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How do people in China view this weekend's democratic election in Taiwan?

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Taiwan votes for a new president Saturday. The government in Beijing on the mainland considers the island a part of China and that government is watching very closely. What about the people of mainland China? Here's NPR's John Ruwitch.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

JOHN RUWITCH, BYLINE: In Taiwan last year, a Netflix series called "Wave Makers" made a splash.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "WAVE MAKERS")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (Non-English language spoken).

RUWITCH: The show focuses on a fictional presidential campaign in Taiwan and the issue of sexual harassment. It gave the #MeToo movement there a big boost. In China, there is no Netflix, but many here have found ways to watch the show and have been impressed by what it depicts.

MARY: (Non-English language spoken).

RUWITCH: Mary is a mother of two living in the city of Wuhan. Like others we spoke to in China for this story, she did so on the condition that we don't use her full Chinese name because the topic of Taiwan is so sensitive.

MARY: (Non-English language spoken).

RUWITCH: She says she envies people on the self-ruled island.

MARY: (Through interpreter) They can participate in elections and fight for their own rights, things like that.

RUWITCH: In one of the show's most widely quoted lines, a senior party member offers support to a staffer.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "WAVE MAKERS")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (Non-English language spoken).

RUWITCH: "Let's not just let this go, OK?" She says, encouraging her to push for justice in the face of sexual harassment. But a high school junior in China named Hannah, who we talked with, likes that line for another reason.

HANNAH: (Through interpreter) For me, it's encouragement to not give up hope for a democratized China.

RUWITCH: The whole show, she says, is inspiring in that regard.

HANNAH: (Through interpreter) When I hear the language that I use every day to openly and honestly talk about things like the presidency, democracy and ballots, it's really intriguing. And I feel like actually, we could do this here, too.

RUWITCH: China's government has different plans. It's refused to renounce the use of force to seize Taiwan, if necessary. This week, a Chinese rocket carrying a satellite flew over Southern Taiwan, triggering jitters just days before the vote. There are no reliable polls, but many in China are no doubt on board with the notion that Taiwan needs to be brought back into the fold and that elections probably don't help. In a random sampling of people on the street in Beijing, though, it's not hard to find people like Jackie, a freshman at one of the country's top universities.

JACKIE: (Through interpreter) It has almost no impact on my life. It's just something we might chat about after a meal or something.

RUWITCH: At a kebab restaurant nearby, NPR met two guys named Bob and Alex. They're math majors in college. They say they just don't have time to pay much attention to the election.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Through interpreter) I don't really know anything about the two parties this year, so naturally, I don't have any expectations.

RUWITCH: The topic doesn't come up with friends, either, even those from Taiwan, the two men say.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Through interpreter) I have a lot of Taiwanese friends, and we just don't talk about sensitive topics. We all think it's annoying and don't want it to affect our friendship.

RUWITCH: Still, others are quietly thinking about the election. In a tiny bookstore in Beijing, Hui Ye says she thinks it's good that Taiwan has democratic elections, and she's interested. She likes Taiwan's Democratic Progressive Party, whose candidate, current vice president William Lai, is loathed by the Chinese government.

HUI YE: (Through interpreter) The current ruling party, I think they're good. They stick to their principles. They stick to their democratic values.

RUWITCH: Taiwan, she says, seems like a more open and tolerant society. And she says she hopes one day, the mainland can be more like Taiwan.

John Ruwitch, NPR News, Beijing.

(SOUNDBITE OF STEV'S "WHILE YOU'RE FADING") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

John Ruwitch is a correspondent with NPR's international desk. He covers Chinese affairs.