A VISIT to China or Taiwan can often spell trouble for celebrities.
The latest to get into hot water is Taiwanese pop diva Chang Huei-mei.
She had been invited by Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian to sing the country's national anthem at his inaugural ceremony a Saturday ago.That upset China, and she has been banned from the mainland for three years. The authorities have also demanded that her advertisements in newspapers, billboards and television for the soft drink, Sprite, be withdrawn.
What exactly is all the fuss about?
Unlike as in, say, the US, politics and showbusiness aren't exactly bedfellows in Asia. Dr Hao Xiao Ming, a journalism lecturer at the School of Communication Studies at Nanyang Technological University, could not agree more.
"They have different functions in society and serve different purposes," he said.
So why are China and Taiwan not observing the rules?
Besides A-mei, singers like Andy Lau, Anita Mui, Eric Moo and the late Teresa Teng have each faced a ban from either country at one time or the other. (See other report.)
Political analysts here say that it's all a game.
"China will make use of every chance to convey the message that it doesn't want people to support Chen Shui-bian and his government," said Mr Liang Dong Ping, correspondent for Taiwanese newspaper China Times.
This animosity goes back 51 years, when Taiwan split from China during a civil war.
While China maintains its "one-China" policy of reunification, Taiwan has been trying China's patience by campaigning for "Taiwan rules its own".
Mr Liang has his own theory, though.
"China's top priority now is to develop its economy. Yet, it still has to keep an eye on Taiwan because the minute they declare independence, China will be forced to attack."
So, warnings have to be flashed occasionally, and A-mei was used as one of these signals.
She was pinned down as openly supporting the Taiwan President. Funnily, though, the national anthem she sang was composed on the mainland before the split and is seen as a symbol of unity.
No wonder then, that some think China is overreacting.
Dr Zheng Yong Nian, Senior Fellow of the East Asia Institute at the National University of Singapore, said that it was a "bad decision".
"The mainland government is too political. They are not so smart. They never thought about the consequences, or the impact of their actions on overseas Chinese.
"Lots of overseas Chinese don't care about politics, be it independence or reunification. They just like to hear Chang Huei-mei sing.
"If I were A-mei's fan, I'd have a bad impression of China," he said, adding that he is not her fan.
But all is not lost, as the ban isn't permanent.
Dr Hao likened A-mei's predicament to the late singer Teresa Teng, who was banned in China in the 1980s because she sang for the nationalist troops in Taiwan.
Even though the official media stopped featuring her, her fans rushed to get her tapes from the black market.
Ironically, while the issue was making headlines, A-mei was filming her fourth advertisement for Sprite in Australia.
She could not be contacted but when she returned to Taiwan on Friday, she said she was puzzled by China's actions.
"We have all sung our national anthem before. I have never taken part in any political activities before. It was such a simple thing.
"This may have been a misunderstanding. I hope it will end soon," she said, smiling.
A-mei is only an artiste, and she has no political stand. It's so petty for China to take action against an artiste. - Mr Liang, correspondent for Taiwanese newspaper China Times
OTHER 'BLACKLISTED' STARS
* Wu Bai THE Taiwanese rocker was barred from attending an MTV music award ceremony in Beijing after performing at the same concert as Chang Huei Mei to celebrate Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian's inauguration.
* Andy Lau RECENTLY, the Hongkong Heavenly King was banned in China from learning the "change of face" opera performance technique by the Sichuan provincial cultural department.
Reason: The trick was deemed a trade secret.
And in 1996, a Taiwanese TV station said "no" to Andy appearing on its variety show as he had earlier failed to turn up at the inauguration of former Taiwanese President Lee Teng-hui.
He was invited by the Chinese authorities to perform along with the other Heavenly Kings, Jacky Cheung, Leon Lai and Aaron Kwok, but none showed up.
The authorities threatened to ban them, but later retracted the statement.
* Eric Moo & Mavis Hee IN 1998, both singers were reportedly denied entrance into Taiwan as they had violated regulations governing performances by foreign artistes.
Eric was later barred from entering Taiwan for five years, even though both their record companies stressed that they had the relevant work permits.
* Ronald Cheng THE Hongkong singer's first English song was banned in China in 1998.
Called Broken China, it actually referred to porcelain and the brittleness of love, not the country.
* Anita Mui The Hongkong diva's 80s hit song, Bad Girl, was banned in Guangzhou.
She had infuriated the Chinese authorities when she chose to sing the song on the last day of her concert there in 1995.
* Teresa Teng TERESA Teng's ballads were labelled "spiritual pollution" and banned in China in the early 80s.
This article was first published in The Straits Times on May 29, 2000.
Read more stories this weekend in our special: Is China too thin-skinned?