Although China’s blind activist Chen Guangcheng and Premier Wen Jiabao might not have much in common, they both do want to visit Taiwan. And they are not the only ones.
This month, Han Han, a well-known blogger from China made a three-day trip to Taiwan and posted his observations online. Selected by TIME magazine to be one of the world’s 100 most influential people in 2010, Han posted a 2,500-word article vividly describing his positive experiences in Taiwan. The article quickly elicited heated discussions and was forwarded on. On the first day of the posting, it was read by over 400,000 internet users and forwarded to another 170,000.
Was Han’s positive impression a matter of chance?
In his posting, Han said he was much more impressed by a taxi driver than by his meetings with President Ma Ying-jeou and Taiwanese celebrities. He recounted how he had left his cell phone in a taxi as he left his hotel to go sightseeing. While frantically searching for a way to contact the taxi driver, he received a call from the hotel reporting that the driver had delivered the phone back to the hotel. Han then called the driver to offer a reward, and was told by the driver, “It’s nothing special. Don’t mention it. It’s a piece of cake.”
Han noted, “Maybe I met all the good people in Taiwan by luck. Maybe my superficial impression that almost all people are kind came from a short stay. Undoubtedly, if I could have stayed in Taiwan for a few more days, I would have certainly seen something unsatisfactory … There is no perfect place in the world, no perfect system, nor perfect culture either. In the ethnic Chinese communities, Taiwan may not be perfect, but there is no place better than it.”
He lamented, “I am lost in a culture destroyed by our predecessors, who also destroyed the traditional virtues, the trust among our people, the religious belief and consensus [during the Cultural Revolution], but did not create a Brave New World.” He said, “I would like to thank Hong Kong and Taiwan for providing shelter to the culture of China, protecting the Chinese tradition from catastrophe.”
“Even though we have the Ritz Carlton and the Peninsula Hotel, brand names like Gucci and LV, even though we can easily produce an epic film…, host the World Expo and the Olympics…, we feel no pride at all after having walked through the streets in Taiwan, having met taxi drivers, fast food store owners and passersby.” In reflecting on the advancement of Taiwan, he said “What we are proud of ourselves now are things they already enjoyed before…Instead, they have kept what we lost. What they are proud of now are those things we are missing.”
A generosity of spirit
Commercial Times reporter Ella Huey-ju Chou wrote an article about the impressions of Taiwan by her 80-plus-year old uncle escorted by her cousin from Beijing on a visit to Taiwan. The first place her uncle wanted to visit was the resting place of Hu Shih (1989-1962), a famous Chinese scholar respected by both the Chinese and Taiwanese. Her elderly uncle wanted to go there to pay tribute to the former chancellor of Peking University. Politely declining Chou’s accompaniment, her cousin took his father for the visit. At end of the day, they were all smiles as they recounted their day.
While waiting at the Taipei Main Station for the metro, they asked a passenger for directions to Hu Shih Park. “The first guy had no clue, but asked others around him, who did not know either. This process went on and on four times. I felt really bad for causing so much trouble.”
After the pilgrimage to Hu Shih Park, they continued on to the National Taiwan Museum. After a tour inside, they asked someone to take a picture of them in front of the museum. From their accent, this person knew immediately they were from the mainland and volunteered his services as their enthusiastic guide, recommending more sites with better angles. In all, he cleared areas for them to take more pictures inside the museum. The cousin was touched by this person’s thoughtfulness.
On the way home, they became lost and asked for directions from the owner of a
snack shop. Unexpectedly, the owner escorted them, making sure they were going the right way before returning to his store. The cousin said, “Unbelievable, he left his one-man shop alone and went out to help us. This would have never happened on the mainland!”
Ella Chou pointed out in her article, “I hate the hustle and bustle of the election campaigns, feeling disgusted toward all the call-ins on talk shows in Taiwan. But I understand, if not for a democratic system to put the ruling party in a closely monitored environment, Taiwan’s society would not have enjoyed the current progress and openness. All this is impossible in China. Through the eyes of mainland Chinese tourists, I see the happiness of the Taiwanese people.”
Taiwan’s songs are music to mainlanders’ ears
During his day-to-day activities, Hippo often hears Taiwanese pop songs playing on Chinese radio. Originally from Taiwan, he now lives in Suzhou, China. He recalled in Want Daily, “One day as I rode in a company car to work, I heard Taiwanese pop songs which were popular a decade ago. I was curious and asked the driver about the selection. He said he was just tuning in to a Shanghai radio station, which plays mainly Taiwanese pop music with an occasional English song, because most Chinese enjoy listening to Taiwan’s pop music.”
Taiwanese pop singers probably take sixth place in the year’s top ten most popular hits as played on the Southeast TV station in Fujian, China. The remaining top singers are from Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysia, with the last place being held by China. There are 1.3 billion people in China, while Taiwan’s population is less than 2 percent that of China. Still, Taiwan’s pop music dominates over Chinese pop music. Hippo supposes that maybe promising musical talent can be better cultivated in a free environment.
Taipei maintains its foundations
According to a Want Daily article, Zhong Yu and Zeng Zhen made a trip to Taiwan last May. The young women recorded their impressions in a pictorial book entitled “Follow me to Taipei,” which was published last month. The book quickly became a hot topic of discussion in their hometown of Chongqing, China. Since it is the first pictorial book about Chinese tourism in Taiwan, the first printing of 20,000 books quickly sold out within a week. Discussions about the book on the net quickly reached 300,000 people. It is expected to become this year’s bestseller in Chongqing.
In Zhong Yu’s memory of her Taipei visit, she was impressed most by the people. She described Taipei residents as friendly, saying that no one was impatient when she approached them for directions. Some even used their cell phones to access Google Maps to explain the directions in further detail.
Taipei is not a metropolis in style, said Zhong Yu. Full of low and old buildings, Taipei looks somewhat outdated physically. However, the better part of Taipei lies not on the surface, but in its backbone foundation, which is cautious, friendly, gentle, patient, and orderly.
What impressed Zeng Zhen most was a middle-aged Taipei friend who took them to eat the braised pork rice that was a favorite of his since childhood. After several decades, the stall is still in the same location. The braised pork rice still tastes the same and even the dishes accompanying the rice have not changed.
As with most other cities in China, Chongqing is undergoing rapid construction and development. You cannot find any historic heritage in modern Chongqing because so many old buildings have been demolished. Zheng Zhen is envious of Taipei’s residents for they can still enjoy the tastes from their childhood, walk on the same streets they took as primary school students and see the same scenery they saw in their youth. In the place where Zheng Zhen grew up, everything has changed. Her hometown is brand new, so new that she hardly even recognizes it.
Taiwan’s value and the molding of civil society of China
In a letter to the editor of Want Daily, Jack Yun-jie Lee, professor of National Open University in Taipei, pointed out that the civil characteristics of the Taiwanese people come from the democratic system and non-profit organizations.
Lee said that through democratization, the Taiwanese people have gradually become united in a common experience. At the risk of colliding with various social forces, they have learned from the democratic system to compromise, be mutually respectful and to tolerate difference. On the other hand, there are 40,000 non-profit organizations and more than one million volunteers quietly dedicated to helping the development of non-profit organizations and religious groups in Taiwan. They supplement the gaps in government resources and formal education in order to improve the quality of life for Taiwanese citizens and to cultivate the love of the people.
It is a fact that China has become a world power, with a high rate of economic growth, and a booming construction industry. However, the case of Chen Guangcheng shows the shortcomings of Beijing’s government. Lack of citizen participation and monitoring mechanisms contribute to an abuse of power and the corruption of government officials, leading to popular discontent.
Lee pointed out that in the face of a rising China, and closer cross-strait relations, Taiwan should think carefully about how to survive and what role to play in the future. Besides seeking economic and trade opportunities, Taiwanese people should use their civil society to influence the Chinese through cross-strait interactions.