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Friday, April 13, 2012

China compared to Taiwan

China and Taiwan through the eyes of a British girl and my commentary

Today I chanced upon an interesting blog written by a British national, a female globetrotter, who permanently travels around the world. Among other countries, she spent some time in Taiwan and in China and the experience she had in these two could not be more different. While in Taiwan, random people helped her, a girl she knew from online took leave just to bring her to Sun Moon Lake and paid for her food and transportation, while in China she was scammed, pestered by local tourists and spat at. Are you surprised? Check some excerpts from her posts below:

1 Taiwan experience

"I soon discovered that she’d [Lia, a girl she knew from Twitter] actually taken the day off work just so that she could spend the day hanging out with me." [...]

"During our day together Lia showed me all of her favourite shops and places to eat that I definitely wouldn’t have discovered if I’d been walking around alone. We went for lunch and Lia insisted on paying for everything..." [...]

"A while later I discovered that Lia had phoned her boss to book the following day off work too – just so that she could take me to Sun Moon Lake herself."

"...she had also arranged for her Mum to drive us there and spend the day driving us around whilst we explored the area." [...]

"Her Mum insisted on buying me lunch as well as paying for us both to take an amazing cable car ride over the lake and nearby mountains."

"As I said goodbye to Lia and her Mum they handed me a present they’d secretly bought without me noticing – a small keyring with my name on it in Chinese characters."

"Wherever I went in Taiwan, I experienced people approaching me just to say hello and see where I was from. At any time where I was walking around completely lost with a map, people would come up to me to see where I needed to go – and if they couldn’t explain in English how to get there they would take me there themselves. I was invited to my hostel owner’s grandmother’s house one evening to celebrate the Mid-Autumn festival, so that I wouldn’t be alone." [...]
• From the post: Taiwan has the friendliest people in the world

2 China experience

A very graphic screen cap from the blog. Is this really true?

"Within the first few days I was scammed [...] after two weeks of pure torture I couldn’t take any more and booked my flight out for the very next day." [...]

"I spent three hours lugging my backpack around in Xi’an on a ridiculously humid day, desperately trying to find my hostel [...], when I was suddenly bombarded by a coach load of camera-wielding Chinese tourists who immediately began squealing manically."

"I was completely surrounded within seconds and couldn’t break free from the crowd." [...]

"I JUST WANT TO FIND MY HOSTEL, THAT IS ALL I WANT!" I shrieked at the woman who was busy arranging approximately 24 children around me in a circle. [...]

"From that moment forward I started to go insane. I bought a huge pair of sunglasses and would walk around hiding my face in a magazine." [...]

"In China it is not considered rude to spit in public, and so they do it everywhere." [...]

"One time, I got back to my hostel to find that somebody had spat in my hair." [...]

"Within days of arriving in China I was struck down by the most horrifically agonising stomach cramps of my entire life. [...] How do they get away with selling out of date food in all their grocery stores?" [...]
• From the post: Why I hated my time in China

The worst part that happened to her was falling for the Shanghai Tea Scam [must-read].

3 Conclusion

China vs. Taiwan is a very interesting comparison: Both share common roots, yet the people are so different (or is it like comparing a mountain with a molehill?) I'm not surprised by her experience, but I wonder, if she wasn't a white girl, how the experience would be like. Fact is, being white in this part of the world sparks a lot of interest and emotions among some of the locals: curiosity, contempt, interest, despise, admiration, mistrust and a mix of positive and negative clichés - I'm speaking from my own experience. Interestingly, when the author first time stepped on Asian soil (which happened to be Taiwan), she also seemed to be holding some negative cliches about Asians in general. For example, when a random girl invited her to her apartment to help her with directions, this is what the blogger thought: "As we walked along together I was silently freaking out, as different scenarios played out in my mind. Was she going to drug me and keep me as her sex slave? Maybe she going to sell me on the white slave market? Was I about to become part of a real life human centipede?!" Meanwhile she explained this part in the comments below. It sounds very extreme to me, maybe that's because I already spent over 2 years in Asia, but for her it was the very first time. It's understandable to think this way, if someone is not an openminded and generally positive person, but I don't condone it. The author's posts are definitely polarizing, but I felt them interesting to share, because I would like to see a vibrant discussion on the topic in the comments.

• Do you think what she wrote is generally true or too subjective? Did you find it interesting?
• As a white person in China/Taiwan, do you get positive or negative reactions from locals?

Related: Zhongguoren vs. Daluren


I'm from South East Asia (not white at all haha) but I must say Taiwanese are very kind! They help as much as they can... whether or not they speak English. Indeed, one of the many reasons why my friends and I love Taiwan.

Last January, I fell from an escalator in Maokong Gondola (Taipei Zoo Station) and the staff there (not just one, I think there were four of them) kept asking if I was okay. Well, I told them I was okay but they kept asking again and again haha. But I really appreciate the concern!

I had the exact same impression, except I went to China first and knew a lot about both countries, and had friends from both countries. Maybe as I'm British too - loud people are distressing and friendliness is very welcome but not something we experience very much day-to-day!

I found China really horrible - I hated being scammed and it happened everytime I bought something. A few examples:

-Buying a 0.1 yuan snack for 1 yuan (every street sell changed at least twice as much to foreigners);
-Being charged 120 yuan for street shoe repairs when the going rate is 10 yuan;
-When I did my first bartering (for two coins that make a pretty sound) the price started at 100 yuan, I got her down to 10 yuan, and apprently I should have paid 1 yuan.

I also got the worst diarrea I've ever had within a few days and experienced little kindness (even though I was staying with my exs family!). The spitting was unpleasant but not half as bad as the inequalities - if you go to Shanghai, it's impossible not to see the incredibly poor right next to the incredibly rich at points. Even the foreigners who work in Shanghai appeared to have their noses in the air. I spent 3 weeks there and found the whole episode a depressing one for my ideas on human nature

Whereas in Taiwan I felt people were wonderful and made me act a better person too. Part of it is being a foreigner, who are treated as guests, but that positive experience is due to the excellent culture of acting the host. Taiwan is not a utopia but the people are very humble and kind hearted. One thing that struck me was that each person would act as a servant to others - in families, businesses, and daily relationships, someone would always serve the others - whenever my wife's mum cooked she would cook whilst everyone else ate, whenever the elder brother was asked to do nything he would do it without ever grumbling, her dad would always get up early and work late for his clients etc. And everyone made a massive effort to welcome me too. This made me want to show appreciation which I did every chance I got (i.e. not THAT often..). It's the lovely reciprocity that I enjoyed most (possibly as I'm a social scientist and thats the highest value to me ;-) )

Perhaps there'svery little social cohesion in comparison to Taiwan, where it seems everyone is more or less pulling in the same direction - trying to make the country better. Part of it must be due to religion and traditions which are much stronger in Taiwan than China after the cultural revolution and this capitalism with Chinese features of today. It's genuinely depressing as China should be a great country given its past but has been fundamentally sabotaged by the CPP.

Great post, MKL, I've been wanting to vent on my Chinese experiences for years.

Just to explain that I didn't have any "negative cliches" about Asians - about when the girl invited me to my apartment. I would have freaked about that if I have been anywhere in the world. The truth is, I'm a solo female traveller and I suffer from anxiety so I suffer from irrational thoughts and paranoia all the time. The comment wasn't aimed at being negative towards Asians - I would have felt the same anywhere.

Interesting post and thanks for your analysis! :)

Go to less touristy places in China! I was just in Zhongshan and it was great. I did my research, knew the going rate of things, paid a bit more than locals, gave generous tips when warranted. Last year in Beijing was very different...hated the rude, over-priced taxi drivers. But I will not judge a whole nation of over 2 billion based on a dozen or so experiences (have also been to many other places in China). The ripping off of tourists is not unique to China. It exists in every touristy places in poor countries. Economic standards are very different in Taiwan and China.

@Claire: Thanks for sharing your interesting experience :)

@hello_operator: Thanks for the detailed comparison, it was interesting to read. I'm glad you had a chance to vent, I hope it sparks some more replies from other people.

@Laura: Thanks for clarifying this, I will slightly adjust that part in my post. The analysis was mostly done by you, so thank you :)

@Anonymous: Thanks for the tip and for a different perspective.

I just have to laugh when I read about China. damn this place is nothing but a place you get scam off your money if you're not careful.

For people who work and stay there than you probably will not fall prey to the scam -- for visitors you kinda have to be careful.

I visited China as you remember -- I like some of the places but you can not believe how these people desperately making every penny out of you.

I should go Taiwan!

I'm a European and have previously lived in Taiwan but ended up marrying a Chinese national so I am now living in Shanghai. What can I say? From a macro point of view the observations are accurate (e.g. Taiwan is friendlier, more civilized), but what would you expect from a visit to China? It is a country in development where many things can be overwhelming for westerners. I've seen my family members experience similar moments of pure desperation when they visit here (e.g. the moment where 24 screaming children surround her), while at the same moment I am standing next to them thinking: "what's the big deal, just relax". Honestly, if you cannot stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen.

@Netster: Come, I'm expecting you :)

@Anonymous: Honestly, if you cannot stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen.

This is for me a too easy excuse, but I agree with the first part of your comment.

I think far too much is made of the "common roots" construct and it is clear that these are two vastly different societies with different execrations. Even what might look superficially similar often has wildly differing meanings in Taiwan and China. Even when parts of Taiwan were under Qing control, they were governed as a frontier and this sense of difference was not lost on Taiwanese Han.

We should quit being surprised at these differences, when lateral shifts in culture blow far stronger winds than simple vertical descent. Compare our own generational changes between parents and their children.

We need to start accepting the idea that, despite all the Chinese nationalism that the ROC has tried to espouse as a colonial project, the Taiwanese experience has crafted a culture with equally deep roots in Tokyo, New York, London, Hong Kong as well as the local.

To the end of constant parity between Taiwan and China!

Lived years in both. Must say, whilst I definitely prefer Taiwan as a place to live, I really don't recognise the image portrayed of either Taiwan or the mainland here:

- The mainland is way more backward, true, but people there are actually still pretty friendly in the main, despite decades of government propaganda which essentially blames foreigners for most of China's problems.

- Regarding scams: I didn't actually find the mainland all that much worse for this than Taiwan. Yeah, there's people who overcharge, and there's people who try to drive a hard bargain, but I saw this in both places. The farmers in Longhua, Shenzhen who used to come in from the countryside to sell their vegetables and make a bit of money always sold to me at the going rate despite their obvious extreme poverty. The main thing is to avoid tourist areas because these are where most of the scam-artists are.

- Regarding open-crotch pants: the first time I saw this was in Miaoli in Taiwan in 2002, and I saw exactly the seen that this lady photographed - a little kid taking a dump in the street. Not a mainland thing at all.

- Spitting: again, this is way more common in Taiwan because chewing Betel Nut is more common, at least outside Taipei. I could go on about people blowing their noses onto the street or their fingers, but actually I saw it in both places about as often - the main difference being that I never saw a Taiwanese do it out of a bus window onto a passing pedestrian.

Again, I'm actually pretty clear that given the choice, I would live in Taiwan over anywhere else I've lived in the world (just a pity there doesn't seem to be any decent jobs going there at the moment) but I really think she should have seen more of both the mainland and of Taiwan before going overboard like this.


- Regarding open-crotch pants: the first time I saw this was in Miaoli in Taiwan in 2002, and I saw exactly the seen that this lady photographed - a little kid taking a dump in the street. Not a mainland thing at all.

I respectfully disagree. To take one instance and apply it to a whole nation is a mistake.
I've lived in Taiwan for 20 years and have never seen those pants on a child. And, I'm the father of three; all born and raised here, so far.
In addition, a few weeks ago, I saw a mainland Chinese wife of a Taiwanese man on a TV chat show, talk about how much she was ridiculed when she bought pants like that for their child. Her mother-in-law was outraged.
The host of the show tried to soften things by saying, "Well, you have moved to our country so you have to respect our culture. We don't allow that type of behaviour here." Or words to that effect.
My Taiwanese wife nodded her firm agreement with the host's response. ;)

Maaaye not so related but: sometimes I wonder, why there are so many comparisons between China and Taiwan (and the overwhelming majority of voice, as far as I've seen, is 'Taiwan rocks, China sucks,' and it's starting to be like ad nauseum). No such thing going to between South and North Korea :P I'm just intrigued, wondering, why do we 'need' to compare and compare and compare? There must be needs, and I wonder what :) I just don't feel that "common roots" explains the ongoing endless comparisons.

Difficult to feel sorry for her. Experience certainly shaped by personality and pre-knowledge and etc. Sharing's good, yay :) Ripping off of a tourist happens everywhere, as one of the commenters mentions, and I got it real bad in Paris France, years ago... :)

I have to say that I was short-changed nearly every time I bought anything (like food, snacks, etc.) from street-vendors in Beijing, and by landlords. And my Mandarin was plenty good enough to ask prices and count money. Perhaps Chinese are taught that it is not dishonorable to cheat Yang-gui-zi/ Gui-lo? Or that it is OK because the whole reason that foreigners come to China is to spend money...?

Then I lived and travelled all over Taiwan for several years, and I was NEVER intentionally short-changed by anyone.

Taiwanese are good businesspeople, and so of course, I did meet a few people there who were good at cheating gullible foreigners "right off the boat".

But after years of meeting so many honest, friendly, hard-working, generous and hospitable people in Taiwan, it is easy to forget the 2 or 3 scammer-types I met there.

Agree with a poster above who said that foreigners should not assume too many cultural similarities between China and Taiwan. The more you learn about both countries, the more you see that the history and cultural experiences of the two places are just too different to assume too many similarities.

For one thing, the Cultural Revolution not only destroyed the good things about Chinese culture (in China), but it also perpetuated all of the worst aspects of the culture (back-stabbing, false face-saving, etc.).

Although Taiwan was spared the CR, they did get the "White Terror". But thankfully, however (and despite the best efforts of the KMT over several decades), the KMT's campaign of terror did not actually result in fundamentally changing the basic aspects of Taiwanese culture in the same way that Mao and the CPP forever poisoned the culture in China.

Thank God for that!

I am saying a prayer right now for all my friends (and the many strangers) in Taiwan who showed me kindness and who helped me in so many ways.

@Anonymous, FOARP and John Scott: Thanks for your comments. I've nothing to add to that, you all have made some interesting points.

@rozyuri: North Korea doesn't have netizens and South is convinced, that they are better than North, so there you go :) China and Taiwan both have a vibrant online community, so these "comparisons" are quite often discussed. It's interesting, that in case of NK vs. SK, the bigger one is the "good" one and the small one is "evil". In case of Taiwan - China, it's reverse. Of course this is a simplistic and biased answer and things are way more complex in both cases. The topic about "how good are ROC and ROK really?" would be very interesting to discuss, but please not on my blog (explosive).

heheheh thanks for your response, and I agree! There is more of power dynamics between Taiwan and China, than the two Koreas. NKorea, afterall, is a nation with Dr Evil and millions of starving people. I do think, however, the comparisons after comparisons imply something; I get the *impression* that both nations, China and Taiwan, want to prove something.. BADLY. And tourists/visitors/expats seem to be often naturally inclined to it. Almost always very thought-provoking to see hot debates. And comparisons :) Keep on rockin'!

@1.19 - "To take one instance and apply it to a whole nation is a mistake."

I couldn't agree more.

"I have to say that I was short-changed nearly every time I bought anything (like food, snacks, etc.) from street-vendors in Beijing, and by landlords. And my Mandarin was plenty good enough to ask prices and count money. Perhaps Chinese are taught that it is not dishonorable to cheat Yang-gui-zi/ Gui-lo? Or that it is OK because the whole reason that foreigners come to China is to spend money...?"

Then why is that on forums across China whenever ripping off foreigners is mentioned 98 comments out of 100 condemn it?

I lived in Taiwan from 2001 to 2002, visited regularly whilst I worked for Foxconn from 2006 to 2007, and was there for a month or so in 2009. I found that some bars would regularly add extra drinks to my tab, I was occasionally over-charged and taken round the houses by taxi drivers, and the less said about the Bushiban I worked at whilst I was there the better.

On the flip-side I was also occasionally amazed by some pretty great acts of kindness, generosity, and honesty. The one which really stands out in my mind was when I lost my wallet at a night stall - totally my fault as I think I'd left it on the table there without remebering that I had done it. I didn't go back to that stall for literally months, but when I did they returned it to me, with all the cards and money (a couple of thousand NT) in it.

The thing is, I can say exactly the same things about my experiences on the mainland. Instances of dishonest were plenty - particularly amongst students whilst I was working as a university teacher in my first couple of years there, although never with landlords.

But there were also plenty of instances of great honesty. Here's one - when I first lived in Nanjing I was working at a university where all the teachers were put up in a hotel. Unfortunately for us, the hotel had an 11PM kerfew, but the porter left a window open for us to climb in through. One night during my first month there my wallet fell out of my pocket whilst I was climbing in. Since I had only arrived a week before and was yet to open a bank account I was carrying all my money with me - some 6,000 Renminbi, close to a year's earnings at that time for maybe 30% of the PRC population. It was returned to me by the cleaning staff of the hotel, who were desperately poor migrant workers from Anhui province. Ask yourself - how many people do you know would return an envelope with a year's worth in earnings in it?

"For one thing, the Cultural Revolution not only destroyed the good things about Chinese culture (in China), but it also perpetuated all of the worst aspects of the culture (back-stabbing, false face-saving, etc.)."

I guess the old woman who paid my bus fair in Nanjing when I had accidentally forgotten my wallet one day, the bus staff who arranged a taxi to Nanjing Airport to meet my bus from Shanghai to Nanjing on the motorway free of charge so that I could make my flight, the tour guide who let me in to a tea house where Mao had drank when it was closed to take a picture, the students who invited me to Bengbu to eat buckets and buckets of crawfish, the people who invited me into their house for food when I and some friends turned up at the wrong address during CNY, and the many others who offered totally random and unsolicited acts of kindness whilst I was in China must not have gotten the memo.

On the issue of how different China and Taiwan are, people are given to automatically make assumptions about you based on what you say. That said, at Foxconn, I got to see Taiwanese and mainlanders working to gether closely, and have to say I never saw any major differences. I would rate the cultural difference as similar to either that between Scotland and Wales or between Ireland and England.

I think the "cultural revolution" as destroying the "real" Chinese culture is a poor argument as it presumes an essentialist view of culture from a Western (capital W) POV. It denies coevalness and seeks to authenticate China's cultural life. The Cultural revolution is as authentically Chinese as any other shift in cultural paradigms that has occurred in the area we are now defining as China. The idea that Taiwan is somehow more "authentic" is a KMT promoted fallacy. It might be more accurate to say that because Taiwan missed the cultural revolution it is less Chinese as it represents a break in experience between the narratives which are unfolding in China and those unfolding in Taiwan.

I also think the memes, semes and schemas which dominate Taiwanese and Chinese social, political and cultural life (and the histories of their evolution from within and without reactions to state power) expose far more differences than simply whether people can get along next to each other.

The way a Taiwanese and a Chinese view their world is far more revealing. Imagine the responses you would get if you had Chinese and Taiwanese discuss their feelings when they see: the color red, an American flag, Zhou En-lai, the color green, a green uniform on a motorcycle, a temple, a church, a military uniform, the words "the nation". These are just some examples of a interesting look at the importance of semiotics as opposed to genetics in grouping individuals by "ethnicity".

I've been to Taiwan and found it a wonderful and friendly place. I've never been to China so I can't say anything about it. As for the differences between Taiwan and China, politically, Taiwan has been separate from China since 1895 (I don't count the brief time after WWII0. It's not surprising that there are cultural differences after that long a separation. In my own experience, I find my Taiwanese friends to more like my Japanese friends than my Chinese ones. This is no surprise since Taiwan was a Japanese colony and whether at least one of my friends wants to admit it, Japanese culture still has a large influence upon Taiwan.

Anonymous: I think Japan's influence on Taiwanese people of today is the product of the last 30 years, when Japan became the most developed country in the region, not the 50 years between 1895-1945. Young people of today only know this period from their parents' and grand-parents' stories, but the fashion, lifestyle trends and consumer products are is something that affects their lives today. Walk around the streets of New Taipei and you will see, there is nothing Japan-like to find. I think in the last 50 years Taiwan has developed it's own way. If any, I believe USA has had the bigger influence on the island state.

@FOARP: G, I can't recognise much Taiwan what you're saying.

As you know, I don’t hold back on facets of life here that I think could change for the better. I've lived here for a decade-plus, my kids are nationals and there's a good chance I shall spend the rest of my life here, so I have a vested interest and call things as I see them.

As with any country, there are things that irk me but the points you make wouldn't scrape the list and, I'm pretty certain, almost any long-term resident would agree.

You saw a kid shitting through those pants in Miaoli? This is the first time I've heard that tale. Hardly something I'm likely to forget. I’ve NEVER heard of anything of the sort in all my years. The anonymous poster above has it right. Next time you're here, run that one by the missus and let's see what her reaction is.

Likewise, rip offs are almost unheard of. Seriously. You are just plain wrong. I've had one or two cabbies take the piss (one taking me round the houses, thinking I was more sauced than I was - when I called him out, he shamefacedly subtracted the markup). The 'bars' you are talking about are a minority.

And, the handful of markups I have experienced weren’t necessarily laowai prices. I've not been to China, as you know, but the anecdotal evidence of cross-strait differences in the areas we're discussing is overwhelming.

You've frequently accused the likes of Turton, Cowsill and me of contriving some separate identity to suit our own ends (sometimes, I concede, not entirely without justification); but when I see you continually ignoring marked differences in social mores that even "pro-Chinese" Taiwanese find hard to deny, it looks like you are being deliberately intransigent. On to MKL’s view of colonial influence, with which I know you concur.

MKL, there is so much wrong with your last post that it's difficult to know where to start. First:

'I think Japan's influence on Taiwanese people of today is the product of the last 30 years, when Japan became the most developed country in the region, not the 50 years between 1895-1945'.

The 19C/colonial period IS when Japan became the most developed country in the region!

Then: 'Walk around the streets of New Taipei and you will see, there is nothing Japan-like to find'

Eh? I thought you were an 'architecture buff'? Across the island, there is still plentiful evidence of the infrastructure the Japanese built, despite a massive percentage being destroyed by US bombing and the KMT looting frenzy.

But, most important, the idea that 'fashion, lifestyle trends and consumer products are is something that affects their lives today' betrays a shockingly simplistic notion of culture and identity formation. You seriously think that 小叮噹, Hello Kitty, J-pop, and lenseless glasses have had more influence on who the Taiwanese people are?

That most young people don't know anything about it is irrelevant. Would a Brit need to know about the Normans for them have had an influence? The logical fallacy here is obvious: The older era’s influence cannot be validated except through the later generations.

I'm not going to go into the many ways in which the Japanese era played a crucial role in identity formation in Taiwan. Instead I will just say that is interesting to note how the Taiwanese viewed the backward ragtag rabble who showed up here to rape and pillage post WWII.

Outside of Japan proper, Taiwan was by far the most prosperous place in Asia with a standard of living that astonished many of the soldiers. The mainlanders were quickly viewed as ill-mannered yokels at best.

As we can see from the discussion here, stereotypes of Taiwanese as friendlier, more honest and more sophisticated persist. If there is a grain of truth in them, why? What did Taiwan have that China didn't?

Identity formation in Taiwan is fascinating because it’s so complex - reducing it to pop culture is demeaning.

Excuse the typos:

* @FOARP: G, I can't recognise much Taiwan *in* what you're saying

* Would a Brit need to know about the Normans for them *to* have had an influence?

@James: Good reply, but you are talking as if there wasn't the influx of those who came with General Chiang. They had not have the same experience with Japan as those Chinese, who were born on Taiwan during 1st half of 20th century. I know there is a group of foreigners, who is glorifying Japan's colonial period in Taiwan as if it was something good. So what, if they built infrastructure, so did many other rulers before as well. Same goes for some of their policies, which are seen "advanced" for that age... it doesn't change that they were oppressors and caused a lot of despair in this part of the world. You can't just pick out one part of what Japan was in that time and focus on that. We all know, who was building highways in the 1930s. And another thing: Yes, I'm an architecture buff, but what I see from the Japanese colonial period in Taiwan is mostly inspired by European architecture, very few is "Japanese" in its essence. It is good architecture, but it's not original. We could start arguing about what is original about Japan anyway, as they took so many things from China, Europe and USA over the last centuries and incorporated it into its own culture, language, lifestyle. I just wanted to say that Japan's been the regional soft power in the last 30 years due to the rapid modernization and economic miracle in the 1980s and is influencing the new generation far more during this period than it did in the past.

You're misunderstanding: I'm not attaching any value judgement to Japanese influence - just saying it definitely is not irrelevant.

I also didn't say anything about the quality of the architecture, which you correctly point out was largely influenced by European trends, simply that there was ample evidence of it, not 'nothing Japan-like' as you said. If you mean that these buildings don't look quintessentially Japanese, well then that's a different issue (they clearly fuse styles anyway rather than just aping Western techniques. That's not uniquely Japanese - it can be seen in colonial architecture around the globe, where local materials, styles and conditions all came into play).

It sounded pretty clearly like you were saying there is zero evidence of the Japanese presence here and that is obviously not true. There is not even zero evidence of the Dutch, Spanish or even British presence here. There's a French cemetery in Keelung.

Again, not sure why you're saying I'm ignoring the waishenren. I do no such thing. I clearly mention them in fact and they are a massive part of the complexity I spoke of.

By your tone, it is obvious you think I have some Nipponophile agenda. I can assure you that is not the case.

You don't need to tell me about what the Japanese did here. I've read more than enough and heard first hand from locals and 90-year-old Allied prisoners of war what kind of brutality they were capable of.

From the assimilation strategies of Kominka to the nasty divide and conquer, collective punishment tactics of the Hoko system (a revival of the Chinese baojia [保甲]) they were hardly benevolent liberators.

Once again, what this had to do with any of my points, is anyone's guess.

I didn't bring up buildings - you did by saying you can't see anything of Japan in Taipei. :)Cultural identity could hardly be tied strongly to architecture/infrastructure and it would be a fool who tried to do so. I didn't.

You spoke of 'Taiwanese people of today'. Do you mean young people? Even if you do, I'll repeat, saying the colonial period had no influence because they don't know about it is silly. Most young people can't tell you much about the White Terror but it hardly disqualifies it from being an important contributing factor to Taiwanese identity, does it?

Back to the orignal thread: Why are Taiwanese 'politer and more friendly'? What combination of factors might have made them 'a different kind of Chinese' with diverging cultural norms (if you accept they have them - FOARP and others obviously don't)?

A friend pointed this post out to me as something I should be interested in. After running over it, I am curious about the following: why have you chosen to compare Taiwan to China? After all, the two countries have been separated for 117 years (politically, that is - an argument could be made that the separation goes back much further than this), so it should go without saying they do not share the same culture and by extension, behavior. Are you doing this because many Taiwanese people and many Chinese people look similar and are often able to communicate with each other? If so, that is problematic as it might seem, at least to some, to smack of racism.

To put things in context, how would you respond if individuals were to constantly insist Slovenia ought to be compared to other countries of the former Yugoslavia or Soviet Union? What if we were to set ourselves up as moderators, saying something like "they speak the same language and have only been separated for a short time (much shorter than Taiwan and China) and look like they could be related, but spend a few days with a Slovenian and then a Russian and try to define their uniqueness. Are they the same, or not, etc.?"

If you had touched upon your own experience in Slovenia, looking down the barrel of Russia or whatever emotions you experienced (perhaps you didn't feel any or they were only good -- I can only project here), and then how it felt to be different from a suddenly created neighbor, I think you would have come away with a much, much more meaningful post.

"You saw a kid shitting through those pants in Miaoli?"

JB, you were with me - kid taking a piss on Fudong Lu in Miaoli, we were in the van on our way to that High School. Those infamous long-term effects showing again . . .

How can you say you don't know what I'm talking about with the taxis when you had the same thing happen to you? And yes, you know exactly which bar I'm talking about.

"the anecdotal evidence of cross-strait differences in the areas we're discussing is overwhelming"

I guess I have a problem with the idea of anecdotal evidence being 'overwhelming', especially when it often comes from partisans of a related political debate.

"You've frequently accused the likes of Turton, Cowsill and me of contriving some separate identity to suit our own ends (sometimes, I concede, not entirely without justification); but when I see you continually ignoring marked differences in social mores that even "pro-Chinese" Taiwanese find hard to deny, it looks like you are being deliberately intransigent."

I never deny that there is a Taiwanese identity. What I deny is that the cultutal difference is so great as to be incompatible with that of the mainland, and that cultural reasons alone should be used to justify the political end that MT espouses.

@James: You make good points. I was too sloppy in my original comment. I was meaning to write a post about Japan's current soft power in the region compared to the military power it used to be in the 1st half of 20th century. I will need some time for me to research it, but I know the key points already. Hope you come back and comment on that post. In the case above I give up, I was too careless.

@Patric Cowsill: Is there ever any topic, where you don't insert racism in your comment? Taiwan and China is a complex issue and even, if you want it to be simple, it's not. There are tons of blog posts like the one I highlighted above, that make a comparison, it's an issue of interest and that's why I'm writing about it and will continue to write about it, especially because it interests me. There are no definite answers what Taiwan is and what China is, but there are a lot of interpretations. I find this something unique in the world, for me it's a daily challenge to digest these complexities when living in Taiwan.

As for comparing Slovenia with whatever country and saying whatever - I don't care at all. You can do it, I never tell people, what they should or should not write on blogs. If you deliver good arguments, I will agree with you. And you haven't noticed, that my post was about another blogger's experiences in China and Taiwan, this is not about my original thoughts on the issue. I'm sure I'll write my two cents after I visit China more in the future. For now I stick to writing about the things I see in Taiwan.

G: Taking a piss in the street. Er, I do and have done that regularly but not through crotchless trousers. I do (really!) have quite a few pairs of boxers that have become crotchless - they're not too well made here - but I'll leave it at that. Seriously mate, that anonymous poster is right you are talking cobblers! Even IF you ever did see the trousers described, please find me one (just one) other instance of them in Taiwan. You don't have to look too hard to find pics/reports of em in China. Really,find me one person in Taiwan who will agree with you ... unmitigated claptrap.

Did you read my post? Clearly it's the old Grundy eyes that are going to pot, not Baron - ;). I said I've had a couple of attempted scams - very, very few though and minor league. I also said the bars in a very small minority: you actually went further backpedalling to 'one' from your initial plural. (My original post did mention it and I know other stories - one of the old Miaoli crew stopped going to the main bar there because of such an issue). In most cases, I think it's usually a mixup as smalltown bars here (or places where you are pals with the owner) often kep a tab.

I'm not calling on the anecdotal evidence to make any such point G and I've made that clear a million times. Don't just lump everyone in together. Besides, even if MT, or whoever, puts these tales to such use, it doesn't mean they are false!

@MKL: Fair play. I shall await said post with interest. thism is an issue in which I have a strong interest. Here's a book with some half decent stuff in it, if you're interested:

A powerful illustration of the conflicted identity of Taiwanese intellectuals can be found in Wu Zhouliu's "Orphan of Asia". I wouldn't say it's the greatest novel ever but is essential reading for anyone interested in this stuff, imo:

Paul Katz's book on the little-talked-about (most Taiwanese have never even heard of it) Ta-Pa-Ni incident is worth checking out, too. Online here:

Finally, if you haven't, I would definitely read "Formosa Calling" and, in particular, "Formosa Betrayed" which has to be one of the best, most moving accounts of the buildup to and aftermath of 228. Both of these are valuable in terms of the Japanese v Chinese idnetity issue as they show you what Taiwan was when Chiang's mob arrived, what the people had become used to, and how their hopes were dashed
when they saw what the people who arrived were like. Both available online.

@Cowsill - I do think you are being deliberately contrary when you ask why on earth people would make cultural comparisons. The strength of certain aspects of socio-cultural mores, the influence of the Han Chinese (original and waishenren) and the proximity of the two countries makes it natural. It definitely doesn't pang of racism anymore than examining similarities and differences between Americans and British or other Europeans would.

"You can do it, I never tell people, what they should or should not write on blogs."

I'm not doing that. I just wished you could have taken it a bit deeper and added some of yourself to this post.

@James. That's not my point. I said "it might." Or, it might not. I simply meant to say there is something disingenuous about this. "Racism" was the sexy word of the day and so my comment was reduced.

Japan's influence on Taiwan during its 50 years of colonialism probably had the deepest impact of any state structure. Under the Japanese the people of Taiwan were accurately counted, the land was mapped, a modern education system was implemented and literacy promoted in the later part. There was electric lighting and by 1908 there was train service running between Taipei and Kaohsiung in 8 hours. There were regular newspapers, the rise of industrialization and for the first time Taiwaneseness was knowable. Japan laid the foundations for the imagined community. It has had a radical influence on Taiwanese expectations of their government and their place in the world. These were tectonic shifts on the most massive scale. It is hard to imagine Taiwan without this experience.

Well...Why do people keep comparing Taiwan to China? Because China won't leave us alone.

I don't mean to sound too political here but after reading SO MANY comments online (especially from yahoo answers) about Taiwan and China, I was extremely upset. I am Taiwanese so what I say here may be biased.

Many of the arguments the Chinese people keep bringing up are that China once ruled Taiwan and that many people in Taiwan have ancestors from China. The last time I checked, that was a long time ago.

The PRC has continuously argued that Taiwan has always been a part of China. However, unlike Macau and Hong Kong that had legitimate treaties declaring the transfer of sovereignty from Portuguese and British rule to the PRC, Taiwan has never signed such treaties.

We must not forget that before the KMT lost the Civil War in China and fled to Taiwan, there were already a lot of Taiwanese people living on the island.

My grandma told me when the KMT arrived in Taiwan, they had nothing on them. No money, no clothes, and no land. All they had with them were guns. And guess what they did? They took lands from the Taiwanese people. They forced the Taiwanese people to exchange their Taiwanese currencies for useless new currencies they had created. And you might wonder why KMT has so much party assets…because they confiscated/stolen a bunch of land and money from the Taiwanese people!

Taiwanese people were also forced to speak Mandarin Chinese and not their native language, Taiwanese. You would get fined and beaten if you spoke Taiwanese in schools. This is why not many kids from the newer generations in Taiwan know how to speak Taiwanese anymore. And just like Mao Ze Dong, Stalin, and Hitler, the KMT also started to recruit people to the party when they were still students. Those who joined the party, like Ma, were able to go study abroad in the United States because KMT help paid for his tuition and living expenses. The ROC is nothing but a military regime ruled by Chiang Kai Shek who was no different from Mao Ze Dong.

But of course these things are not generally what you would read in textbooks, especially in China. I am not favoring DPP over KMT, but I am just simply stating the facts. Without DPP, it would have taken a lot longer until the White Terror would have ended in Taiwan. So in some ways, we owe the freedom we have now in Taiwan to this party. However, most Taiwanese people take this freedom for granted.

Ironically, the KMT who once wanted nothing to do with the PRC is now leaning towards reunification with China. If you come to Taiwan and ask the people here if they support reunification, most of them will tell you no or that they want to remain the current status quo. If you ask the people here do you recognize yourself as Taiwanese or Chinese, most of them will tell you Taiwanese. You will find out that people who support reunification and recognize themselves as Chinese here are people from KMT. These people who support reunification only stand for a minority of the population in Taiwan. What I would want to advise them to do is that, if you want reunification so much, pack your bags and go back to China. People here want independence and freedom. We’re talking about China here – A place where the government controls a lot of things. A place where corruption is everywhere but are not publicized (but surely they had decided to publicize Chen’s allegations of corruption to turn public sentiments against DPP). A place where the government blocks a lot of things that it doesn’t want you to see or know (books, internet, news, and the television).

Sure, Chen may have been corrupted (but the charges are still questionable). But KMT is EVEN MORE CORRUPTED, they are just not stupid enough to get caught. And the PRC of China? Well, they are the MOST CORRUPTED OF ALL. What do you except from a centralized government that controls almost everything?

People in Taiwan have never accepted the One China Policy. That’s plain stupid, why would we do that? If it weren’t for the KMT and Ma, we didn’t have to go with the CHINESE TAIPEI name for the Olympics. Ma’s inability to fight for his country is truly embarrassing. Are people from Kaoshiong or Taichung not a part of Taiwan? Chinese Taipei is only representative of the people living in Taipei but not representative of other people who are living in other parts of Taiwan.

Another thing: If China wants to claim Taiwan as a part of China just because ethnically we’re all Chinese, why don’t they try to take over Korea or Japan as well? According to their logic, if we trace back far enough in history, Asians are from all the same ancestors anyway. Sure, I admit ethnically I’m Chinese but I recognize my nationality as Taiwanese. This is a simple fact people in China must get over. Just because we have the same ancestors, doesn’t mean that we have to be a part of your country. I grew up in Taiwan, I feel nothing towards China, other than that it is a neighboring country.

As a Taiwanese, I am extremely tired of being pushed around. I have a lot of Chinese friends in the States but we can never talk about politics. They grew up learning that Taiwan has always been a province of China. How can you argue with someone who has grown up to believe something is true, when it's really not? With all the propaganda in China, I really can't blame them.

@Anonymous: Good and valid points related to the recent history. But if you see Taiwan in a wider context and put the things you mentioned in the history of past 400 years, you see a different pattern. Whoever came to Taiwan (or Formosa back then), wanted to rule over it and subsequently brought despair to the peoples who were there before.

1 Dutch ruled over Aboriginal people (only in parts of Taiwan)
2 Koxinga, Cheng Ching over Dutch Aboriginal people (only in parts of Taiwan)
3 Qing over Aboriginal people (only in parts of Taiwan)
4 Japanese over Han Chinese (Hoklo, Hakka) and Aboriginal people (first one to wholly control the islands)
5 KMT with CKS over the Han Chinese (Hoklo, Hakka) and Aboriginal people

What's the biggest problem now is the internally split population of Taiwan, the elections were very close, but people are leaning towards KMT. Does that mean, that the things you mentioned, were already digested and are a relict from the past? Or would you say that a mix of propaganda and intimidation, guanxi and other tricks helped the current party to win this year's election? I'm very curious to know, why do you think people voted for Ma this year despite the legitimate threats this poses for the nation's future?

In light of Chen's corruption charges, public sentiments have turned against the DPP. It took a lot of hard work for Tsai to fix DPP's tarnished reputation.

Overall, I think the election is fair. It was very close, but fair. The problem is that while most Taiwanese people would consider themselves Taiwanese instead of Chinese, the majority of Taiwanese would rather keep things the way they are right now - in the gray area. We don't think we're a part of China but China thinks we are. We trade. We make money. We kind of win.

There are voters who will always vote for DPP and voters who will always vote for KMT no matter what. There are also many voters from abroad who fly all the way back to Taiwan to vote (mostly people who vote for KMT). Then there are those who used to vote for DPP but decided to vote for KMT instead because of Chen's second term.

Voting for a new president, especially a candidate from the DPP will cause a lot of political instability. This can never be good for businesses and the economy, especially when we trade heavily with China.

In conclusion, Ma is not the best president (far from that) but at least he has somewhat helped Taiwan's economy with his pro-china policies. This election just proves that the Taiwanese people want money over dignity.

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