Monthly Archives: November 2011

Photo Gallery – Eslite Bookstore

At a time when bookstore chains across the US are closing one by one, Eslite Bookstore, the largest in Taiwan, is booming.

Established in 1989, Eslite (Cheng-pin in Chinese) operated in the red for 15 years before showing a profit in 2005. Now the chain has established itself as a new landmark of bookstore culture in Taiwan. Today, there are 39 Eslite branches across the island, with plans to expand to Hong Kong and to the mainland Chinese cities of Suzhou and Hangzhou.

Eslite is not just a bookstore, it represents Taiwan’s lifestyle and serves as an intellectual pillar for the Chinese people. Eslite’s success is plain for all to see. In 2010, Eslite’s stores welcomed over 100 million customers through their doors.

The following photos were taken at central Taiwan’s Taichung branch of Eslite by Sue Su. After a breakup, Su, a young amateur photographer, picked up her camera and went traveling, taking pictures of everyday life as she went. Read more about the richness of Taiwanese cuisine, and her personal photographic story of her hometown, Tainan (southern Taiwan) on her Chinese-language blog


A wealth of TV pundits: Press freedom or media disorder?

The Apple Daily reported recently that a Taiwanese teenager was arrested for sending a threatening letter to a person criticized by a TV pundit after watching a political talk show. This called into scrutiny the lack of responsibility of pundits on these shows.

One such TV pundit, Chen Li-hong, said that the young man may have already been angered by the social situation, and the TV show should not be held responsible for the man’s actions. Though, he added, “We have strong political confrontation between the Pan Blue (pro Kuomintang) camp and the Pan Green (pro Democratic Progressive Party) camp against each other. If political talk shows are plain and straightforward, the audience is small, resulting in extremely low TV ratings. So pundits are sometimes too excited and emotional, and cannot control themselves. Maybe more pause and forethought is needed.” Pundit Huang Jing-ping pointed out that it is not good for a pundit to fuel the flames on a talk show, to incite the audience emotionally, and shout at callers, all could be considered poor behavior, according to the paper.

Even visitors to Taiwan have noticed the excessive influence that pundits in Taiwan have. “As a new democracy, Taiwan is catching up fast, allowing full-throated political debate on TV that would make Fox News appear to be a paragon of fairness. Visiting mainlanders are said to spend hours in their hotel rooms marveling at free speech running amok instead of going sightseeing,” writes Lincoln Millstein, the senior vice president of Hearst Newspapers, in an October article in the San Francisco Chronicle.

In Taiwan, there are nine national satellite TV news channels, versus six in the US and four in the UK. The island has 87 satellite news gathering (SNG) vehicles, the highest density in the world taking into account Taiwan’s 23 million people. The island’s internet usage is also similar to that of the US. Taiwanese people are well-informed and highly educated.

Pundits originated from “whistleblowers”

Until 1987, Taiwan was under martial law. Those secretive days when a blacklist was kept, and opinions censored, are over. Today, Taiwan is one of those rare countries that has transitioned into a fully-fledged democracy by bloodless means. Public opinion leaders, including activists and political commentators, enjoy freedom of expression without fearing that their comments will be censored.

During 2005 and 2008, TV pundits acted as “whistleblowers” in the campaign against former President Chen Shui-bian’s corruption, resulting in Chen serving time behind bars. Thus these pundits became famous and influential, and the media followed the tips given by pundits during political talk shows to dig for more scandals and to carry more in-depth coverage. Faced with this type of attack, Taiwan’s political figures often become mired in a whirlwind of clarification and rebuttals.

As the political talk shows gradually change from being neutral to being more biased, with agendas that favor the Pan Blue or the Pan Green camps, the pundits cook the facts, offering opinions without checking the facts. All this has created a lot of unnecessary social troubles, giving rise to a negative connotation associated with the term “pundit” and also bringing the added concern that Taiwan is “ruled by pundits.”

Regulations to control the power of pundits has been greeted by controversy. In 2008, Soochow University in Taipei proposed that any professor who appeared on a TV talk show more than four times a month must get prior permission from the school. In 2009, the National Communications Commission (NCC), an independent agency similar to the FCC in the United States, tried to regulate political punditry by mandating that the shows “be consistent in fact checking and be of fair principle.” Any violator is liable to a fine, or for more serious violations, a show might be taken off the air. These two proposals were criticized and dropped because they violated freedom of speech and of the press.

With Taiwan’s presidential election approaching, James Soong, chairman of the People First Party (PFP), a smaller party in the Pan Blue camp, decided to run. It was a given that Soong’s participation would take votes away from the Pan Blue camp and have certain negative impact on the prospects of incumbent President Ma Ying-jeou. It was widely reported in early November that Hualien County magistrate Fu Kun-qi, an independent but with a pro PFP stance, passed the message through two pundits to high-level KMT officials that the KMT would release 11 legislator seats to the PFP in exchange for Soong’s withdrawal from the race. Both these elections are scheduled for January 14, 2012. Although the secret exchange did not take place due to its exposure, it did highlight the influence that pundits wield in the island’s politics.

Pundits belong to those least trusted

Over the last ten years, political talk shows have become one of the important elements of Taiwan’s news channels. Due to their low production costs, TV news channels have allocated more time to political talk shows, which are a money making bonanza for TV stations. The same pundits comment on different topics on different talk shows every day. The quality of talk shows has thus declined and has become a battleground, which leaves a negative feeling in general.

In discussing the pundit phenomenon, the Journalist weekly said “the special ecology of Taiwan’s television creates the TV talk shows. On the surface, they talk about national policy, commenting on current affairs, and sometimes tipping the news leads. Under the table, many of them hold their own political affiliations and support their bosses. They love to make friends with politicians, or to be hired as political aides to offer consultation and strategy, or even to spread the word and be involved in political fights.”

The Taipei-based China Times reported that because of low production costs and controversial topics, TV political talk shows easily take prime-time, attracting larger audiences and bringing the pundits more fame. They comment on current politics, analyze social problems, offer tidbits of a celebrity’s private life, and the developing special characters of Taiwan’s society. A majority of pundits are former reporters, with many of them sharing a common goal of doing their homework so they are well prepared. Despite this, they are not jacks of all trades, sometimes quoting incorrect data or statistics, and in the process undermining their creditability.

According to the survey conducted by the Global Views monthly’s polling center in June, the most trustworthy roles in Taiwan society are medical doctors and policemen, in that order. Those least trusted are pundits and councilmen. A year ago, the Chinese edition of Reader’s Digest revealed the credit reports of different Taiwanese professions, and the lowest credit rating was for fortune tellers, councilmen and pundits.

More in-dept understanding of the issue?

There are commentaries as long as there are news programs and there must be people who make them. It is necessary for pundits to make such commentaries, no matter if they are media people or professors. But by talking on shows every day, pundits are treating commentaries as a commodity for sale, not only for the sublime goal of freedom of speech. Furthermore, it has become commonplace in recent years for pundits to act as spokespersons for certain specific political forces. It is these pundits who are responsible for pushing such a deep divide between the Pan Blue and Pan Green coalitions.

Lo Wen-hui, Taiwan-born professor at the School of Journalism and Communication, Chinese University of Hong Kong, once told the Commonwealth magazine “No matter in newspapers or television news, it stays only for a short period of time… while watching political talk shows, you have a more in-depth understanding of the current issues.” They help viewers figure out which side they will take in a conflict.

Appearing at different political talk shows, pundits are highly paid, but also endowed with invisible “power”, especially in politics. “Taiwan Media Watch Foundation” chairman Kuang Chung-shiang questioned, “the same group of people repeatedly appear at different political talk shows, even systematically, with few changes, much less new faces. It is a monopoly and narrowing of speech.”

Although the role of the pundits in society is questioned in Taiwan, mainland Chinese viewers continue to have a growing appetite for Taiwan’s political talk shows. The China Times reported that Chinese tourists love to watch the political talk shows when they visit Taiwan. Some groups ask the travel agency to help arrange a meeting with Taiwanese pundits, or even request visits to television stations to participate in a live talk show.

Among all the Asian countries, Taiwan’s form of democracy continues to be a great source of pride, and the pundits on these political talk shows are one of the most successful “showcases” of Taiwan’s democracy. However, what direction will Taiwan’s media be brought to by these professionals, who more and more are a polarizing force in their field, Commonwealth commented.

ITRI wins WSJ Technology Innovation Awards, again

Taiwan’s Industrial Technology Research Institute (ITRI) was again the recipient of a Wall Street Journal Innovation Awards, making it the first organization in Asia to be so honored three years in a row, said Janglin Chen, vice president and director of Display Technology Center (DTC), ITRI. Chen led a Taiwanese delegation to attend the award ceremony in Redwood City, California on November 8. Other winners and runner-ups included IBM, HP, Intel and Yahoo.

Chen told the World Journal that ITRI’s Spray-IT, an eco-friendly, thermal spray coating, and i2R e-Paper, an electronic paper technology to provide a re-writable, re-usable and environmentally friendly print medium, both received top prizes in the category of “Environment” and “Materials and Basic Science and Technology” respectively over more than 600 competitors worldwide. The Wall Street Journal carried a special report on ITRI’s innovative technology on October 17.

Tzer-Shen Lin, division director of ITRI’s Electronic Materials & Devices Research Group said that Spray-IT thermal insulation is a clear liquid insulation spray coating that can be applied to glass windows and other structures. It lets the sun in, yet reduces the heat, thereby not straining the air conditioning. It can be applied to large areas such as solar cell panels, the roofs of high rise buildings and surfaces, and is capable of reducing the temperature by up to 10 degrees Celsius. It is also more economical than the typical silver-based films, which are expensive to produce and cannot be applied without specialized equipment in a highly controlled environment.

In introducing the i2R e-Paper, Lee Yuh-zheng of ITRI DTC said the e-Paper is the first electronic paper technology to provide a re-writable, re-usable and environmentally friendly recyclable print medium to reduce traditional paper consumption. To print, users simply need a thermal printer which consumes minimal electricity without the need for ink cartridges. The heat generated from the printer interacts with the e-paper to capture the image. The print can then be erased when the i2R e-Paper is put back into the thermal printer device to swap out the old image. The i2R e-Paper was also awarded the 2011 R&D 100 Award from R&D Magazine for this technology.

Taiwan hi-tech jobs fair comes to Santa Clara

A High-Tech Overseas Talent Recruitment Mission (HiRecruit) led by Liang Kuo-hsin, Taiwan’s vice economics minister, arrived in the San Francisco Bay Area to put on a jobs fair at the Biltmore Hotel. The day-long jobs fair sought to fill 1,205 job vacancies in Taiwan.

This year, 235 people signed up for the one-on-one job interviews on November 5.  Participating companies included, TSMC, UMC, AU Optronics Corp., MediaTek, Delta Electronics, Davicom Semiconductor, Macronix International, Silicon Motion, Oplink, E Ink, Arcom, AcBel, AAEON, LuxNet, Portman Security, AB Biosciences, EverFocus, plus many others. Job opportunities were available in process engineering, manufacturing, pharmaceutics, pharmaceutics chemistry, pharmacokinetics, chemical  engineering, medical chemistry, cloud computing, functional textile R&D, solar cell engineering etc.

In comparing the advantages of working in Taiwan, China or Silicon Valley, Liang said that the South Bay has the advantage of innovation and China has a huge market and serves as the world’s factory. Taiwan, however, provides a complete business structure offering legal protection, strong R & D capabilities and a living environment on a par with international standards. In addition, there is a bilingual school at Hsinchu Science Park, and a friendly community that attracts both ethnic Chinese and non-Chinese alike.

Liang said due to cultural similarities between Taiwan and China, many international enterprises treat Taiwan as a springboard to China. There are also advantages in partnering with Taiwan, for example, the success rate of Japanese investment in China is 10 percent lower than that of joint ventures between Taiwan and Japan that invest in China.

According to Liang, international conglomerates have noticed Taiwan’s strengths lie not only in its R & D capability, but also in how quickly Taiwanese businesses are able to commercialize R & D into a finished product. He said, Taiwanese companies have the ability to mass produce touch screens for Apple’s iPhones very quickly. Many multinational companies have set up facilities in Taiwan to take advantage of that capability. Yet, while only a few years ago very few companies were interested in moving into Nankang Software Park, now the park it is fully occupied, with the third phase still not providing enough space.

This investment is not just happening in the north of the island. Industrial parks in Taichung and other areas are also fully occupied because a lot of Japanese and American companies have moved in, plus many overseas Taiwanese are returning to the island, causing an investment frenzy.

Since 2003, HiRecruit has successfully recruited 3,672 professionals to work for Taiwanese companies. Although the number of companies participating in this year’s recruitment delegation was slightly down on the record tally of 40, 30 companies did take part. After visiting Silicon Valley, HiRecruit continued on to Boston.

President Ma proposes cross strait peace accord

In the October 17 press conference, President Ma Ying-jeou announced that his administration is preparing to initiate a peace accord with mainland China under three preconditions – necessity of the nation, public opinion support and under the supervision of the national Legislature. He stressed that such a peace agreement would not take place without the passing of a referendum and is not set to any timeline. If a referendum did not pass, then the peace pact would not be signed.

After being questioned by Tsai Ing-wen, chairwoman of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and its presidential nominee, President Ma assured the nation that the initiation of such a peace agreement is only possible with the consensus of the people and after the accumulation of enough confidence between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait. Furthermore, the content of the pact must come under the constitutional framework of the Republic of China on Taiwan, and maintain the current status of “no unification, no independence and no war.”

In 2003, former President Chen Shui-bian talked about the necessity of establishing a “peace and stability framework agreement for cross-strait interaction,” and proposed the “one principle, four issues” agreement, in which the principle is peace, while the four issues are the establishment of a negotiation mechanism, exchanges based on equality and reciprocity, establishment of a political relationship, and prevention of military conflict. When Chen brought up the idea of a peace accord, Tsai was serving as his minister of the Mainland Affairs Council, the main architect of the proposal, President Ma stressed in the press conference.

According to the referendum law, a required minimum of 50 percent national registered voter turnout is needed and another 50 percent of valid votes cast are required to pass a referendum. Since its passing in 2004, voters have gone to the polls three times in six referendums. All have failed to pass due to insufficient voter turnout.

With the forthcoming presidential election scheduled for January 14, 2012, King Pu-tsung, President Ma’s top aide, told Commonwealth magazine that the president is especially good at “promoting cross strait relations and in overcoming the economic crisis.” Internationally, President Ma’s strengths rest on his stable and reliable character.

With regards to President Ma’s handling of controversial issues, Chen Shang-chih, a professor at National Chung Cheng University, said, the accord is design “to pave the way for Ma’s historical legacy.” Since direct presidential elections began in Taiwan in 1996, former President Lee Teng-hui has been credited with ushering in the democratization of Taiwan, and former President Chen heralded for the peaceful transition of one political party to another. Prof. Chen believes that President Ma’s legacy will be decided on “how far the cross strait relationship advances.”

As for the question of whether President Ma would visit China after his second term, King said that President Ma has publicly stated that he will visit any country, including mainland China, in the capacity of president of the Republic of China on Taiwan. However, when asked, “Do you think Beijing would agree with his title?” King replied, “I don’t think so.”

In President Ma Ying-jeou’s meeting with Eric Schmidt, the executive chairman of Google, the president welcomed Google’s decision to set up a data center in Changhua County, Taiwan. The president saw Google’s decision as a vote of confidence for his efforts to make Taiwan a global innovation center, serving as an economic hub for Taiwanese and international businesses.

Google has built close relations with Taiwan’s hi-tech sector, with its operating systems being widely adopted in HTC smart phones and ASUS tablet PCs. The Taipei-based China Times reported that President Ma expressed the hope that, in addition to the data center, Google will establish additional close links with Taiwan’s industry, such as expanding the breadth of cooperation in generating software, system services, green energy products and even helping Taiwan to develop more creative talent in the promotion of the Android platform used in smart phones and Chrome in computer operating systems.

President Ma said the government plans to work with international companies to strengthen Taiwan’s research and development capabilities to further promote the island as the Asia-Pacific information logistics center in B2C e-business models and to enhance the inter-enterprise supply chain B2B e-business models.

Arriving in Taiwan on November 9, Schmidt’s whirlwind visit included meeting the management teams of Acer, Asus, Foxconn, MediaTek, Quanta, HTC, Chunghwa Telecom and other groups. He conveyed Google’s intention to continue to work with such world-class manufacturers to enlarge the overall business pie.

The Economic Daily News reported that, in addition to Google, Facebook will also open large data centers in Taiwan. These new facilities will not only bring hundreds of thousands dollars in procurement opportunities to the island, but will also spur on the rise of the information logistics industry to the tune of tens of billion of dollars.

This year the Ministry of Economic Affairs launched the “Asia-Pacific Information logistics center plan” which aims to encourage foreign companies to establish large-scale enterprise data centers in Taiwan. Having two such notable companies as Google and Facebook in Taiwan will only serve to attract other international companies to follow suit. With the resulting cluster effect, Taiwan could well be on its way to being the world’s leading cloud computing center.

Taiwan’s petrochemical industry at a cross roads

Despite a lack of oil resources, Taiwan has had a thriving petrochemical industry for a half century now. In ethylene production, Taiwan is currently the ninth largest producer of the chemicals in the world, and also takes a leading position in the production of thermoplastic and glass fiber.

According to Global Views monthly, the output of Taiwan’s petrochemicals soared to over NT$1 trillion (US$33 billion) in 2004, becoming the third industry to top NT$1 trillion after the semiconductor and the flat panel display industries. I Including textiles, the output value of chemical materials, petroleum and coal products and petrochemicals exceeds NT$4 trillion (US$132 billion), and accounts for 30 percent of Taiwan’s total manufacturing production.

Adding value to keep firms in Taiwan

This April, after five years of heated debates, the construction of the Kuokuang Petrochemical Project slated for Changhua County (central Taiwan) was abandoned. As the largest industrial investment project of recent years, investors still hope the project can go ahead elsewhere, but on a reduced scale. The backlash resulted in increasing talk of Taiwan’s petrochemical manufacturers quitting the island.

Business leaders in the petrochemical industry have said that it is hard to survive in Taiwan, although a scholar was quoted as saying, “Moving abroad is the laziest policy decision. It reflects the mentality of petrochemical businessmen and their reluctance to transform and upgrade,” reported Global Views.

Global Views reported that the ratio of the Taiwanese petrochemical industry’s R&D budget was only 0.32 percent of its total revenues in 2009, well below the lowest figure of 3 percent for large multinational companies. Plus, the average value-added amount in Taiwan was only 14.6 percent, far less than Japan’s 22 percent and Germany’s 33 percent. The government hopes the petrochemical industry will increase its R&D to 2 percent by 2020, and raise its value-added percentage to 20.

In the last six months, the government has promoted a “high value-added” policy to cope with the situation, asking petrochemical businesses to stay in Taiwan by upgrading the quality of their products.

Export-oriented industry hinders upgrade

In the last couple of decades, the business model of the Taiwanese petrochemical industry was to buy crude oil, then export large amounts of petrochemical raw materials post refining so as to earn large foreign exchange reserves. Taiwan’s production capacity of seven major petrochemical products (five general-use plastics and two chemical fiber raw materials) reached 12.35 million metric tons in 2009, among which 63.2 percent were exported overseas and over 70 percent of the exports headed to China.

At present, developing countries are still clamoring for raw petrochemical materials, so Taiwanese companies can continue to rely on the old business model to survive for the time being. However, a dependence on developing countries decreases the urgency to upgrade.

Established firm stands out from the crowd

Global Views noted that high-value added products are the way for Taiwan’s petrochemical industry to go. They should keep the old business model, but reduce their over dependence on importing crude oil and export the raw materials after refining, something that is mainly controlled by foreign companies.

Oriental Union Chemical Corporation (OUCC) is a successful case in point. As a member of the Far Eastern Group, OUCC has been focusing on ethylene oxide (EO) since it was established in 1975. The firm dedicates 1-2 percent of its total budget to R&D every year, and researchers account for over 10 percent of the company’s employees. Currently OUCC is the world’s largest producer of ethylene carbonate (EC), the largest maker of ethanolamine (EA) in Asia, and has recently developed environmentally friendly “green ethylene glycol” (EG) from rice stems.

Alex Kuo, president of OUCC, said Taiwan is congenitally scarce in crude oil and technology patents. Most petrochemical firms run in the mid- to down stream of the business supply chain. That’s why Taiwan’s petrochemical industry is easily affected by the global economic situation. The best way to get rid of this dilemma is to move as far away as possible from the up stream crude oil.

In the last two years, the rising environmental protection sentiment in Taiwan has cut off the possibility of domestic expansion in the petrochemical industry and has forced the government to take action to encourage such firms to move towards the high value-added direction. In the short term, petrochemical manufacturers have the option of moving abroad or maintaining the status quo. None can predict how long this business model will continue to work and only the industry can choose its direction, said Global Views.

Green cards lose value as Taiwanese head home

More and more overseas Taiwanese are giving up their green cards as waves of them return to Taiwan. Many older immigrants want to return to their roots before passing away, while others who are qualified for American citizenship are not applying. Some are even giving up their US citizenship entirely, according to the World Journal, one of the largest Chinese-language newspapers in the United States. This change can be attributed to the increased expense of flights, heavy taxation, and difficulties in clearing immigration.

For the past eight years, Mrs. Wu has tried to keep her US green card with frequent short stays in the US. Increasingly, she has watched as her friends lose interest in becoming American citizens, with some giving up their green cards entirely. Her friends advised her to go back to Taiwan, but she felt it would be a waste to “to throw it all away” after expending so much effort towards retaining her green card.

However, last month, she finally decided to return to Taiwan with her children, mainly because of the hefty US tax burden. Faced with the continuing global financial squeeze, the government in Washington keeps imposing higher taxes while cutting services and programs. Wu was doubtful that she would qualify for social security benefits once she reached retirement age, so why remain in the US.

Andy a certified public accountant, told the World Journal that many immigrants feel an enormous burden in getting their American citizenship since they then need to file global taxes and declare all their financial assets in Taiwan, including cars, houses, insurance and so forth.

Miss. Kuo who lives in Pasadena, California, said her original purpose in applying for an investment immigrant visa was to petition for her brother and sister, so that their children could come to the US for a better education. There is still some cachet in having an American degree, but now the price is too high. Besides, her siblings’ children prefer to come to the United States as international students or to study at private schools.

Taiwan’s women outnumber men; more remain unmarried

For the first time ever, women in Taiwan outnumbered men, according to the 2010 statistics of the Directorate-General of Budget, Accounting and Statistics (DGBAS). As reported in NOWnews, there are now 99.6 males for every 100 females.

Taiwan’s resident population (excluding foreign industrial workers, domestic workers and care workers) is 11,480,000 males and 11,630,000 females, a total of 150,000 less men then women. This is the first time that women have outnumbered men. This phenomenon can be attributed to two factors – an increase in the number of immigrants, coupled with more Taiwanese men moving abroad. In the last ten years, the immigrant population in Taiwan has increased by 162,000, of which, 78 percent are women and mainly foreign spouses.

The population has also shifted. Today there are 3.58 million children and 2.44 million senior citizens in Taiwan. In the last 10 years, the number of children has fallen by 1,082,000, while the number of elderly people has increased by 558,000.

According to the DGBAS data for 25 to 29 year olds, there are 70 singles out of every 100. In the last 10 years, the number of single people has increased by 15.8 percent, while the number that have divorced or separated has increased by 1.1 times to 549,000. This is also reflected in the number of single-parent families, which increased by 50.2 percent to 562,000 families.

NOWnews reported that there is an ever expanding group who are remaining unmarried, accounting for 30 percent of Taiwan’s overall population by the end of 2010, or rather, over six million of those aged 15 and over. In the last 10 years, those who remained unmarried (aged 25 to 29) rose from 57.7 percent to 73.5 percent, an increase of nearly 15.8 percent. As for women between the ages of 30 and 34, those who are unmarried also increased from 27.8 percent to 41.1 percent, an increase of 13.3 percent.

In 2010, there were 1,054,000 divorced or separated people (ages 15 and older), accounting for five percent of the total population, an increase of almost 550,000, which has more than doubled in the last 10 years.

Yang Wen-shan, a researcher at Academia Sinica, pointed out that overall the data show more women than men in Taiwan, but stressed that this reflects the fact that there are more old women than old men. As reported in Awaking News Network, there are still more men than women in the marriageable age group. This is one reason why women are not married and men cannot find wives. Nowadays, Yang said, women spend more years studying and are more highly educated. Those women who are over 30 have greater expectations. They are unwilling to marry poor or less educated men, resulting in more late marriages or no marriage at all.

The United Daily News reported that Taiwan’s birth rate dropped from seven persons per 1,000 per year in 1951 to 0.9 persons in 2010, a historical low. Fortunately, it was lifted a little due to the centennial anniversary of the founding of the republic this year. There were 142,345 babies born during the first nine months of 2011. The upcoming dragon year, the most auspicious sign under the Chinese zodiac, should also result in a jump in the birth rate. It is estimated that 210,000 babies will be born in 2011, raising the birth rate to 1.2 persons per 1,000.