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Friday, April 9, 2010

Taiwan's Muddled Message: Around The World In 30 Months

Taiwanese Couple Cycles The World for Taiwan... er... ROC... er... Whatever We Are...

This article from Taiwan Focus er... focuses on a Taiwanese couple hoping to cycle the globe to raise awareness for cycling, for the environment, for Taiwanese products and for their home. I hate to be such a cynic, and with a focus that narrow how could one go wrong?

Let's have a look shall we.
Taoyuan, Taiwan April 7 (CNA) A Taiwanese couple are embarking on a cycling trip that would take them to four continents in 30 months to promote the centenary of the Republic of China (Taiwan), as well as environmental awareness awareness and Taiwanese products.
Due to competing histories, ideologies and political interests, it is not uncommon to find that Taiwanese are often confused or unsure how to represent Taiwan in an international setting. This is made even more difficult by an education system that is still leveraged to promote Chinese nationalist ideology and Chinese nationalist culturalism. The incongruity between the Taiwanese experience, state constructed histories, and an official policy of national ambiguity, sews confusion both at home and abroad during international exhibitions and cultural exchange programs. This was highly evident during the recent World Games in Kaohsiung, which promoted a simple Taiwan centered message and the Deaf Olympics in Taipei that opted to tone down Taiwan in favor of an ambiguous Chinese Taipei and confused references to China, Chinese and Taiwan. Many Taiwanese will get confused when I talk about how "we" fought "you" during WWII. Taiwanese history is actually taught from an R.O.C. perspective that is divergent from a Taiwan centered perspective. This type of myth making is commonplace amid governments and civilizers that still seek legitimacy amid an ongoing "civilizing" program. It is no mistake that the constitutional role of education in Taiwan is to create a "national outlook". This colonial approach was confirmed by the education reforms of 1953 that sought to transform Taiwanese into Chinese. Many of the references we hear to "Chinese" this or that... are deliberate and are the result of directives issued by the Government Information Office.

The article continues:
He thought the year 2010 would be a good time to make the trip because preparations are beginning this year to celebrate the ROC's centenary next year and cycling is a good way to promote awareness of climate change and alternative energy.

Yen and Lin said they
would like to dedicate the trip to the Republic of China (Taiwan) , which was established in 1911, as a birthday present to the country.
In my experience I have never met a cyclist in Taiwan who did not identify with Taiwan as their country and their land. With this much beauty it is an easy place to feel attached to. Most cyclists and most people for that matter, never refer to the ROC. I haven't heard it spoken by a non-political Taiwanese in a very long time. The Taiwanese identity is actually very deep as it accurately reflects what people really feel. So, as I read through this article I couldn't help but think, "something doesn't feel right."


With a budget of around NT$2 million (approximately US$63,400) , Lin said, the trip would not be possible without the sponsorship of several local bicycle companies, which provided them with bicycles priced at NT$200,000 each, and the assistance of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which asked Taiwan's foreign offices to provide help.

Aha! Either this couple is going to whore themselves out to MOFA in exchange for a free trip, or, and I hope this is the case, they are going to nod their heads, agree to the terms of their propaganda tour, take the money and use their trip to have a wild time promoting Taiwan around the world as "Taiwan". If this is the case I hope they pull it off. With so many masters it will not be easy. Lesson #1 for getting sponsorship: By hook or by crook.

I found this quote encouraging:
A certified historical sites guide in Taiwan, Lin said he believes that he will be able to share Taiwan's stories with foreigners and "show Taiwan to the world" during his trip.
Don't forget the shout out to the sponsor!
"And about 90 percent of our equipment are Taiwan-made. We would like to tell people these products are very well-made in Taiwan, " he said.
Update: Here is an alternative article by the Taiwan-centered Liberty Times.


  1. As a former Taiwan government shill myself, I have a hard time swallowing how effective this "see how well-made our shit is" message is because it implicitly suggests that there was a problem with Taiwan's products in the first place and in the long run damages the country's credibility in the eyes of an increasingly savvy global middle class who can smell spin from a mile away.

  2. Excellent perspective on Taiwan cultural identity. It reminds me of the story of a friend from Taichung who was working with me in Texas. After being given the microphone in a large auditorium with a gathering of locals, she nervously introduced herself as coming from the "People's Republic of Taiwan". She was traumatized for weeks and went bright red retelling the story.

  3. I had caught the couple's page in Chinese the other day and was wondering that if they're so much about promoting Taiwan, why wasn't their postings at least half of the time in English.

    On their rides, the bikes are brand new titanium touring frames from Rikulau.