Chou Tzu-yu (born June 14, 1999), known mononymously as Tzuyu, is a Taiwanese singer based in South Korea and a member of the K-pop girl group Twice, under JYP Entertainment.
In 2015, a televised appearance in South Korea in which she was shown holding the flag of the Republic of China sparked controversy in China. A video of Tzuyu apologizing for the incident, subsequently released by JYP Entertainment on January 15, 2016, sparked further outrage in Taiwan.
Chou Tzu-yu was born in Tainan, Taiwan, on June 14, 1999, to parents of self-made entrepreneurs. In 2012, she was discovered by talent scouts at the MUSE Performing Arts Workshop in Tainan, and moved to South Korea on November 15 that year to start her training. After more than two years of training, she appeared on the South Korean reality show Sixteen in 2015, during which she was chosen as one of the nine members of the new girl band Twice. The group made its debut in October 2015. According to a Gallup Korea survey, she was the third most popular idol among young South Koreans in 2016, behind Taeyeon and IU.
In 2016, Tzuyu passed an exam at Tainan Municipal Fusing Junior High School to certify her middle school education. She then attended high school at Hanlim Multi Art School in South Korea and graduated in February 2019.
In November 2015, Tzuyu appeared with Twice on the Korean variety show My Little Television. She introduced herself as Taiwanese and held the flag of the Republic of China alongside that of South Korea. The Japanese flag was also shown, representing the nationality of some of the band’s other members.
The Taiwanese-born, China-based singer Huang An took to his Sina Weibo account and accused her of being a Taiwanese independence activist. Just days before calling attention to Tzuyu, Huang had accused Hong Kong actor Wong He of making insulting comments about mainland China on Facebook. Wong’s face was subsequently blurred out on China’s state run China Central Television, and Wong issued an apology.
Mainland Chinese internet users reacted angrily towards Tzuyu’s actions, accusing her of “profiting from her mainland Chinese audience while holding a pro-independence stance”. Soon after, Twice was barred from Chinese television and Tzuyu was pulled out of her endorsement with Chinese communications company Huawei. JYP Entertainment suspended all her activities in China for the time.
On January 15, 2016, the day before the Taiwanese general election, JYP Entertainment’s founder Park Jin-young apologised to the Chinese media through his Weibo account. Meanwhile, the agency also released a video showing Tzuyu reading an apology, which said in part:
With many alleging that it was made under duress, Chou’s apology sparked a furore among the Taiwanese public on election day. The three candidates running for Taiwan’s presidency all released statements to support her. The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) candidate Tsai Ing-wen stated that “a citizen of the Republic of China should not be punished for waving her flag and expressing support for her country. [Chou Tzuyu] has been forced to say the exact opposite of what she originally meant, so this is a serious matter and it has hurt the feelings of the Taiwanese people.” Meanwhile, the ruling party Kuomintang’s candidate Eric Chu disapproved of the hate directed at Chou, stating that he was saddened by the video, and condemned the actions of Huang An and JYP Entertainment. Taiwan’s outgoing president Ma Ying-jeou stated on the morning of election day that she had no need to apologise.
Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) stated that it supported Chou’s waving a Republic of China flag as a patriotic act. It lodged a protest with the mainland’s Taiwan Affairs Office (TAO), urging the Chinese government to “restrain its private sector”, which it said had “seriously hurt the feelings” of the Taiwanese people and might further damage Cross-Strait relations. It condemned Huang An’s move, and urged people on both sides of the strait “to cherish the hard-earned friendly ties”.
The People’s Daily, the mouthpiece of the Communist Party of China, published an article on its social media account saying that it was unfair to label Chou a “Taiwanese separatist” for waving a flag of the Republic of China, adding that “The expression of the Republic of China contains the ‘one China’ principle”.
JYP Entertainment said that, because Chou was under 18, the company had sought the consent of her parents before she made the video apology. They further stated, “An individual’s belief is not something that a company can or should force upon another, and this has never happened.”
The incident gained international attention as it was believed to have affected the 2016 Taiwanese general election, which Tsai Ing-wen won by a wide margin. While Tsai and her pro-independence DPP were already leading the polls months before the election, a survey found that Chou’s video apology affected the decision of about 1.34 million young voters, either by swaying them to vote or change their votes. Scholars believe that the incident probably contributed one or two percentage points to Tsai’s winning margin. Tsai mentioned the incident in her victory speech, saying that it had “angered many Taiwanese people, regardless of their political affiliation” and would “serve as a constant reminder [to her] about the importance of [Taiwan]’s strength and unity to those outside our borders.”
Chou’s apology video prompted Taiwanese backlash against instigator Huang An. Among other responses by Taiwanese media, a popular Taiwanese television program cancelled Huang’s upcoming appearance, while a karaoke chain permanently removed his discography from its playlists. Over 10,000 angered Taiwanese citizens pledged to attend a street rally in criticism of Huang on January 24, 2016. However, the rally was cancelled to prevent the event from being politically exploited or negatively impacting Chou.
Taiwanese human rights lawyer George Wang (王可富) filed lawsuits with the Taipei District Prosecutors Office against Huang An and JYPE following the apology video’s release. Wang cited that Huang’s actions likely violated the Criminal Code and that combined psychological pressure from Huang and the agency impeded Chou’s autonomy and impelled her to do something she was not required to do.
Huang announced on his Weibo account that he would hold a press conference on February 3, 2016, in Taiwan to discuss his side of the story, claiming that he was not the wrongdoer and crediting himself with the incident’s impact on the Taiwanese election. Shortly after, Huang wiped all self-generated posts from his Weibo account, amounting to roughly 4,900 messages and photos.
On the Monday after the video’s release, JYP Entertainment shares on the KOSDAQ fell from a 52-week high of KR₩6,300+ to ₩4,000, ultimately closing at ₩4,300.
In addition to George Wang’s lawsuit, the Center for Multicultural Korea also questioned the company’s ethics. The Center will conduct an investigation to determine if Chou’s apology was coerced or voluntary and plans to sue Park Jin-young and JYP Entertainment for racial discrimination and human rights violation if the action is found to have been forced.
The day after Chou’s apology, anonymous hackers executed what appeared to be a distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack on the JYP Entertainment site. JYP Entertainment stated that while the identity and origin of the hackers would be almost impossible to trace, they suspected a strong connection between the attack and the controversy surrounding Chou. Korean media outlets contend that a certain Taiwanese hacking group implemented the attack after the group claimed credit on social media.
In response to criticism, JYP Entertainment announced that it would be adopting new procedures concerning its exports and overseas activities in order to protect employees from future controversies. This included the implementation of cultural sensitivity training for its artists and staff members. In an interview with The Korea Times, a JYP representative stated that the training would include issues pertaining to political conflicts between countries.