Monthly Archives: August 2009

Cross-strait harmony boosts student exchanges

The rapprochement across the Taiwan Strait has enabled more mainland students to study in Taiwan. Whereas before President Ma Ying-jeou took office in May 2008, exchanges were mainly one-sided (Taiwan to China); the recent improved relationship between the two countries has resulted in an influx of mainland students. As with increases of tourist numbers visiting from China, Taiwan hopes to reap similar rewards by allowing Chinese students further access to the island’s universities.

A win-win situation

The increase in the numbers of mainland exchange students is a direct result of the relaxation of travel regulations by the Taiwan’s Ministry of Education (MOE) and the lengthening of study times from four months to one year from October 2008. With island-wide college enrollment waning to match Taiwan’s declining birth rate the increase in student enrollment from the mainland is a boon for Taiwan’s universities.

The Taipei-based China Times reported that the opening of Taiwan’s colleges to mainland students could be worth NT$20 billion (US$615 million). There are at least 30 million Chinese seeking higher education degrees, including 3.8 million students this year who failed to pass China’s college entrance examination, 25 million vocational school graduates, and those who are working but without college degrees. Lengthening the allowable study time will allow Taiwan’s schools to tap this underserved population.

Three waves of mainland students

Yuan Chih University president Peng Chong-ping has witnessed previous waves of students arriving from mainland China. He divides the previous waves into three periods. The first was in the 1980s when a small number of mainlanders came to Taiwan for a short period of academic exchange. The second wave was around 1998 when Peng was dean of Studies at National Tsing Hua University. He helped to realize the first academic exchange between his school and “Chun-tsung Endowment” which provided funding for mainland students to visit Taiwan for six to eight weeks. The third period began in 2008 when mainland students were allowed to study for up to one year, enough time to achieve something meaningful.

According to statistics from the MOE, there were 857 mainland exchange students enrolled for at least four months in Spring 2009. Together with those who stayed for shorter periods of between two to four months, making a total of 3000 in the first half of 2009, an increase of 50 percent over the same period in 2008.

“Virtuous competition”

In studying this new trend, the Global View Monthly uses the term “Virtuous competition” to describe the increased student population from the mainland. At National Taiwan University in Taipei, there were 62 mainland Chinese students enrolled for the Spring 2009 semester. Among them was Wang Zhercheng, a biology student from Fudan University, Shanghai, China, who studied in Taiwan for two months. While in Taipei, he traveled extensively and enjoyed the inexpensive dining available in the Gongguan area. Indistinguishable from any other video-obsessed local boy, Wang enjoyed his stay in Taiwan very much. He likes Taiwanese web fiction, listens to songs by pop star Jolin Tsai, and plays e-games developed in Taiwan. With a workload of only eight units, he spent the remainder of his free time learning about and experiencing Taiwanese culture.

Zeng Hua is another student from the mainland. Hua, a graduate student of interdisciplinary studies in the Sculpture Arts Department at Chongqing University, Sichuan, China came to study at Yuan Chih University. There he switched his major and began studying under a fluid dynamics professor in the mechanical engineering department. Under this professor he began to create new fluid sculpture with flow patterns.

I Shou University president Fu Shen-li points out the admission of mainland students to Taiwan’s campuses has created “virtuous competition” between Taiwanese students and their Chinese counterparts. For example, mainland students are usually punctual to arrive in class. They take the front seats and raise their hands quickly to ask questions. Taiwanese students are very different. They arrive late, take the middle seats and are shy to ask questions. However, Fu has observed a subtle rivalry between the Taiwanese students who have no wish to fall behind their Chinese counterparts.

According to China’s MOE, there were 180,000 students studying abroad with their own funds last year. This number is expected to increase to 200,000 in 2010. According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), there are about 20,000 Chinese students in South Korea, and roughly that many in Japan as well.

Exchange not about money, but peace making

The former chairman of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Shih Ming-te told the United Daily News that he does not see this as a NT$20 billion (US$609.8 million) business opportunity. Rather, the young students from the two sides of the Taiwan Strait should learn the political and economic systems of one another’s countries to help pave the way for a more peaceful co-existence.

In an editorial, The Economic Daily stressed that education is an expression of a nation’s soft power, because it combines the social system, lifestyle and values. In short, education reflects the core of a culture. After exchanges of business, trade and tourism, the logical progression is cultural interchange, with higher education exchanges forming an indispensable part.

Three restrictions and six nos

Despite lowering some barriers, Taiwan still imposes many restrictions on mainland students coming to Taiwan. According to Taiwan’s MOE, it maintains a “Three Restrictions, Six Nos” policy toward mainland Chinese students. The “Three Restrictions” sets a quota so only top tier students are allowed to study in limited subjects. The “Six Nos” means they are not eligible for scholarships, extra points on applications and work off campus. Their admission should not affect current school enrollment. Furthermore, mainland students cannot take license exams or seek employment in Taiwan after graduation. At the same time, Taiwan currently allows Chinese students to study at any public or private graduate schools, but undergraduates can only go to private universities or colleges.

Also, for students who study for more than six months in Taiwan, they must enroll at a college/university with “sister relations” with a school in China. According to Chou Yi-shun of Taiwan’s MOE, currently 115 out of 147 Taiwanese schools have signed “sister school relations contracts” with 302 Chinese counterparts, resulting in 1039 sister school contracts. Based on the enrollments, the top five schools are I-Shou University, National Taiwan University, National Cheng Kung University, National Tsing Hua University and Feng Chia University.

According to the China Times, other countries in Asia offer far greater latitude for mainland students studying aboard. Countries like South Korea, Japan, Singapore and Hong Kong offer Chinese students scholarships, work opportunities, permanent residence, and even citizenship. Talented Chinese students, according to the paper, are not interested in coming to Taiwan for advanced studies.

Mainland luring Taiwan’s students

Meanwhile, the United Daily News reported that the China’s MOE has created a groundbreaking rule by allowing Taiwanese high school graduates who have passed Taiwan’s college entrance examination to apply directly to mainland colleges. Taiwanese colleges not only face internal competition, but also competition from the Chinese mainland now.

The paper said some of the Chinese schools that have excellent reputations in science and engineering are listed as top tier universities and get high budget allocations from the government. Besides having excellent professors, their software and hardware facilities are competitive. They also have exchange programs with well-known universities in Europe and America. If offered a scholarship, it might prove too tempting for Taiwanese students to resist. However, some students interviewed by the paper said they would stay with National Taiwan University if admitted instead of going to Beijing University.

Dual recognition of qualifications

Both the United Daily News and the Economic Daily urge the government to take more initiative in leading mutual academic exchanges, including recognizing the diplomas issued by some of the distinguished mainland schools and increasing the quota of Chinese students allowed to study in Taiwan.

In order to avoid being swallowed by China, Taiwan has to find the solutions to these complex issues and not allow talented Taiwanese students to be lured away, according to the paper. How the government responds to the issue of student exchange is likely to impact further exchanges in the airline industry, banking and other sectors.

Taiwan currently enjoys little advantage in trade and business over China, but it does have greater freedoms and democracy on its side, these are perhaps Taiwan’s best assets. Allowing greater educational exchanges is a winning strategy that can only lead to greater understanding on both sides. Taiwan has no reason to be afraid of coping with the challenges from China. College campuses on both sides are new platforms where reason and idealism can prevail, creating a new civilized model for a peaceful, democratic and prosperous society.

Thanks for condolences and assistance to Taiwan’s typhoon victims

This past weekend, Taiwan was hit with Typhoon Morakot, which dropped as much as 80 inches of rain. The flooding that followed was the worst the island has seen in the past half-century. The landslides and flooding have made getting help to some remote mountainous areas in southern Kaohsiung County almost impossible, with roads washed away and helicopter landing difficult in the slippery landscape. According to the Central Emergency Operation Center, the disaster has left 41 dead, 35 injured and 600 still missing.

Taiwan’s government has rallied quickly to help those in need of funds and temporary shelter. The central government will provide pre-fabricated shelter and low-interest reconstruction loans. The Executive Yuan estimates about NT$20 billion (US$609 million) is currently available from various budgetary sources for relief and reconstruction efforts. Premier Liu Chao-shiuan has instructed all relevant ministries and agencies to submit their respective budgets so the Executive Yuan may decide how to best provide assistance and if additional funding is needed.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) thanked the international community on August 10th for its condolences to the stricken families in the disaster areas.

The local governments will be providing relocation funding to families whose homes were destroyed or washed away. Those wishing to relocate can receive grant of NT$20,000 (US$608) per person, up to NT$100,000 (US$3,039) per household. The Relieve Disaster Foundation is also offering relocation money up to NT$20,000 (US$608). Families who have lost a loved one will receive NT$1 million (US$30,488) in condolence money.

For those wishing to help after seeing the horrific damaged caused by Typhoon Marakot, the government has set up an account for accepting donations.

Ministry of the Interior Donation Account
Mega International Commercial Bank
Account No.
Swift Code: 
Local TECO Office:

Online slang prevailing across Taiwan Strait

The ever-expanding use of the Internet and other popular media in Taiwan has brought with them a whole host of new Taiwanese terms. Pop culture jargon can be highly expressive and apparently infectious in this new age of the Internet, spreading new colloquialisms and slang faster than ever before.

In the recent issue of Taiwan Panorama, an article highlighted some of today’s popular Chinese online slang. Since many of the terms are translated from Chinese, although the idea might be conveyed, the humor is less so. In Taiwan, one of the top new terms often used in sha hen da – “kill very big” – which is derived from a TV commercial for an online game “Sha Online.”

Today, we use many expressions that do not make sense when taken at face value. Often they can be grammatically awkward. However, if the story behind these new words is known, or the development of these new terms is understood, usually they make more sense. One of China’s more popular expressions is da jiangyou which means “buy soy sauce.” Just hearing the phrase, we understand the literal meaning, but why is it popular?

According to Taiwan Panorama the story comes from a Guangzhou, China, television program. When people on the street were interviewed regarding a nude celebrity scandal, one man responded, “Ain’t any of my business, I’m just trying to buy some soy sauce.” Since then, the term has spread across the Internet and has become a common response to stupid questions or questions that are of no concern.

In a vote of China’s top ten online slang in 2008, the top ones were also widely used in Taiwan. Number one was shanzhai to refer to a knock-off product or something pirated. Although it initially had a negative meaning, it now has a positive spin and is used to signify “anti-establishment.” Lei meaning “thunder” in English, came in second, it has since morphed into a verb and an adjective to indicate shock and alarm.

Earlier this year, on the television show “Britain’s Got Talent”, a frumpy woman called Susan Boyle captivated the audience and judges with her singing. Afterwards, she repeatedly said she was gobsmacked by the whole experience. 100 million YouTube downloads later, people now understand the term gobsmacked. Derived from “gob” meaning mouth in British-English slang, it means being so flabbergasted that you smack your hand over your mouth.

Jargons stays with us, long after the knowledge of its origins has faded, but the most popular ones are easily understood. In Taiwanese, troun twa kwee literary means “take big breath”. Although in a yoga class, this might be a good thing, in Taiwanese, it actually means the opposite. It refers to someone who sighs often, feeling put upon by life.

As colloquial terms become more widely circulated they inevitably end up being added to our dictionaries. Ten years ago, if someone were to “Google” a name, the majority of readers would be perplexed by the meaning. Today, Google has also become a common verb and a noun. If you were to look up the word in the eleventh edition of the Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, it will define Google as a “search engine” and also “to obtain information about (as a person) on the World Wide Web.” It is unknown how long Google might remain in business as a company, but even if the company disappears, the usage of the word “Google” will likely remain.

According to Yu Kuang-chong, a well-known poet in Taiwan, slang is like pepper – when used appropriately, it adds a little flavor, but used in excess it can make a dish inedible. Language evolves with culture. It not only allows us to communicate, but is indicative of someone’s age, and socio-economic level. A person referring to his or her upbringing as a Brady Bunch childhood, a wholesome and popular television show would have been raised in the 1970s in the US. Whereas if you heard the expression talk to the hands, this person would likely belong in the generation that followed, since the term was commonly used by teens in the 1990s to mean “I’m not listening.” New expressions are very indicative of a specific time and region. Some are incorporated into everyday speech while others, are historical time stamps.

Ma elected KMT chairman

President Ma Ying-jeou has become the chairman of the Kuomintang (KMT, the Nationalist Party) for the next four years. After the uncontested July 26th election, Ma reiterated his determination to reform the ruling party and to work more closely with the Legislative Yuan to increase government efficiency.

Ma won with 285,354 votes out of 308,462 votes cast. The KMT has a registered membership of 534,739, which indicated a 58 percent turnout. This is Ma’s second term as KMT chairman, his first time was in 2005 when the KMT was the opposition party. In 2007, after being indicted for misappropriating expenses as Taipei’s mayor, Ma stepped down and was succeeded by Wu Poh-hsiung. Ma was later acquitted of the charges.

Ma’s bid drew criticism from the opposition parties since one of his presidential campaign promises was that he would not seek to double as the KMT chairman. However, he justified his bid for the chairmanship by citing the need for further government streamlining in the face of the global financial slowdown.

With Ma now serving as the president and KMT chairman, the Central News Agency reasoned he now has the clout to take full responsibility for Taiwan’s future – to bring peace to the Taiwan Strait and to transform Taiwan into a fully developed country ready to meet global challenges.

The KMT was founded in 1912 by Dr. Sun Yat-sen shortly after the revolution to overthrow China’s Ching Dynasty. The party can trace its roots to the Revive China Society, which was founded in 1895 in Hawaii. The KMT ruled China from 1912 until Chiang Kai-shek retreated to Taiwan in 1949 after the Chinese Civil War.

Taiwan’s opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Chairperson Tsai Ing-wen sent her congratulations to Ma on his appointment, but expressed concern over Taiwan’s democracy and the relations across the Taiwan Strait. Hu Jintao, the Chinese Communist Party general secretary, also sent his congratulations to Ma. Trying to allay fears, the Taipei Times reported that Ma said he is in no hurry to meet Hu, saying that the chairman need not attend every meeting between the parties. Even so, the United Daily News commented that as KMT chairman, Ma faces a difficult task in leading his party into December’s elections for magistrates and mayors.

Powerful pundits hold sway

During the recent trial of Taiwan’s former president, Chen Shui-bian, and his wife Wu Shu-chen, political commentators were able to predict the course of action that persecutors would take, creating the impression that it was the pundits who controlled the investigation, rather then the courts. Every country has its Bill O’Reillys and Jon Stewarts, but in Taiwan, the pundits are especially powerful.

With the growth of the cable networks, there is definitely no shortage of pundits. In a recent The Journalist weekly report, television pundits in Taiwan were the focus. When Taiwan opened the government-controlled wireless television stations to private business in the 1990s, political commentary programs quickly became a forum for the audience to get involved in public affairs.

During Lee Teng-hui’s presidency and his chairmanship of the ruling Nationalist Kuomintang (KMT), the opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) members often criticized Lee’s policies on television commentaries, with the more eloquent of these personalities emerging as news stars. The KMT also mobilized some members to defend its policies, with some of them becoming TV pundits and criticizing government policies after the DPP took power in 2000.

With daily programs, the popularity of TV pundits has surged, along with their paychecks. By commenting on news, using knowledge from scholars and politicians, any commentary can sound credible. Thus has emerged a group of professional TV pundits who wield substantial power. When President Chen was still in office and accused of embezzling funds, TV pundits revealed confidential documents about Chen’s financial dealings. Rumors quickly spread, especially when President Chen stepped down and was accused of embezzlement. Suddenly, journalists who had no prior experience of covering the justice department emerged to comment on the legal and persecution process.

Since taking office, President Ma Ying-jeou has been careful to keep his distance from pundits. The public affairs department of the Office of the President avoids direct contacts with pundits to remove the risk of second-hand communications.

The Journalist report concluded, Taiwan’s media has enjoyed sufficient freedom, but the TV pundits have to make political commentary in a very responsible way. In Commonwealth monthly, sources for stories are often bought. Referring to the well-known case of one KMT legislator and also a TV pundit, who spent US$3000 to buy a photo of a ranking DPP government official gambling in South Korea. The revelation caused a scandal involving the Kaohsiung Mass Transit System. The lawmaker also made great efforts to collect information showing former President Chen’s overseas bank accounts.

Minister of Justice Wang Ching-feng told the Taipei-based China Times that she supports appropriate regulation of TV pundits. According to a senior television producer, TV pundits rush from program to program, without really taking the time to study the topics in depth. They address the same topic in a continuous loop in their pursuit of airtime. However, Liu Yi-hon, a veteran reporter, strongly opposes any regulation, which he said would impede freedom of speech.

In an article on the occasion of Walter Cronkite’s death, columnist Nan Fang-shou wrote, Walter Cronkite was known as “the most trusted man in America.” Cronkite saw the media as the fourth branch of government, believing in the news media’s responsibility to inform the populace as an essential element of a healthy functioning democracy. In earlier days, Taiwan’s TV pundits were able to expose the dark sides of the government, serving to “check and balance” Taiwan’s young democracy. As the pundits themselves gained celebrity status, siding with particular politicians, they have abused their influences by swaying popular sentiments with biased views. In this media culture, Nan thinks it is almost impossible to have a Walter Cronkite.

Taiwan’s military to be all-volunteer by 2014

With improved relations across the Taiwan Strait, Taiwan has set the goal of turning its military into an all-volunteer service by the end of 2014. All males born in 1995 and after will no longer be required to complete a 14-monthlong compulsory military service.

The Ministry of National Defense has announced a new military recruitment policy that will rely on an all-volunteer military service system during peacetime, but that maintains the current reservist system, (approximately 1.65 million people), to be activated in the event of a military conflict, reported the United Daily News. Taiwan currently has 275,000 people in its armed forces, which it hopes to reduce to 215,000 by 2014.

In order to defend against a possible mainland Chinese invasion, Taiwan has maintained a conscription policy for all qualified males of military age since 1949. At the height of military tensions with China during the 1950s and 1960s, Taiwan had a total of 430,000 draftees.

Meanwhile, the paper also reported a standing military’s regulation that barred those born in the Chinese mainland from attending Taiwan’s military academies. It is estimated there are a million Taiwanese doing business in China with many of their children being born there as well. This means their children are prohibited from applying to Taiwan’s military academies.

The military balance in the Taiwan Strait is shifting in favor of China, according to Japan’s Defense White Paper 2009. However, with an all-volunteer military, Taiwan hopes to build a small, but strong, elite force that will offer a “solid defense and effective deterrence.” Redefining its new direction, Taiwan cannot compete with China in the arms race. Winning is no longer a matter of “an all-out elimination of enemies” but rather in “defending every inch of the territory by expelling the enemies from landing,” according to the Ministry of National Defense.

Taiwanese baseball team takes 2nd place at World Series

Earlier this month, some of the world’s best little and big league teams descended on San Jose and Monterey, California, to see which teams and nations would take home championship trophies. Taiwan’s little league baseball team arrived to participate in the Bronco League World Series in Monterey from August 4th to 11th. On August 10th, they reached the semi-finals, but unfortunately lost to a team from Brooklyn, New York. A few hours away in San Jose, its big league team competed at the Palomino World Series starting August 7th. Last night, Taiwan’s team made it to the final playoff and came in second against a team from Houston, Texas.

Taiwan’s little league has been among the leading teams in recent years. In the Bronco League World Series, Taiwan were runners up in 2006 and 2008, and third in 2007. In the Palomino World Series, Taiwan won the championship in 2006 and came second in 2007 and 2008.

The Palomino has long been considered the training ground for players 17-19 wishing to go on to Major League Baseball. Although Taiwan’s professional teams are not a dominating force in the world of baseball, the island still produces stellar players such as Chien-ming Wang, the starting pitcher for the New York Yankees.

In Taiwan, baseball became a national passion after the Hongye (Red Leaves) baseball team from Taitung County defeated its seemingly invincible Japanese counterpart in 1968. Over the next 27 years, Taiwan would go on to win an incredible 17 Little League World Series Championships in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. At its peak in 1974, Taiwan’s little league, senior league and big league all took home championship honors. This year, the Kuei-shan Elementary School from Taoyuan County will represent Taiwan in the 2009 Little League Baseball World Series from August 21st to 30th.

Closer to home, Taitung County’s Taiyuan Elementary School kicked-off their tournament campaign on August 4th in Monterey. Located in the eastern part of the island, Taitung County is home to the legendary Red Leaves baseball team and has produced many professional baseball players. The big league players are from Pin-cheng Senior High School in Taoyuan County. Baseball is king there and it is where the best teams – such as Kuei-shan – can usually be found.