Friday, July 9, 2010

Taiwan’s tea – more than just a drink

Tea production technology was introduced to Taiwan from Fujian province (southeastern China) in the late eighteenth century. During the Japanese colonial rule (1895-1945), tea was Taiwan's largest export item. Today, it is an important part of people’s daily routine in Taiwan.

Well before science discovered the many health benefits of drinking tea, the Taiwanese people were drinking tea to satisfy their thirst or when spending time with friends. These days, tea has been shown to combat all sorts of ailments (cancer, heart disease, lower cholesterol, burn fat, prevent diabetes), converting more Americans to the taste of tea.

Taiwan’s teas can be classified into three broad categories: non-oxidized tea (green tea), fully oxidized tea (black tea) and semi-oxidized tea (including Pouchong tea, Oolong tea, Tie Kuan Yin tea). Among the three, Oolong tea is the most unique and popularly cultivated on the island. There are 20,700 hectares (51,150 acres) of tea plantations in Taiwan, with a total output of 20,300 metric tons (22,377 American short tons) of tea per year. Taiwan tea was originally cultivated for export, but in the 1980s, that began to change. Now only 10 percent is exported and the rest is cultivated for domestic consumption.

With the rise in Taiwan’s living standards, drinking in tea houses has become popular as a leisure activity, a place to rest, drink tea and socialize. The quantity of tea consumed per person per year in Taiwan has increased from 577 grams in 1980 to 1,500 grams in 2000.Taiwan’s tea industry has also undergone plenty of changes, with the popularization of cold and sweet tea drinks, and in particular, with the introduction of bubble teas. Originating at the Spring Water Ice Tea House (Chun Shui Tang) in Taichung, Taiwan, bubble tea is a frothy drink that includes small tapioca pearls, tea, condensed milk and syrup. Introduced in 1988, bubble tea has become a well-known Taiwanese drink. Its popularity has spread from Taiwan to Hong Kong, China, Southeast Asia, Japan and the United States. Today, tea houses serving bubble tea can be readily found on both the US east and west coasts.

(Courtesy of the Government Information Office, Taiwan Tourism Bureau and Ten Ren Tea)

Taiwan's tea dynasty strives for markets and cultural presence

At one time, the only brand of tea that most Americans had heard of was Lipton’s, served either hot or iced. Thankfully, American tea drinkers today have become more sophisticated and educated about the art and culture of quality teas from Asia. At the same time, people in Taiwan have discovered a love for premium coffee that would have seemed very foreign even twenty years ago. Between the two cultures, businesses have had to adapt to satisfy the taste buds of both cultures and to compete in an increasingly niche markets.

Ten Ren Tea establishes strong brand image

In the United States, one of the biggest tea importers is Ten Ren Tea. Founded in 1953 in Taiwan, the business has grown steadily to include snack foods, ready-made drinks, ginseng and loose teas. Ten Ren Tea was started by Lee Rie-ho, whose father also grew and sold tea. The family has been in business for four generations now, since Lee’s grandfather began growing tea. Under Lee, the business grew to become Taiwan’s biggest tea company with 74 stores. It also includes the Lu Yu Tea Art Center that works to preserve Taiwan’s tea culture.

In 1980, Ten Ren established it first US store in Los Angeles. Lee's brother and sister-in-law, Ray and Lily Lii, would open a San Francisco store two years later. Located in San Francisco's Chinatown, the store continues to be a strong presence. A New York City store would follow in 1984, set up by Lee's nephew and wife, Mark and Ellen Lii. Today, Ten Ren has a solid brand recognition and operates 61 stores in the United States, Canada, Japan and Malaysia.

Family buisness prospers

In its San Francisco store (, the bulk of Ten Ren’s early earnings were not from tea sales - as would be expected from a tea company - but rather from selling ginseng. Known throughout Asia for its health benefits, quality ginseng was being grown in Wisconsin, but very few pharmacies or health stores sold American ginseng in the early 1980s. When Ten Ren began stocking it, the store became a regular stop for tour buses carrying Singaporean, Malaysian and Chinese tourists.

With the growing popularity of bubble teas in the late 1990s, the company began to add tea stations to its stores, preparing hot and cold teas to-go. These tea stations now account for a large percentage of each store’s profits in the United States.

Still, the tea stations and traditional tea are very different businesses, according to Henry Lii, general manager of Ten Ren Tea (San Francisco). Lii learned the business from seeing his parents run the San Francisco store, and worked elsewhere before joining the family business. Customers who enjoy a particular loose tea are usually very loyal to that tea and are willing to travel long distances to purchase their favorite tea. It is a business that takes time to build up. Whereas a bubble tea might cost US$2 to US$3, traditional tea can range anywhere from US$5 to US$5,000 a pound. And, the cost often depends on how the tea is processed, according to Henry.

The flavor or scent of a traditional tea is very much a matter of personal preference, he explained, and is related to where the customer is from. While Taiwanese tea-drinkers enjoy Oolong teas, people from Beijing prefer Jasmine tea. Somebody from Hangzhou would probably drink Dragonwell (Long Ching), but if they come from Fujian, then they might select a Green, Jasmine or Iron Buddha (Tie Kuan Yin) tea.

The scenting of a quality Jasmine tea is dependent on the layers of Jasmine flowers used. The tea could be scented several times and use up to five pounds of Jasmine flowers simply to make one pound of Jasmine tea, Henry said.

“Each cousin has different recipes”

Tea is a beverage that has been around since 350 AD, and yet according to the Henry Lii, “the tea industry is still in its infancy.” He sees it as a business with great growth potential. One of the biggest factors is the research on green tea, especially over the past five years. “Lots more people are showing an interest. Tea bags used to be all people knew, but they are working on trying more,” Lii said. Ten Ren Tea also makes a range of snack foods, many of which include tea as an ingredient.

The younger generations in this family business are also making their mark. The “cousins,” as Lii calls them, have opened new stores selling Taiwanese food and tea. In Southern California, they include the 11 Tea Station restaurants ( and three Cha for Tea restaurants ( Unlike Ten Ren, the majority of its business is food, not drinks. According to Lii, “Each of my cousins sort of manager an area and each one of us will have our own recipes and menus which are different from one another.”

However, to Lii it is clear that the most growth potential in the family tea business comes from Ten Fu, Ten Ren’s sister company in China. Also founded by Lee Reiho who early on recognized the vast potential of the Chinese market, Ten Fu now has 987 tea stores. Lee has also established several production facilities throughout China along with two museums. The company is currently working to open a Ten Fu Tea College in China.

Other businesses compete for American markets

Another Taiwanese business offering a refreshing treat for Americans is 85° Celsius (, so named because this is the perfect temperature at which to enjoy a cup of coffee. The company opened its first bakery two years ago in Irvine, California, and has been phenomenally successful. In order to be a customer at 85°C, one must have the patience to wait in the long line that normally stretches out of its front door. The bakery offers inexpensive baked goods with a Taiwanese twist.

Like other Asian bakeries, 85°C sells baked goods with taro and red bean paste fillings. But, unlike other bakeries, they also sell a wide selection of gorgeous cakes and a few products unique to their stores, such as a dark bun made from squid ink, and also sea salt coffee. You can still get a regular Tapioca Milk Tea, but also specialty drinks such as Coffee Jelly Milk Tea and drinks for more adventurous taste bud. The bakery tries to keep the price of its buns at around one dollar yet still uses top quality ingredients.

The first 85°C bakery opened in Taipei in 2004 and quickly expanded around the island. Currently there are 325 85°C cafes in Taiwan. The Irvine store served as the test store of the US market, and to help the team iron out any kinks. The bakery is already planning to open more stores, with rumors of an IPO due later this year.

If Ten Ren Tea epitomizes high quality tea, then Quickly ( dominates the market at the other end with its tea-flavored drinks. With 2,000 locations in Asia, Africa, Europe and North America, Quickly has introduced Tapioca Milk Teas to the world in a big way. Started by Nancy Yang in Taiwan, the Quickly corporation in California has gradually expanded to include Asian-style fast food and Wi-Fi internet access. Instead of using steeped tea in their products, the drinks are usually made from powdered mixes. This allows Quickly to sell their tapioca teas at almost half the cost of other tea stations.

There can be little doubt that a taste for Taiwanese snacks in all their guises is rubbing off on today’s American foodies. Gone, thankfully, are the days when the only choice was Lipton’s hot or cold. Yet in a market where there are literally hundreds of products from hundreds of tea companies competing for the American tea dollar, Taiwan’s Ten Ren dynasty with its four generations of experience is continuing to show a drive and entrepreneurship that will give the best of them a run for their money.

Signing of trade deal with China heralds new era for Taiwan

On June 29, Taiwan and China formally signed the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) in Chongqing, China. Considered a prelude to other exchanges and trade across the Taiwan Strait, the ECFA has generated controversy in Taiwan since President Ma Ying-jeou first championed it. The agreement is expected to take effect in January 2011 with further rounds of negotiations still pending on investment protection, commodities trading and other regulatory issues.

The landmark agreement, the first between Taiwan and China since the division in 1949, will allow Taiwanese products to be more competitive in China. The speed of the negotiations and the strong official involvement has made the agreement unique, according to the Taipei-based China Times. After the implementation of more agreements and economic exchanges, both sides are expecting the agreement to strengthen mutual cooperation.

The United Daily News said in an editorial that the ECFA, the largest economic reform project since Taiwan joined the World Trade Organization (WTO) nine years ago, is of great significance to Taiwan’s economic development.

Taiwan benefits greatly in early harvest list

In the early harvest list of the ECFA, Taiwan has 539 items entering China with zero tariffs, worth US$13.83 billion, while China has 267 items entering Taiwan without tariffs with an estimated value of $2.86 billion. The main beneficiaries in Taiwan’s list are the petrochemical industry, machinery manufacturers, the textiles industry and the automotive components industry. The deal also covers products from some more traditional industries, in particular covering 17 vulnerable industrial products and 18 agricultural and fishing products, which the island will be allowed to export to China without needing to reciprocate. Taiwan will likely save US$1 billion in tariffs each year, which will significantly increase the appeal of Taiwanese products.

In the service arena, Taiwan has won six preferential market access conditions for its financial industries, and its banking industry will receive relatively more favorable conditions than the banks of Hong Kong. In addition, China will open up five locations where more Taiwanese investors can set up wholly Taiwanese-owned hospitals. Provisions of the deal will also make concessions to Taiwan’s aircraft repair and maintenance industry which is an important starting point from which to enter the Chinese aviation service market.

Not only will Taiwanese products be more appealing, but setting up business in Taiwan will be more attractive to Chinese companies according to Global View monthly. Polaris Investment Trust associate manager Chen Jun-ying said with the ECFA’s tariff reduction of Taiwanese products into Chinese markets, even some Chinese companies will consider moving their factories to Taiwan, given that shipping costs by sea are lower than by inland transportation from the factories in western China to coastal cities.

Taiwan: a springboard to China for multinationals

President Ma said at a press conference on July 1 that the signing of the ECFA is not only significant for Taiwan, but also important for cross-strait relations, the Asia-Pacific region and the whole world. First, the ECFA will help Taiwan break out of economic isolation and marginalization. Secondly, the deal is a major step toward mutually beneficial economic and trade cooperation across the Taiwan Strait, and can provide an institutionalized framework to create more business and employment opportunities in Taiwan. Thirdly, the ECFA is a big step to accelerate the integration of the Asian economy. The Asia-Pacific region and the international community will pay more attention to the value of Taiwan. And, more and more foreign enterprises will consider the island as a springboard to enter the Chinese market.

The president said, “Taiwan's development absolutely cannot, and will not depend on the Chinese mainland solely, and must diversify and control the risks to achieve the goal of global planning and positioning. We have the geographical advantage to attract foreign businesses to invest in Taiwan.” He added, “Taiwan can become a platform for multinational companies to invest in mainland China. Meanwhile, mainland China’s investment in Taiwan could also become a channel for it to enter the world market in the future.”

AmCham takes a fresh look at Taiwan

According to a survey by Global Views monthly, 87.5 percent of foreign enterprises in Taiwan said the ECFA will increase Taiwan’s competitiveness and 82.1 percent believe the ECFA will elevate Taiwan’s economy.

American Chamber of Commerce (AmCham) chairman Alan Eusden congratulated Taiwan on the signing of the ECFA with China. He credited the ECFA for providing a rare opportunity for businesses and research institutes to “take a fresh look” at Taiwan. While the ECFA might lessen Taiwan’s isolation in the global market, Eusden believes that the island's most serious challenge is in trying to maintain its competitiveness through pursuing trade talks with the US and other countries.

According to a report released on June 29 by the Taiwan branch of Credit Lyonnais Securities Asia, an investment and brokerage firm, most corporations do not believe that the signing of the ECFA will significantly impact profits, but the agreement will place Taiwan’s enterprises on an equal footing with those of the ASEAN countries, and as such is bound to be good for Taiwan’s economy as a whole. The report emphasized that the effects of signing the ECFA are expected to gradually become apparent after 12 months, or even have an impact on Taiwan’s 2012 presidential election.

In a speech on June 22, Japanese strategy master Kenichi Ohmae said Taipei enjoys three economic advantages that will help the island become an Asia-Pacific hub. This includes the current 370 direct flights a week across the Taiwan Strait, the drop of corporation tax to 17 percent, and now, the signing of the ECFA.

In a special article in Global Industry and Commerce monthly, Liu Zhen-tao and Li Yin-bo, professors at the Taiwan Institute of Tsinghua University (Taiwan), said that the current model of “placing orders in Taiwan – production in China – export to Europe and America” is disadvantageous to both sides of the strait because the dominant powers are controlled by Japan, the US and Europe. Hit by the global financial turmoil, both Taiwan and China have been impacted. Therefore, the division of labor should be changed to “placing orders in both Taiwan and China - cooperation in industry and R&D – and integration of domestic and overseas sales channels.” Based on this view point, the signing of the ECFA will have long-term strategic significance to promote mutually beneficial win-win cross-strait cooperation.

After Foxconn, Taiwan seeks to lure firms in China

In speaking to Taiwan’s industry leaders on June 9, President Ma Ying-jeou spoke of his plan to create a special trade and economic zone on the island to attract Taiwan businesses operating in China to relocate to Taiwan. As wages in China continue to rise and its environmental controls tighten further, more business leaders are considering relocating to Taiwan as an alternative. This trend began in 2006 and has continued as businesses see a decline in their profit margins. And, by lowering business taxes, Taiwan government hopes to lure more business back to Taiwan.

In 2006, the first batch of Taiwanese businesses returned due to newly adopted industrial policies and environmental standards in China, leading the government to crack down on high-pollution, low-technology industries. This prompted a number of Taiwanese businesses to close their small-scale plants and return to Taiwan.

In 2008, the Ma administration eased trade and investment restrictions with China and promoted the first and the second listing of Taiwanese Depository Receipts (TDR), which attracted more Taiwanese businesses to return home, and boosted the local stock market. In this wave of returning businesses, some overseas Taiwanese firms have made direct investments and have taken control of failing companies in Taiwan.

Coping with the end of China’s cheap-labor era

This year, businesses have returned to Taiwan due to changes in the labor market in China and further wage rises in the country. Initially, factories experienced a shortage of labor in the coastal provinces, then, this problem spread inland. Taiwanese firms could not find sufficient manpower despite offering higher wages. Then a spate of suicides at the Taiwanese-owned I-Phone manufacturer Foxconn led the company to announce a 122 percent wage increase last month. These wage increases have heavily impacted Taiwanese firms and the Chinese labor market as a whole.

According to the Taipei-based China Times, the Beijing government has decided that its export-oriented economy shall give way to one of increasing domestic consumption following the global financial tsunami. Beijing wants Chinese citizens to be wealthy enough to generate a vibrant domestic market. Thus "wage increases" have become a key policy goal of the Chinese government. Since the beginning of 2010, all provincial and municipal governments in China have announced plans to raise the minimum wage, with increases ranging from ten percent to over 40 percent. And, this wage adjustment will continue every year from now on. It is increasingly evident that the era of China as the "world’s workshop" with an abundant supply of cheap labor is coming to an end.

Idea of “special economic zones” considered

The China Times, in an editorial, pointed out, that due to rising labor costs and labor market change in China, coupled with relaxed cross-strait relations and the opening up of direct air links, more overseas Taiwanese businesses are returning home to invest. Taiwan's government has also prepared a plan that it hopes will attract NT$40 billion (US$1.25 billion) of returning Taiwanese investment a year. This returning overseas Taiwanese investment will no doubt enhance the island’s economic structure and hopefully create a higher value-added economy that will also promote the general well-being of Taiwanese citizens. What the government wants to avoid, is Taiwan becoming a processing zone for large-scale high-pollution, low-value exports. The paper said the government should encourage the creation of pollution-free tourism, cultural and creative businesses, and financial services, as well as high value-added R&D and marketing centers, and the emerging green technology energy industry.

The United Daily News also commented in an editorial, that Taiwan has been the main supplier to the "world’s workshop," yet the island have been buried in an economic slump in recent years. Only Taiwan’s export processing businesses in China have helped maintain Taiwan’s domestic economic growth. The industrial environment in China has changed, affecting not only overseas Taiwanese businesses, but also the fundamentals of the whole Taiwanese economy, to which the government should not turn a blind eye, cautioned the paper.

Taiwan’s cabinet-level Council for Economic Planning and Development is reported to be assessing the risks and feasibility of implementing "special economic operations zones" in Taiwan. The purpose of setting up special zones is to duplicate the successful cases of export processing zones and science parks in the past, starting a third wave of economic transformation. This new generation of "economic operations zones" is intended to attract investment from returning overseas Taiwanese businesses and multinational corporations, and to reduce the high unemployment rate in Taiwan.

Taiwan works to reclaim Asian Tigers’ top spot

Upon becoming the new chairwoman of Taiwan’s Council for Economic Planning and Development in May, Christina Liu, outlined the ambitious goal of reclaiming Taiwan’s former spot at the top of Asia's Four Little Tigers. In a speech, she stressed this is an achievable dream. And, according to predictions by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Taiwan does stand a real chance of surpassing the other tigers with an economic growth rate of 6.5 percent this year, higher than that of South Korea, Singapore and Hong Kong.

South Korea outperforms Taiwan since 2004

According to an Economic Daily News report, Taiwan was the leader of the four Asian Tigers from 1980 to 1987, when Taiwan’s average annual economic growth rate and export growth rate ranged from 8.2 to 16.3 percent. However, from 2002 to 2009, Taiwan's economic performance was ranked at the bottom of the four. In 2009, Taiwan's per capita GDP was US$16,423, less than half of Singapore's US$37,293. Taiwan’s exports totaled US$2,037 million, only 56 percent of South Korea’s. Taiwan’s unemployment rate also compared unfavorably at 5.7 percent, two and a half times that of Singapore’s 2.3 percent.

Among the four Asian tigers, Taiwan and South Korea have similar industrial development patterns, both promoting the manufacturing sector, while Hong Kong and Singapore are city-state economies, with more service-oriented economies.

Before the Asian financial crisis in 1997, Taiwan surpassed South Korea in economic growth, industrial development, and living standards. However, since 1997, South Korea has outperformed Taiwan by building up super brand names like Samsung, LG and others. In 2000, South Korea’s per capita GDP was only 77 percent of Taiwan’s. The two were tied in 2004. But in 2007 the Koreans enjoyed a 26 percent higher GDP than the Taiwanese.

Other factors behind South Korea’s rise

The Commonwealth monthly reported that the relative exchange rate has contributed greatly to South Korea’s growth. In the past ten years, 80 percent of South Korea’s per capita income increase came from its exchange rate rise, while only 20 percent was the result of real economic growth. However, Taiwan's central bank has been more careful, fearing its small and medium sized enterprises could not afford similar fluctuations as experienced by the Korean Won.

Ten years ago, Taiwan’s total export volume was similar to that of South Korea. But in 2009, South Korea’s exports were 80 percent higher than Taiwan’s. South Korea also invested a higher percentage of its GDP in research and development, upgrading its brand names and increasing its exports around the world.

The Commonwealth pointed out that Taiwan's electronics exports in 2009 were 27.8 percent, higher than those of South Korea. But South Korea has diversified industries of shipbuilding, automobiles, semiconductors, wireless communications, machinery, LCD displays, steel, and petrochemicals. Its diversification strategy has lessened the country’s economic risk while maintaining a market expansion capability better than in Taiwan.

Taiwan hopes for ECFA boost

In an interview with the NOWNews network, Liu said that the signing of the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) with China will give Taiwan an advantage of enjoying investment protection in China. In addition, Taiwan has reduced its business income tax to 17 percent, much lower than South Korea’s 22 percent, which will make Taiwan more attractive to international companies. This is Taiwan’s big advantage over South Korea. According to the Directorate-General of Budget, Accounting and Statistics, Taiwan’s economic growth rate for the first quarter of 2010 is forecasted to be 13.27 percent, marking the largest quarterly increase since the fourth quarter in 1978. In a recent revision, the annual growth forecast is predicted to be 6.14 percent. Liu said the ECFA will not only impact cross-strait relations, bilateral trade and tariff concessions, but will also strengthen Taiwan’s competitiveness against South Korea, especially since the investment protection agreement which Korea and China will not take effect for another two years. This is Taiwan’s advantage over South Korea, in addition to lower business income tax. According to Liu, another advantage is that the Taiwanese have a better understanding of China than the South Koreans. With all these advantages, Liu believes that international enterprises would likely align themselves with Taiwan rather than South Korea.

In the Taipei-based China Times, Huang Chih-peng, Taiwan’s director-general of the Foreign Trade Bureau under the Economics Ministry, noted that almost 20 percent of the early harvest list deals are with competitive industries from Taiwan, Japan and South Korea. With the agreement, Beijing has agreed to cut tariffs on 539 Taiwanese products entering China. This cut will likely translate into a US$13.84 billion advantage, said Huang.

NTU blushes over students working as show girls

Dr. Li Si-chen, president of National Taiwan University (NTU), has expressed his disappointment over the intensive media coverage devoted to current and former female NTU students who have chosen to don skimpy clothes to promote products as so-called "show girls" or even work as pin-up girls. Having studied at the most prestigious educational institution on the island, he feels that NTU students and alumni should contribute to society with their brain power, rather than rely on their physical assets. Li thinks it is a pity that such students enjoy the nation’s best educational resources, but then go on to become show girls or TV variety show hostesses after graduation.

“President is old fashioned”

Yang Yi-mei, a 23-year-old former NTU student, is one of these girls. She got her big break after starring as the “Black Widow” in a television commercial. Her performance generated a large following of male gamers attracted by her substantial assets, sized 34G.

According to the Taipei-based China Times, Yang is proficient in both Chinese and English, and has studied in the United States. She has hosted over a hundred events, including trade shows and corporate events. With her 34G-26-35 measurements, she was dubbed one of the “NTU Thirteenth Sisters” while in school. After appearing topless in a commercial for a video game, she earned the nicknamed “Black Widow.” In May, she signed a contract with a management company that hopes to broaden her appeal by having her write a book and study Cantonese in order to enter the lucrative Hong Kong entertainment market.

In response to Li’s criticism, Yang said each student has to freely develop his or her own potential. She stressed, she knows what she is doing and is capable of making good decisions.

A student at NTU’s veterinary graduate school, Lydia, works as a program host for the ETTV channel. She also disagrees with the president’s comments. “Dr. Li is too old fashioned,” she said “Good looks are bestowed by God. Everyone should take full advantage of heaven’s gift. You need to develop professional skills to stand out in the world of entertainment. The president should not give the entertainment industry such a low grade,” she said.

Performer Pink Yang, also an NTU graduate, said one can be outstanding in any trade, and, encourages younger students who are interested in a career in entertainment to join her to learn more, especially if they have the right attitude – that of enriching oneself. With the exception of variety show host, Nancy Kou, singer and music producer, Huang Shu-chun, and actress, Bowie Tseng, there were few NTU graduates working in the industry when Yang started out in the early 2000s. Now there are a growing number of artists graduating from NTU. While the NTU alumni can look out for one another how you develop your potential is down to the individual, according to Yang.

Sex appeal won't necessarily bring self-fulfillment

In view of the current sexualization of women in Taiwan’s media, and in society in general, commentator Chan Wei-hsiung wrote in the United Daily News, that Li understands the nation’s annual investment in each NTU student does not come cheap. Each public university student receives a subsidy of up to US$6,250 per year, and as one of the most prestigious schools in Taiwan, NTU graduates should select higher level professions so they can further contribute to society. This is a logical expectation from the point of view of collective well-being.

Most of those who disagree with Li argue based on an individualized point of view, quoting the Chinese saying, “You are a hero as long as you stand out, regardless of origin of being low or high,” according to Chan. Show girls can make contributions to society and the school should respect the free development of each student. This is a pluralist claim, which opposes any priority over personal choice by an external authority, said Chan. Since the democratization of Taiwan in the 1990s, individual claims have become the mainstream of social thought.

However, Chan questions, can an opposition to collectivization really achieve personal freedom? In earlier times, nudity was a big issue. But nowadays, nudity is more commonplace, so our desires as consumers can only be peaked by the juxtaposition of nudity with a product. As an example, the pairing of a new sports car or computer with a young woman wearing next to nothing can deepen the sense of pleasure for the consumer. Chan believes Li does not understand the economic aspects of the phenomenon. Still, as the same young women scramble to defend their individual freedoms in a commercialized world now, in time they may face the consequences of their choices, said Chan.

Freedom vs. beauty?

The United Daily News points out in an editorial that young women have the right to capitalize on their bodies and their appearance as a means of making a living or even just enjoying themselves. But it is worth noting that the phenomenon reflects a gender bias that can be detrimental to women and which establishes unrealistic role models and definitions of what is beauty.

Also, in a survey by 101 Human Resources Bank cited in the China Times, on average, nine out of ten college students do work on the side while in school. In an average week they may spend 16.4 hours working and 18 hours studying. So working is also a central part of the college experience. Financially, models at trade fairs earn the highest hourly pay of NT$500 (US$15.6), compared with other jobs held by college students, so in that sense who can blame them.

Inevitably these days, any profession that promises both money and fame is bound to attract young people. However, rising stars cannot simply rely on their good looks. If marketability is linked with a model revealing her impressive cleavage or other parts of her body, the whole of society would be in trouble, and not just the values of NTU students.

Writing in the China Times, Wu Dian-rong is in total agreement with a fellow female commentator Tsao You-fang who said that a “beautiful woman’s life is determined by others, and the less pretty woman’s life is self-navigated.” Beauty is disturbing for those of us spectators who are always worried about it being squandered, resulting in a wasted life. Wu lamented that talking about people who are not pretty but who are more in control of their own fate seems “a bit like saying that the poor enjoy more freedom to wander in the park.” Such self-control and freedom probably do not comfort us, according to Tsao. Still no matter the added degree of control, most women would probably be beautiful than free, concludes Wu.

Chinese tourists are impressed with Taiwan's dynamic society

In the first four months of this year, Taiwan welcomed 530,000 Chinese tourists, an almost 100 percent increase from the same period last year, according to the Commonwealth monthly. In the first quarter of the year, 340,000 Chinese tourists visited Taiwan, surpassing the number of Japanese tourists (270,000) for the first time. At this rate, there will be one Chinese visitor for every three tourists from elsewhere.

On May 4, Taiwan opened its first tourist representative office in Beijing, and three days later China followed suit by opening a tourist office in Taipei. This was the first time since the division in 1949 that Taiwan and China set up a regular tourism institution on the other side, marking a new milestone in the development of cross-strait relations.”

So far, Chinese visitors have been thrilled by Taiwan and have been keen to share their impressions of the island.

In the Want Daily, Meng Fanjia, a Chinese man with a Taiwanese wife, recalled his first impressions of visiting the Temples of Confucius in Taipei and Tainan. “It was really amazing to see two groups of elementary school students on a field trip, learning about Confucius’ teachings at the temples. The Confucian Temple in Beijing is quiet and deserted. However, the temples in Taiwan are not just tourist attractions or places to worship the ancient great teacher, but are also classrooms to pass on Confucian teachings to the next generation …there are at least two cases where I have witnessed Taiwan’s education and the passing on of traditional culture.”

According to Taiwanese tour guide Li Chien-chen, Taipei’s Presidential Office and the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall are among the most popular spots for Chinese tourists. Talking to the Taipei-based China Times, he said that Chinese visitors like to have their pictures taken in front of the Presidential Office, which is just like Beijing’s Zhongnanhai – headquarters of China’s leaders. Li often joked with his clients that “President Ma Ying-jeou is working in the fifth floor. Do you see him waving at you? I called him just now, but he is busy and can’t meet you in person.”

Another observation in the Want Daily was by Zeng Qiqi, a woman from Zhejiang province, China, who said, “in Taiwan, I hear them talking in standard Mandarin. There is no communication problem even in remote areas. Our 60-year-old driver, who is originally from Guangdong province, speaks without any Cantonese accent. After all, there have been decades of separation across the Taiwan Strait. However, even speaking the same language, the people of China and Taiwan use different expressions for modern objects like laser, rapid mass transit, lunch box, information technology, digital camera, and mobile phones, etc.”

In the same paper Chinese tourist Tang Jin said that “the Taiwanese have a better quality education and are civilized. They talk quietly, even in public places such as in stations and restaurants, while the Chinese always talk loudly and shout at each other.”

According to Taiwan's Bureau of Tourism, more than 1.2 million Chinese tourists have visited the island since 2009. Many of them grew up hearing about Taiwan, so the visit allows them to finally see Taiwan for themselves. This was the case for an elderly woman in a wheelchair. She came from Beijing so she could see Sun Moon Lake and Mountain Ali, which she had studied in elementary school. She could even sing the Taiwanese popular folk song “The Girl from Mount Ali.”

Zhang Yuping, originally from Sichuan province, China, has a Taiwanese husband. The couple has a one-year-old son. In speaking to NOWNews, she said that the Taiwan television soap dramas are more appealing. She watches them daily and finds the style of programming very different on the two sides of the Taiwan Strait. The Chinese programs are more conservative with many restrictions, while those in Taiwan are more diverse and lively. This is true for political talk shows too, which are open and bold, very different from those in China, Zhang said.

Gao Xingjian, the first Chinese person to win a Nobel laureate, told the Central News Agency that each time he visits Taiwan, he sees something new. Although he now lives in France, Gao considers Taiwan to be a treasure in the Chinese world, something dynamic and rare.

Maternity benefits may be extended to single moms

With the vast majority of Taiwanese preferring to remain single in their 20s, the island’s marriage rate has hit a 40-year low. This is problematic given an increasingly gray population coupled with the low birth rate. If this situation continues, more people will be drawing from the system than are paying into it, hampering not only social services, but economic development as well. A solution suggested by Vice Interior Minister Chien Tai-lang, would entitle single moms to maternity benefits as an incentive to increase Taiwan’s birth rate. The suggestion was met with staunch opposition from the island’s media.

According to the Taipei-based China Times, the number of single mothers has more than tripled, from 1.4 percent to 4.39 percent annually over the last 30 years. More women are having children outside marriage said Chian Chih-chie, deputy secretary-general of the Women’s Awakening Foundation, and the government could solve the problem of low birth rates by granting more social welfare maternity benefits to single mothers who are currently not covered. This would not only be fair, but would also serve as an added incentive, she said.

Not only are less people getting married, but they are getting married later. In a recent study announced on June 27, the Interior Ministry found that the average age of marriage in Taiwan in 2009 was 31.6 years old for men and 28.9 for women, an increase of half a year compared with the 2008 averages.

The decline in the number of people getting married can also be attributed to the economic recession, higher unemployment and the fact that last year happened to be a traditional Taiwanese “lonely phoenix year,” which is said to be a bad year to get married.

In a survey conducted by the China Times, only about 60 percent of respondents were married and as high as 40 percent were not. An in-depth statistical analysis also showed that 90 percent of men between the ages of 20 and 29 were not married, and as many as 71 percent of women in the same age group were unmarried. This is troubling since the 20s are the best age for conceiving children.

Remaining single or marrying later in life is also becoming more acceptable, according to the Central News Agency. Professor Wang Yun-tung of the Department of Social Work at National Taiwan University said that traditional values dictated that women had to be married by a certain age. But, as society has changed, so have its values. Wang believes that Taiwan is a diversified society, and with the rise of individualism, young Taiwanese do not feel the pressure to get married. Couples living together without the benefit of marriage are no longer stigmatized as before. Marriage is not indispensable, so more people wait to get married or remain unmarried.

Yao Shu-wen, chief executive of the Modern Women's Foundation, believes that there are other reasons that less people got married in 2009, outside of it being a “lonely phoenix year.” Contributing factors include the high divorce rate and a lack of belief in the institution of marriage, said Yao. And, women who have worked hard in their careers are reluctant to marry later for fear of losing their independence.

The United Daily News reported that when making the remarks about single mothers, Chien also pointed out that children born outside of marriage should enjoy the full benefits of legitimacy. In France, social workers visit the homes of girls of child bearing age. As soon as they become pregnant, young women in France are entitled to government subsidies regardless of their marital status. After children are born in Taiwan, the government should extend more help and allowances to help reverse Taiwan’s low birth rate.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Exhibition of Taiwanese poster art utilizing indigenous motifs, UC Berkeley until Aug. 16

The Institute of East Asian Studies at the University of California (Berkeley) will be exhibiting “Taiwanese Poster Design: An Engagement with Indigenous Arts” at its conference room on the 6th Floor (2223 Fulton Street, Berkeley, California) until August 16, 2010. The selection of award-winning posters were created by Taiwanese artists by incorporating aboriginal myths, motifs, and the contrasting pull of traditional and modern life.

The exhibition is on loan from Taipei’s Shung Ye Museum of Formosan Aborigines and is co-sponsored by UC Berkeley’s Center for Chinese Studies, and Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Council for Cultural Affairs.

The exhibition is open weekdays from 9 AM to 5 PM and is free of charge.

If you would like to use any article in this blog, please contact us.

About Me

The Press Division of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office (TECO) in San Francisco represents the Government Information Office (GIO), Executive Yuan, Republic of China (Taiwan). GIO maintains nine Press Divisions in the United States, including the San Francisco office. The Press Divisions are in charge of promoting Taiwan's public relations and cultural exchanges. This blog is updated by the Press Division, TECO in San Francisco.