In a recent article over the wire, Feng Lun, a Chinese real estate magnate, reflects on his 9 day round-island bicycle tour of Taiwan and describes the country as being a "graceful lady".
"Taiwan is like a well-educated lady who doesn't wear lipstick, " said chairman Feng Lun. "It (Taiwan) is modest, ladylike and elegant."
At first the comments had my hackles raised high above my head as gendering is a device which is frequently deployed in the discourse between the "civilized center" and the periphery or object of desire.
In Taiwan we have seen this gendered language used in the diminutive pejorative "阿" (a) which has been classically used as the signifier for Taiwan's indigenes and other peripheral peoples during the Qing dynasty. The diminutive term 番阿 (huan-a) or barbarian, is a classic example of conflating the civilizer's object into a perceived smaller, weaker, more docile and less intelligent form, desperately in need of a paternalistic hand from a more civilized center; a hand which may transform the object into something perceptibly "better".
Despite his need to gender Taiwan, I couldn't help but see his comments in another light.
It appears more independent Chinese tourists will be arriving to explore the country without propagandist minders and ideologically safe itineraries.
Some of Mr. Feng's other comments seem to reflect the inevitable discovery that Taiwan is not China and that Taiwanese culture is the result of a very different experience that Chinese can learn from.
Mr. Feng's comments come across as a subtile rebuke of Beijing and the CCP; a sentiment that seems to be growing among not just the Chinese in the rural areas that are feeling left out of the boom times, but also among the middle and privileged classes. It may be prudent to read comment's like Feng's less of praise for Taiwan, and more of criticism aimed at the Chinese government.
The article goes on to state:
He said that Taiwan is a law-abiding place where people have the freedom to mobilize and the sensibility to disband a demonstration, which he said may not be the case in every country.
Taiwanese people take to the streets, but they also obey the law, Feng said.
He also compared government and citizen powers in mainland China and Taiwan and described Taiwan as a place where government officials "have difficulty enjoying themselves" while citizens "are able to live happy lives."
Feng said that since the Taiwanese government has little power, and its people have more power, Taiwan's urban construction is less efficient and its streets are less beautiful than on the mainland.
Feng is not the first Chinese tourist to use Taiwan as a sound board for comments aimed at China's proprietary legal system, institutionalized corruption, the lack of civil liberties, and a general disregard for the welfare of others.
Feng's final comments may be more in line with the sentiments of more Chinese and Taiwanese alike, but a view that may not be shared by their respective governments.
"I took a good look at this lady, from head to toe, " he said, adding that he came to the conclusion that Taiwan is a "good neighbor to whom one can turn for help."