more friends and families to come to Chinatown. And this year, there were more than 70 groups, an increase of 12 percent from 2010.
If you watched the Chinatown parade for the first time, you would be amazed by its diversity. “For a second, I thought this was Harlem,” said my Canadian friend.
“There are so many Black attendees.”
Florida Daniels, 91, an African American, said she has enjoyed the parade for almost half a century. The Chinese Drill Team and the Chinese dragon delighted her immensely.
Perhaps the only negative was a fight that broke out toward the last part of the parade at Seventh Avenue and South Jackson Street. Su said three policemen quickly jumped on it and controlled the crowd in seconds. No one was hurt. But it delayed the last few groups joining the procession. ♦