In “Hamlet,” King Hamlet contemplates taking his father’s crown, and a flight of imagination sees him ultimately flying toward coronation.
In Taiwan, nine months ago a similar magic moment occurred aboard the first aircraft painted with the colors of the world’s most famous monarch.
Four years ago, as Chinese president Ma Ying-jeou was leaving office, he flew to Taiwan on the island’s first domestic Tupolev Tu-154. The jetliner painted with the Republic of China flag took off from Taoyuan International Airport for the island of Lianyungang. Farther south, the smoke from burning rubber from trucks on roads formed the ROC flag and the waves swelled from crowds at the docks in Lianyungang to the water in Chiah-Tai, where the Taiwanese flag flew. That flight launched a political campaign, but for local residents it could be the best thing that ever happened.
Every four years an election is held in Taiwan over who will become the new leader, and in politics, like in any sport, tradition counts for a lot. “The Tu-154 was a symbol of unity,” said Chen Lang-ha of the group Lianyungang Teee, which organized the celebrations of the occasion.
“People wanted to come to see Ma Ying-jeou, so they gathered in the squares and chanted his name and encouraged him on,” she added. “It was such a tradition and it is also a way of promoting the friendship between people on both sides of the Taiwan Strait.”
The flying Tu-154 was a carefully planned event because of the trouble caused by the previous president’s campaign campaign planes. During the 2008 election campaign the Chinese government put a temporary ban on Taiwanese air travel to restrict electioneering, so a Tu-154 filled with local supporters of Ma Ying-jeou touched down in Taoyuan to get off before the officials arrived. While the transport minister was there to greet Ma, the helicopter carrying Chinese president Hu Jintao overflew the plane and flew over it in flames, and Taiwan’s investors were left burned after their return was cancelled.
Local business interests along the runway put out a blaze, and the local fire department could no longer contain the blaze. Taiwan’s public broadcaster TVBS broadcast audio of the concert orchestra playing in the air. The Chinese then refused to resume Taiwan-bound travel and tensions grew, so when Taiwan was embroiled in a damaging diplomatic row with Beijing the following year, the then president, Ma Ying-jeou, decided a simple plane flight would be the first step towards returning to good relations.
Little was known about his campaign plane. The late Ma Ying-jeou had ordered it from Germany, and the fourth and last mission of the Tu-154 that took him to Taiwan carried his name tag on the door.