Think Think and Ah Tsai
Think Think (Chinese: 想想; pinyin: Xiǎngxiǎng) and Ah Tsai (阿才; Ācái) are two cats belonging to the current President of Taiwan, Tsai Ing-wen. The former law professor was elected President on 16 January 2016, and assumed office on 20 May 2016. She is one of the first women elected to lead an Asian state without coming from a political dynasty, and the first to officially govern a Chinese-speaking nation since Empress Wu Zetian in the eighth century.
Think Think (beneath) and Ah Tsai (above)
|Residence||Official Residence of the President of the Republic of China, Taiwan|
History of the Presidential catsEdit
Think Think was adopted by Tsai in 2012, after being brought to her as a homeless kitten by Hsiao Bi-khim, a legislator in Taiwan's Democratic Progressive Party. Hsiao had found the kitten on a muddy road by a railway station near Hualien after Typhoon Saola. Ah Tsai (meaning 'talent') was a farm cat, and a gift from a friend during Tsai's presidential campaign.
Think Think and Ah Tsai featured as part of Tsai's election campaign in 2015 and 2016, with the press sometimes referring to her as 'Cat Woman'. During the campaign, Tsai's Facebook pages on cat-related topics received many more hits than pages discussing policy issues – with the rate of 'likes' being up to 50 percent higher.
A page showing Ah Tsai receiving a vaccination on World Animal Day was especially popular, with nearly 30,000 'likes' (as of October 2015). Her campaign team produced an animated film, Cat in a Paper Carton – Think Think; and the feline also appeared in Light up Taiwan, a book outlining Tsai's political views.
Tsai's love of cats is well-known among her supporters, and young people in particular are fans of the two cats. Her Chinese New Year video message in 2015 included a grey tabby cat trying to break free from her arms. As part of her campaign, Tsai and her cats were transformed into anime video characters. The animated cartoon was not in Mandarin, the language promoted by the ROC government for decades, but Taiwanese, a language which was once scorned by Tsai's opponents, the previously dominant Kuomintang (KMT).
After being sworn in as President, Tsai also announced plans to adopt three retired guide dogs once she moves into her official residence. The media in Taiwan have asked Tsai whether she anticipates any conflict with her cats, but she says that the dogs "are very well trained and they can definitely get along with the cats".
Other observers have attempted to draw parallels with Taiwan's political situation. Alex Lo, writing in Hong Kong's South China Morning Post, has suggested that Tsai's adoption of the dogs is a good sign for relations between Taiwan and Mainland China. He proposes that the Taiwanese are 'cat people', while the mainland Chinese are 'dog people' – citing a psychological study indicating cat lovers are 11 per cent more open to 'unusual ideas', while dog people are more 'conventional and traditional'. In Singapore, The Straits Times dismissed as media speculation any suggestion of a 'civil war' between Tsai's cats and dogs.
Tsai adopted the dogs in October 2016, and their names are Bella, Bunny and Maru. She signed their adoption papers at a ceremony organised by the Huikuang Guide Dog Foundation, where she vowed to improve the barrier-free environment for visually impaired people and their seeing-eye dogs.
Shortly after Tsai's election, she was criticised for being a single woman – and therefore 'emotional' and 'erratic' – in a newspaper article published by China's state news agency Xinhua. The article, written by Wang Weixing a military officer in the PLA, provoked an outcry for its sexist views, and was quickly withdrawn. On China's social media platform Sina Weibo, one commentator suggested that the Chinese leadership are "... probably threatened that a cat lady like Ms Tsai could beat any men she sets her mind to ...".
Taiwanese activist magazine New Bloom describes her as 'an unorthodox politician ... a female academic who loves cats and supports gay rights'. Gideon Rachman of the Financial Times observes that Tsai is one of two cat-lovers who have recently risen to power – the other being Jaroslaw Kaczynski, leader of Poland's ruling Law and Justice Party.
Feline culture in TaiwanEdit
Cats are generally popular as pets in Taiwan, with the cat population increasing rapidly in recent years. The world's first cat café, named "Cat Flower Garden", opened in Taipei in 1998, where there is also a luxurious "Cathy Hotel" especially for cats. The Taiwanese cat café concept spread to Japan, and later caught on in other countries around the world.
The Hello Kitty character is very popular, with the Taiwanese embracing Japan's kawaii, or 'cuteness', culture. The Economist suggests this is a way for the Taiwanese to '... define themselves as different from China – which lays claim to their island – by cleaving to Japan, their former coloniser'.
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