Ni hao from Taiwan,
I don’t suppose it should be a great surprise to find a smaller, Asian version of America when I visit Taiwan. After all, that was pretty well Chiang Kai-Shek’s mission. Here in what is officially known as The Republic of China, there’s baseball, more fat people and more beggars, more garish confrontational marketing, more of the consumption-is-good mantra, dates back to front, and appalling commentary on the Hop on Hop off buses – in English, narrated by a couple of schmaltzy Americans.
Taiwan is a very green island, half in the tropics and half not. There are some substantial mountains (it snows here at Ali Shan, where I am now, near the west coast) and lots of resources.
When Chiang Kai-Shek brought his disaffected minions here, there were already people living on all of the islands. These are various aboriginal groups who have since then, fared better than most indigenous folk in colonised countries. Here, they are less marginalised – economically and socially. Near Sun Moon Lake, there is a 63-hectare theme park called Formosan Aboriginal Culture Village. As well as demonstrations of indigenous cooking and sewing, there are rides, just like at the big theme parks, as equally thrilling and technically sophisticated as you might find at Knott’s Berry Farm in Los Angeles or Movieworld on the Gold Coast. It seems the Thao people have successfully commercialised their culture.
Chiang Kai Chek set about making Taiwan the factory of the world. The conurbation down the west coast is proof that they achieved that. The ‘brand’ Made in Taiwan has even been converted to Chinese: Mei in Taiwan. The economy is also transitioning very successfully into a high wage economy. They don’t make all of the cheap junk anymore and not many garment factories remain. They still make a lot of things but they are much further up the price range. Taiwan is also banking on tourism to take them into another new realm: the service economy. They welcome the burgeoning middle class from China who are here in busloads.
It’s the shopping!
And what do you think brings the Chinese here? (47 coaches in the car park at Sun Moon Lake wharf on Sunday) It’s the shopping! I suppose that’s why the commentary on the Hop on Hop off bus is filled with references to markets, bargains, brands and shopping opportunities! There’s naïve me, hoping to learn a bit about the architecture, or the history or the economics, but shopping?!? It’s enough to make me switch off but the Chinese are lapping it up.
So, if China wants to swallow Taiwan and Taiwan desperately wants to avoid being swallowed, who blinks first? It could be that Taiwan might need China more than China needs Taiwan. My money is on China’s model outlasting the American version . . . but I’ve been wrong before.
Caicien from Taiwan