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Monday, February 22, 2010

Cycling Interest Rate Drops

According to this link below the recent bicycle fad in Taiwan has passed and sales are dropping back down to normal levels.

Not long after the spike in fuel prices in 2008 cycling joined egg tarts and hoola-hoops as another Taiwanese fad. Since Taiwan is the world's largest producer of bicycles it brought an added public awareness of cycling as recreation and as a sport.

In a prestige culture, such as Taiwan's , cycling embodies the image of affluence, foreign knowledge and leisure. It embodies the value of technically advanced equipment and a smart looking kit. Cycling, if done right, looks clean, sleek and graceful and has its "Top Guns". Unlike current Taiwanese values, cycling involves hard, physical work and outdoor training to become a strong rider. Many Taiwanese do not value physical exercise and it is not promoted as a worthwhile past time for children when they could be in cram school or learning an instrument. Exposure to direct sunlight is discouraged and brown skin is still regarded as "ugly".

This is not surprising as traditional Han cultures have equated strong, muscular physiques and brown skin with degradation and barbarism.

Many of the Qing era records of frontier peoples fixate on the athletic and muscular physiologies of their object. Frontier gazette paintings would often exaggerate the body types of indigenous peoples in contrast to the more "refined" Han. This imaging is still in use today, valid or not in the process of "othering" the Aborigines in Taiwan. Despite the high value Taiwanese put on science and mathematics there is still a tendency to project folk beliefs into understanding human physiology. One traditional belief is that skin color was a direct corollary to the purity of food and thus influenced the character of the person. The enlightened or degraded properties of a person could be determined by their diet and location. Location, of course, meant proximity to the Emperor. This helped to explain the "savagery" of the frontier. These folk beliefs were later incorporated into Sun Yat-sen ideology and largely contributed to the racialism at the core of contemporary Chinese nationalism.

To bring this back into the frame of cycling:

It is not uncommon to ride past indigenous villages where the people are represented by statues depicting "braves" in traditional dress, rippling with muscles like action figures, hunting or holding their traditional knives. These images only serve to reinforce the otherness of the Aborigine and create distance from non-Aborigines and affirm their need to be tamed by the Sunism of the R.O.C.

I guess I am probably straining to relate these ideas together, but I do think cycling as a popular activity in Taiwan highlights several conflicting values in contemporary Taiwanese cultural life and some of the anxieties of cultural change in Taiwan.

Still, an expensive carbon frame becomes a Rolex, BMW or Apple computer; a demonstration of mobility.


  1. And this fact is testified to by the number of extremely expensive bikes mostly ridden by dudes who spend six days a week in the office and then "ride" their bikes purely for show.

  2. "Many Taiwanese do not value physical exercise and it is not promoted as a worthwhile past time ......"

    So how do you account for the thousands of hiking clubs or the families that invade the foothills every weekend? Is this not physical exercise? Enough with mountains, how about the millions that exercise each morning?

  3. I didn't say all. It is certainly not at the level of Volkssport. In Taiwan ping pong and badminton are great examples of popular physical exercise. I am not doing this to rag on Taiwanese, but rather examine why outdoor endurance sports are not as popular.