A British university is debating removing references on a map to Taiwan as an independent country following criticism from Chinese international students.

Last Tuesday, the London School of Economics (LSE) unveiled a large sculpture by artist Mark Wallinger called The World Turned Upside Down, depicting an upturned globe with the People’s Republic of China coloured yellow and Taiwan pink. Its capital, Taipei, was marked with a red square. According to the university, the piece was intended to reflect the institution’s “spirit of progressive enquiry.”

LSE Mark Wallinger
Mark Wallinger’s ‘The World Turned Upside Down’ on display at the London School of Economics.

A group of Chinese international students lodged a complaint with LSE. On Wednesday, a meeting was held between students and the university to discuss changing the colour of Taiwan from pink to yellow, to match that of China, removing the name “Republic of China (Taiwan),” and changing the red dot identifying Taipei to black, according to Taiwanese state-run Central News Agency.

Taiwanese backlash

Taiwanese LSE student Huang Li-an, who attended the university’s meeting, said that LSE had initially decided to base its decision off of guidelines set by the United Nations (UN). Taiwan, officially known as the Republic of China, was a member of the UN until 1971, after the General Assembly voted to recognise Beijing as China’s ruling government. Its most recent request for admission was denied in 2007.

“As I finished meeting with the director, the school will change the Sculpture to fit in the content of the UN published map. This means that Taiwan will once again be recognised as part of China, which doesn’t represent the reality,” Huang said, adding that he explained the country’s political situation in reference to UN publications multiple times.

petition launched by Taiwanese nationals in London urged the university to keep the map in its original form: “The decision of the LSE has ignored the fundamental fact that Taiwan and China are two distinct countries, with separate executive, legislative, judicial, economic, social and cultural systems,” it read. “We now also call upon every country, organisation and individual, including the LSE, who cares about freedom, democracy and human rights to stand with those who are threatened by China’s oppression and aggression, such as Taiwan.”

But a spokesperson for the university told HKFP that no change has been made yet: “The artwork as it currently stands does not reflect our understanding of United Nations delineations that it was due to represent,” they said. “We are currently consulting our community and considering amendments to the work. No final decisions have been reached.”

In a notice posted last Thursday next to the sculpture, LSE condemned any vandalism of the piece, saying: “We understand and respect that strong feelings exist around statehood and identity. LSE encourages respectful exchanges on these issues but criminal damage on LSE property is not acceptable.”

Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs told HKFP that it expressed its concern with LSE on Wednesday and appealed to university to keep the map in its original form.

In 2018, Chinese students made up 1,451 of LSE’s 8,161 international student intake – 487 of whom were undergraduates and 954 were graduates.

Correction April 12: An original version of the article stated the map had been amended. No change has taken place yet.

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jennifer creery

Jennifer Creery

Jennifer Creery is a Hong Kong-born British journalist, interested in minority rights and urban planning. She holds a BA in English at King's College London and has studied Mandarin at National Taiwan University.