In its latest bid to convince Taiwanese that they are birds of the same feather, China is making a national celebrity out of a wounded homing pigeon that supposedly flew across the Taiwan Strait to the mainland.
Since its historic flight in January, the bird has been nursed back to health after an unusual 90-minute operation. It has been photographed in finest plumage for the front pages of China's national newspapers. It even has been provided a choice mainland mate in a "wedding ceremony" complete with the traditional "double happiness" characters that signify marital bliss.
"This Taiwan pigeon would have been so lonely in Peking during the Lantern Festival that it was given a wife to assure a happy holiday," wrote a Chinese reporter who attended the extraordinary rite.
Communist officials here are using the winged creature as their latest political symbol to further the cause of reunification of Taiwan with the mainland.
Peking has been appealing to the nesting instincts of Taiwan's estranged leaders for four years, offering everything from postal links to power-sharing as inducements to get reunification talks started. Nationalist officials who set up a capitalist government on the small island 33 years ago reject the overtures as "sugar-coated poison."
Undaunted, the Communists keep trying to smooth the feathers of their opposition with symbolic gestures.
The soft sell portrays Peking's regime as being more Chinese than Marxist. This is attempted with sentimental radio broadcasts urging family reunions. Traditional holidays like Lantern Festival are now allowed to flourish in full pageantry. There even have been direct appeals to the relatives of nationalist hero Chiang Kai-shek to visit their ancestral tombs.
The pigeon publicity is the most recent example of Peking's attempted coo.
The marbled-gray bird was discovered by workers Jan. 23 in a Tianjin warehouse about 90 miles from Peking. According to press accounts, one leg was ringed by a red-and-white tag inscribed: "Taiwan pigeon of the city of Jiaya."
The workers immediately realized they had found a VIP--Very Important Pigeon--that had been downed by a gunshot wound in the belly. They brought it to a hospital for emergency surgery.
By the Chinese New Year, Feb. 13, the bird had recovered sufficiently for presentation to the Central Committee of the Revolutionary Nationalist Party, a nominal political organization composed of old nationalists who did not flee to Taiwan in 1949.
Finally the Carrier Pigeon Association of Peking, after what was described as a "painstaking search," located a mate for the VIP.
The lovebirds were joined in matrimony on Lantern Festival Day, Feb. 27, a holiday for family reunions. They were placed together in a fine cage called "the bridal chamber" and were said to be "playing happily."
"Comrades of the Carrier Pigeon Association say they will nurture the pigeon and will certainly give it back with all its offspring once the Taiwan owner comes for it," said the Peking Evening News.
Taipei thus far has remained silent, but its top officials have previously cited Mao Tse-tung's warning to another kind of bird: "When the fox seems friendly, put another lock on the chicken house."