During my summer abroad in the UK it became clear that, except for those who’d travelled in China or around its fowl borders, few knew much about Taiwan, my current hat stand. The questions I was asked were based mainly on a confusion between here and Thailand, or an outdated view of Taiwan as the world’s workshop. So I thought I’d try to paint a picture of where I live. A picture of letters, spaces and punctuation coexisting to create sentences that will transform into images inside your face. They say a picture paints a thousand words, ergo, 1000 words can write a picture. You should view this rambling, babbling introduction, shamelessly designed to bulk out the piece, as the sky of a watercolour or the paint aimlessly flicked at the canvas of a “Modern” “Art” piece.
This poorly researched and even poorlier proofread background to Taiwan will borrow its format from Russian Nesting Dolls. I’ll begin with the largest definable area and work to the interior, separating each doll into a different blog
so I don’t have to think of a new subject next week, to give as detailed description as I can. Our Universe is over 13 billion years old and current theories believe it came into being by
Planet Earth is 4.5 bil Asia is the most populous continent with
Begrudgingly I’ll limit it to three areas: Taiwan, Hsinchu, my apartment.
Part 1: Taiwan
Firstly to address the misconception of Taiwan as the world’s workshop (and to add a couple of hundred words) we need to go way, way, way, way, way, way, way way way, waaaaaay, way back to the industrial revolution and the economic entrapment of the North of England and subsequently, the world. As year 5 history and Al Murray taught us we were the first, the bloody first, us! We can all take credit for it because it was only a British achievement and we contributed directly to us, the BRITISH being the first and bloody best of the industrialised nations. Faster production, cheap labour and a military that could enforce trade on smaller nations meant that British exports and production increased dramatically and gave us the title ‘Workshop of the world’. This lasted a couple of decades and since then production has shifted wherever cheapest. In the 1970s and 80s this was Taiwan. But now, whatever the boot of Buzz Lightyear tells you, it isn’t. It is currently still China but Indonesia is next. The most common things you’re likely to see made in Taiwan now are HTC phones and Acer and Asus computers, Taiwanese companies that came into being by copying the Dell, Apple and HP computers that were made in Taiwan a few decades earlier. Taiwan is by no means an innovator but it is far above a sweatshop.
Taiwan is the Republic of China. Not to be confused with the People’s Republic of China, which is China. Although the People’s Republic of China don’t recognise the Republic of China (ROC) and believe it is all part of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Or in their words “只有一个中国” “Only one China”. This is quite plainly bullshit. Taiwan has its own currency, government and military (armed and previously financed by the Americans, until they went broke). China has over 1000 ballistic missiles targeting Hsinchu, Taiwan’s Silicon Valley. It is the equivalent of us parking a couple of nuclear subs in the North Sea and threatening Holyrood with destruction if the SNP don’t drop the independence bid. The validity of our union is rightly debated, but it clearly exists (I look forward to the name Formerly United Kingdom). China and Taiwan are not the same country. The poor relations between the two is not only the fault of the Chinese though. When Taiwan faced a weaker China than today and were backed by a seemingly infallible American military, pre-Gulf War II, they too claimed to be the only China. This charge has only recently been dropped in the hope of not being flattened by a barrage of exploding dumplings or a giant firework.
It’s a lot easier to say what Taiwan isn’t rather than what it is.
Taiwan’s population of around 24 million is 96% Han Chinese and only 2% aboriginal. This is due to a combination of a number of mass migrations from mainland China and several occupying nations’ attempts to “civilise” the natives. The ancestors of the aboriginal Taiwanese are thought to have walked from modern day China, across what is now the Taiwan strait, around 10,000 years ago and settled in Taiwan.
Chinese migration to Taiwan is recorded as early as the 13th century, back when it was known in the imperial court as ‘The Gate of Hell’ as many men ventured out to Taiwan, but few returned. A dangerous voyage it may have been, but most probably stayed and settled on the “Beautiful Island”. Portuguese sailors first named the island Ilha Formosa meaning “The Beautiful Island” in 1544, but failed to institute a controlling power there. The Dutch and Spanish occupied different parts of the island in the 17th century trying to establish an eastern base for commerce, evangelising and slaughter. In 1642 a combined Dutch and aboriginal force expelled the Spanish. With the Spanish gone they went on to try to domesticate or murder the rest of the natives.
The Chinese did actually have control of the island from 1685 but much like the government’s exile to Taiwan after defeat by the communists in 1949, this was a result of trying to hold on to a modicum of power following the end of a dynasty. So the incoming Qing Emperor Kangxi took control of Taiwan in order to put a definitive end to the Ming. Similarly to the way we keep Gibraltar to piss off the Spanish, China wanted Taiwan so as to maintain dominance over its neighbours. To the all-encompassing Chinese empire, Taiwan was “a ball of mud beyond the sea, adding nothing to the breadth of China”.
At this stage of reading the leading scholar of Taiwanese history, Mr Wilbur Isosceles Kipe-Dia (henceforth W.I. Kipedia) I was quite happy to read about various exploits of Empire from different European nations without coming across something along the lines of “Well this is a jolly good country, I’d be eternally grateful old boy if you’d make me a cup of tea, otherwise I’ll have no choice but to give you a terribly deadly blow with this awfully loud rifle”. It was nice to not have the pang of guilt I get whenever reading about Burma, Singapore, China, Hong Kong, Australia, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Iraq, Iran, Kenya, South Africa, etc, etc, etc.
In 1840 the British invaded as part of the first Opium War… Fuck-crumpets!
The Japanese defeated the Chinese in 1895 and ruled Taiwan until their defeat in WWII, when it was ‘given back’ to the Chinese, by Churchill and FDR, who are of course renowned for their fair, even-handed diplomacy when it comes to the destruction of Asian nations. As mentioned above, the Kuomintang (KMT) who lost China to the communists in 1949 moved to Taiwan and thus began the dual claim for the sole title of China. This was not the heavenly liberal democracy versus the evil communist dictatorship the States would have you believe though. Taiwan was a brutal dictatorship also, but was recognised by the west as the sole government of China, because they could: a) make a lot of cheap plastic toys for Christmas, and b) they weren’t frickin’ commies! Pro-democracy movements of the 70s and 80s brought about universal suffrage and in 96 the first full presidential elections were held.
So, to summarise: Taiwan is not China, but the people are Chinese. I can’t tell you exactly what Taiwan is yet though, I’ll try again in a few months. At the beginning I found myself comparing it to China too often; the people are ethnically very similar and I couldn’t help it. It’s much easier to live here than in China. Local government bureaucracy does not infiltrate most aspects of life, which is nice. However, a lot of the Taiwanese resent foreigners and are pretty racist out of feelings of superiority, much like the English. This differs from the Chinese who are generally racist due to ignorance and curiosity.
1400 words. If you’ve somehow read it all you’ve received much more than a picture. It’s more like a topographical map and a postcard, you are welcome!
Come back next week for a slightly smaller and much more photo based picture of my current city, Hsinchu.