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Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Professional Cyclist's Frame For Viewing Taiwan

I found this little interview with Daniel Carruthers, a professional cyclist who has been living in Asia.
Some of his comments to be interesting and worthy of note.

Life in China is actually very different to Taiwan. It was easier living in Taipei. We lived in Shida, where there are plenty of nice food choices at good prices. It’s more expensive to eat good food here in China. Regular Chinese food is good, but I get sick of it – it’s the same everywhere and it’s very oily.

Getting things done in China always seems to take longer. Things seemed more efficient and stream-lined in Taiwan. More people speak English in Taiwan and you can get around there without having to know too much Chinese. But here in China, it is almost essential to master basic Mandarin if you want to get around. Not many people speak English unless you are living near a university campus where most students know some English.

I think one very common mistake foreign commentators make when researching and writing about Taiwan, is that writers seem to constantly seek an unnecessary and useless parity between Taiwan and China.

Logically, I see no reason to enforce this parity, but I suspect is has something partially to do with how "Westerners" identify and view otherness. As people view the "other" in terms of difference from themselves, the less care they take in grouping the "other" into categories that make cultural sense to them. The fact that people in Taiwan and China both speak forms of Mandarin Chinese as an official language seems to provide enough material for writers to seek parity between the two cultures. The same writers would probably not seek as much parity between American, English, Irish, Ghanan, Philippine, Fijian, Samoan or Pakistani cultures, despite their use of English as an official language. With such different social structures, I really do not understand why Taiwan needs to constantly be compared to China.

I feel another aspect of the parity between Taiwan and China is the resonant Cold War ideologies of the ROC, PRC and even the USA. In post WWII discourse, Taiwan was inaccurately portrayed by various political actors as some type of China.

I think this influence is evident in a recent blog post by Richard Masoner from Cycleicious, who brings the political term "overseas Chinese" into his blog post regarding the Taiwan Bike Festival. The term "Overseas Chinese", or 華僑 is a 20th century political construct devised and employed by the Chinese nationalists and the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) to mobilize support and raise funds for their movement and later for the new Chinese nation. The term is built around an imagined cultural, ethnic and racial construct that has no real foundation in the history of "Chinese" identities. Masoner uses the anachronous term "Chinese diaspora". Chinese political actors used the invention of the "Overseas Chinese" as a base for political support following the Chinese civil war and actively sought to enact programs that would draw citizens of other nations together in support of a racial Chinese nation and in opposition to the PRC. No wonder people get confused.

It is not surprising that the interview above clearly reveals the cultural, environmental and social differences between groups of people who live within social and political systems with vastly different motives, goals and objectives. I would recommend writers be aware of their China bias and simply write about Taiwan as Taiwan. It only makes sense.