Category Archives: Taiwan

A personal view of Taiwan’s culture, politics, society and more

Favorite Taiwan Street Food That Can Be Made At Home

It’s almost a cliché to say that one of the best reasons to visit Taiwan is the diversity and quality of its eating experience. But there is actually a lot of restaurant and night market food that is made at home by many Taiwanese themselves. Here is just a sampling of some typical dishes that have made their way from the home kitchen to the local food stand.

By Stuart Hill

From high-end restaurants to modest road-side stalls, Taiwan really is a bit of a food lover’s paradise. Eating is a form of local entertainment, an excuse for social interaction, and above all a relatively cheap cultural experience too.

Taipei is not just a melting pot of different international food styles, it’s also a smorgasbord of Chinese delicacies. One result of the huge influx of Chinese after the Chinese Civil War was also the subsequent influence of various forms of cooking from across the whole of China.

In Taiwan you can find dishes from all corners of China’s vast reach — yet with a slightly lighter interpretation to many of the heavier flavored versions you will find these days across China, Hong Kong and parts of South East Asia.

While many of the most “famous” places to eat specialize in a few signature dishes, in fact many typical menu items are meals that families prepare for themselves at home.

Here are just a few of the hundreds of dishes you will find on the street or in restaurants that you can actually try yourself at home.

Beef Soup 牛肉湯 (niu rou tang)

beef soup

Typically on the street it will come in a number of varieties: either a heavier braised beef or a lighter clear broth style. And it’s very common to include a freshly “shaved”  fettuccine-style noodle or a thinner spaghetti-style noodle.

To make it at home you can use a rice cooker to simmer the soup until the meat is tender and falls off the bone. And various vegetables to your liking — or not!

Fried Rice Noodles 炒米粉 (chao mi fen)

Fried noodles

You often find a plainer version of this dish in Taipei night markets, with fewer vegetables and longer noodle strands. First boil the dry noodles and then fry them in a wok, adding shallots or onions and bits of pork mince, satay sauce, or fish paste to your own taste.

Egg “Pancake” 蛋餅 (dan bing)

egg roll

Variations on this breakfast dish are ubiquitous across the whole of Taiwan and while the preparation and presentation can be slightly different the ingredients are basically the same. You might eat it plain, with egg, with bacon, with or without soy-based sauce, with or without chili sauce. It’s often simply fried or rolled or “scrunched”. In any case, you can find the frozen pastry in your local supermarket freezer.

Fried Radish Cake 蘿蔔糕 (luo bo gao) 

Radish Cake

Another very common breakfast specialty is fried radish cake. The standard street-food version can be a bit of a let down, and if you are not familiar with the flavor seems to resemble a kind of failed hash brown. But made with fresh ingredients, and lightly fried, it’s a classic people’s food that is relatively healthy and pretty filling too.

Dumplings 水較 (shui jiao)


There are still places in Taipei — try local morning markets — where dumplings are made fresh and packed in batches of 15-20 for you to take home yourself to cook. But you can actually make them yourself by combining pork or beef (or lamb) mince with chopped cabbage and a bit of ginger. The dumpling “skins” can be bought from the supermarket. You’ll find there are actually many dumpling flavor combinations available. Cooking can be a bit tricky, best attempted in a deep wok, which you add water to while bringing to the boil twice.


A Taiwan Fairy Tale

New words by Stuart Hill. Drawings by Yu Sha, taken without permission from “Across the Taiwan Strait” published by the Mainland Affairs Council, Executive Yuan, ROC, June 2004.

Taiwan Strait

Once upon a time there were two families living on either side of a river. The father of one family, Little Brother was now living in Minorland. He left home decades earlier after a huge fight with this older brother, Big Brother.

They shared a common family history, language, and heritage. But after so many years they had grown apart and many of their similarities had evolved into significant differences of opinion. In fact, while they agreed they needed to talk to each other at times, and other members of their extended families got on much better, they couldn’t bring themselves to deal with each other too often and too directly. It was hard for them to be friendly for more than a few minutes at a time.

What made things hard was that the Big Brother from Mainland always thought he was right, no matter what Little Brother from Minorland had to say.

cross strait relations

Of course there was always hope that one day the two brothers would resolve their arguments, and that both brothers could be closer to each other. In fact many extended family members were hoping that day would come sooner than later.

The biggest problem between the two was that their life experiences had become very different. Even their lifestyles and values had developed over the years in strikingly different directions.

cross strait good will

As a result, each of the brothers’ families had also grown up with differing ways of seeing the world. They seemed to have fundamentally opposing views on a whole range of sensitive issues. This atmosphere made it hard for the brothers to reconcile, and in turn their problems had a negative impact on those of their other family members.

Missiles pointed at Taiwan

Big Brother from Mainland was always the bully, acting aggressively ever time the two brothers had a disagreement over something; even a trivial issue. Over the years an acute level of competition had grown between the two. There were even times when Big Brother used his influence outside the family to prevent Little Brother from attending events and travelling. Of course, this made Little Brother very unhappy, but he felt powerless to respond or resist, especially when Big Brother would say: “Nobody cares about you!”

Sometimes it was hard for Little Brother to believe otherwise.

Taiwan precluded from international bodies

After many years of anger and animosity, Little Brother decided to improve his relations with Big Brother. He proposed an ongoing conversation in the hope that Big Brother could be persuaded to see things from his point of view.

Big Brother was open to a new conversation. He believed that any chance to talk would bring Little Brother one step closer to following Big Brother’s direction. Little Brother was confident that his views were right, but not very confident that Big Brother would listen.

Cross strait dialogue

When they finally started talking Big Brother seemed to be willing to listen. Little Brother also said he was prepared to listen. For a while there was a lot of goodwill between the two. Big Brother felt his decision to talk to Little Brother had been justified, even though he still disagreed with the lifestyle and attitudes of Little Brother’s Minorland family.

Big Brother explained that other families from Minorland had returned to Mainland, and they were living happily ever after. Big Brother explained that as long as he followed his house rules, Little Brother could still have his own lifestyle if he wanted to return home.

One China two systems

Although Little Brother had a lot of sympathy for Big Brother’s ideas, he understood that deep down Big Brother would find it hard to keep his side of the bargain. He’d seen other families in similar situations start off well, but eventually both sides felt frustrated and annoyed, and arguments would quickly erupt.

peace and stability framework

In the end Little Brother said he would agree to disagree. He hoped that Big Brother would start to see things his way a bit more, and that he was optimistic that over time, Big Brother would understand why Little Brother was the way he was, and why he preferred to keep the lifestyle that he had built with his family over all these years.

Big Brother lost his patience. He couldn’t understand why Little Brother was so belligerent. He pleaded and threatened, pronounced terrible things would happen to Little Brother and his home on Minorland.

Hope for the future of the Taiwan Straits

While he could see that Big Brother was unable to accept this position, Little Brother still held out the hope that one day they would again be better off – and that eventually the old disagreements would be forgotten.

Little Brother could see a time when the conflict between each side of the family was resolved. He only had to wait…

hope for peace on each side of the strait


Translation by Jon C. of White Goldfish article: Foreigners in Taiwan – One Brand of Advice for Taiwan’s Dying Manufacturing Industry


mark stocker

Mark Stocker, DDG.

馬克(Mark Stocker史孟康)是品牌顧問跟策略分析師。



假如台灣一線國際品牌業績的表現反應了景氣好壞,那麼台灣麻煩大了。台灣的教育系統,商業型態跟政治文化曾經提供了硬體製造業時期勝出的公式, 但是這段黃金歲月就算還沒有結束,應該也快到尾聲了。IT硬體的製造毛利如今掉到了3%左右, 正應了那句毛三到四。

最近有位失望的外國員工離開了台灣,他寫的文章在臉書上引發大家熱烈討論, 請參考FB連結。他認為在台灣的工作環境不利於創新。後來他想在台灣創業卻遭遇到困難。他抱怨政府對於新創沒有支持, 企業保守僵化, 台灣的畢業生則是缺乏創意。

馬克看到這篇文章在臉書激發的種種回應,從事台灣的品牌顧問這麼久, 那他自己如何看待台灣企業的創新與改革呢?


“但是關於台灣今日的企業改革與創新,根據我的經驗簡單歸納,台灣企業創新主要受制於三個嚴重的阻礙。一是儒家的價值觀,二是OEM/ODM心態, 三是教育系統。這三個重要因素影響了各種規模的企業,即使每一家公司的內部狀況不太一樣。”

馬克分析:“大致把創新分成兩種,突破式創新跟剝削式創新。突破式創新是指激進地發明並且冒險採用全新的想法, 全新的產品跟全新的策略。而剝削式創新是漸進地延伸已經存在的思維,主要著重在改良現有的產品跟策略。”

馬克補充 :“所以我們談到創新的時候要注意我們說的是突破式創新還是剝削式創新。台灣很會剝削式創新,但是在突破式創新的表現令人搖頭。“在商業景氣一片不振的大氣候下,馬克呼籲現在是該改變的時候了。企業主應該轉變,改變傳統由上到下的領導方式,改變只會衝量衝業績,改變純粹依靠價格跟出貨速度來當賣點。他也呼籲員工應該要更加負責任更勇敢地去做決定與發想。



這就帶到了馬克所提到的台灣企業面臨的三大阻礙: 第一是儒家的價值觀。馬克說:“太多的台灣人都不敢跟老闆反映實際的狀況或該做什麼。台灣的員工不覺得自己有權做決定,也就因為這樣減少了跟上級的溝通。所以不會有辯論,不會挑戰現況,不會有瘋狂的創意,反正老闆說了才算。久而久之既然老闆說了算,老闆也就負責從頭發想吧。最後變成了非常扁平的組織,老闆是第一層,員工都是第二層。員工只會等待著老闆發號施令,而忽略了其他部門跟其他同仁們的側面需求。員工變得不會跟其他員工合作,去協調找出解決方法, 因為他們唯一需要接受的就是老闆的指令,當公司內的唯一互動變成了由上到下, 由老闆到員工的向下指揮系統,這種一言堂就很難創新了。”




“更簡單的來說,我發現製造商被困在這個向下沉淪的價格戰中無法脫身只有一個緣故: 台灣一直把自己定位在只做ODM/OEM。”

“問題的核心來了。有別於接單生產的模式,經營國際性的品牌會衍生更多的聯絡窗口。從幾個長期的客戶到幾百個銷售管道跟合作伙伴,甚至要面對幾百萬個直接客戶。公司若是想要成功, 有更多的行銷,產品策略, 客戶服務,客戶經驗需要有人管理,而且需要做更多的決定。這樣的國際品牌所需要做的決定只會越來越多越快越複雜,不可能等著靠老闆一個人做決策。”







但是馬克也不是全然的悲觀,跟台灣這麼多各行各業的精英共事之後,他還是要給予台灣肯定:“台灣在節約材料成本跟製造科技方面非常的成功,生產出許多專業級的產品, 讓這些產品不再遙不可及, 這促進了消費市場的成長與升級。但是現在台灣不能只有想到如何放量製造與節約成本,該是開始尋找新的機會了。”

馬克建議台灣的公司該如何走出危機:“企業要形塑共識跟未來的願景,這樣才能夠凝聚整個公司去追求共同的成功目標,公司所做的種種決策才會有一致的核心。如此一來,擺脫三大阻礙, 企業主才有辦法從整天開不完的會議抽身,把時間省下來思索下一個大目標。企業主跟員工各司其職, 才是雙贏的局面,共同打造健全的全球品牌。”

這是馬克積極地希望跟大家分享的一些建議與點出的方向,畢竟台灣的未來還有一條充滿挑戰的路要向前走, 無論職位, 你我都在這條路上。

DDG team

Mark Stocker和DDG員工.


Foreigners in Taiwan: One Brand of Advice for Taiwan’s Dying Manufacturing Industry

Mark Stocker is a brand consultant and strategist. For the past 20 years he has assisted over one hundred businesses with their brand development and marketing. As managing director of the agency DDG he has played an active role in helping Taiwan’s enterprises think about new market opportunities. He is a strong advocate for Taiwan to develop its own international business identity.

By Stuart Hill

mark stocker

Mark Stocker, managing director of DDG, has been helping Taiwan companies re-brand their products and companies for over 20 years.

Mark Stocker thinks Taiwan is facing a national crisis. If the number of its international brands is any reflection of prosperity, Taiwan is in big trouble. While Taiwan’s education system, business style and political culture have provided a winning formula for an era of hardware manufacturing, those golden days will soon be over — if they aren’t already. Margins in the manufacturing of IT hardware tend to be around 3% these days.

A recent discussion on Facebook emerged from an article written by a foreigner who was leaving Taiwan. (See the English conversation. And the Chinese conversation it sparked on Facebook.)

He was complaining that there was a poor climate of innovation in the country. He was trying to launch his own startup but finding it difficult. He complained about the lack of support from government and commented on the lack of creativity among Taiwanese graduates.

Steve Lucas quote

The English discussion thread about the good and bad of the working culture in Taiwan, which triggered the Chinese conversation (for and against) on Facebook.

Having also followed that Facebook discussion, how does Mark Stocker define the climate for innovation in Taiwan?

“I am sure you will agree, this is not an easy question to answer,” Stocker says. “In part because there are so many factors that are in play and in part because Taiwan is a country in flux. There is risk of stereotyping the situation, which would be an injustice to individuals and organizations that have done things differently.

“Your question is about the climate of innovation in Taiwan today. The short answer, based on my experience, is that innovation is being seriously stifled by three things: an OEM/ODM mindset, Confucian values, and the education system. These factors are affecting businesses of all sizes, although the situation is a little bit different inside each company.”

He’s obviously analyzed this issue a lot. Stocker refers me to something he’s shared with others before: “There are two types of innovation. Exploratory innovation is defined by discovery, experimentation, and risk taking with a focus on new ideas, new products and new strategies. Exploitative innovation is defined by building on and extending already existing ideas with a focus on incremental improvement or adaptation of existing products and strategies.”

He adds: “So in a way we need to be careful when talking about innovation. Are we talking about exploratory innovation or exploitative innovation? Taiwan is very good at the latter, but head-shakingly incompetent at the former.”

Among a pervasive atmosphere of self-fulfilling business gloom in Taiwan, Stocker argues passionately for change; challenging business owners to shift from top-down management, incremental innovation, and reliance on price and speed as their only product differentiators. But he also pushes employees to be more responsible and to be brave about making decisions and generating ideas.

On the DDG website, Stocker regularly shares his thoughts on his corporate blog. He doesn’t pull his punches. Here are just some of his opinions, first about the relationship between employees and employers:

“To put it simply, bosses aren’t happy with employees; and employees aren’t happy with their employment. This is a serious issue. Not only for the competitiveness of Taiwanese companies, but also for the competitiveness of the nation of Taiwan. There is a cultural stalemate going on inside companies that is hindering them from achieving greater potential, at a time when transformation and advancement is an imperative for Taiwan’s small and medium-sized businesses and brands.”

This leads to one of the big three challenges facing Taiwanese business as he sees it: Confucian values.

Says Stocker: “Unfortunately, too many Taiwanese are afraid to tell their boss what is going on and what should be done. Taiwanese employees don’t feel they have the right to make decisions, and for this reason they refrain from communicating (anything) with their superiors. There is no debate, there is no challenging of the status quo; there are no crazy ideas. The boss has to do all the talking, and over time since he/she is doing all the talking, he/she starts to do all the thinking as well. We end up with these incredibly flat organizations, with a boss on one layer and all employees on a second layer. Employees wait for the directive from the boss, and ignore anything coming laterally from co-workers. They also won’t collaborate with other employees to find an idea to work on, because the only relationship they need to attend to is that with the boss. It is very hard to be innovative when the only interaction is boss-to-employee in a downward direction.”

But there are solutions:

“Bosses can help drive change by clearly defining roles and responsibilities for all individuals within the organization, and by making it clear that decisions must be made by those responsible for a given role. In meetings, the boss should strive to talk less, and to encourage greater and more open sharing by employees. For employees, the task is to recognize that the health of the company is a result of the decision-making and action of every individual, and not just the boss. Employees should communicate more openly with the boss, as well as with colleagues across the organization. In particular, issues that are hindering the company’s performance should be brought into the open, and a plan of action should be developed collectively to address each obstacle.”

Having worked as a catalyst for attitudinal and behavioral change in industry, Stocker’s lengthy experience puts him in a unique position to talk about Taiwanese business methods:

“Taiwan’s four decades of economic development were built largely on a single business model: winning export orders by delivering a quality product at a lower price (aka CP Value). Despite the increasingly uncompetitive nature of this business model, and in spite of sales of millions of copies of books like Blue Ocean Strategy and Value Proposition Model, Taiwan has failed to break its reliance on the CP Value model; not much unlike a college student who continues to rely on mom and dad for money after graduation.”

Put more simply:

“I have come to a realization that Taiwan manufacturers are trapped in this downward price spiral for one simple reason: because they continue to define themselves as ODMs.”

And here is the core of the problem:

“Unlike the contracting manufacturing model, however, international branding requires a company to expand the points of contact from a few long-term customers to hundreds of channel partners and, in many cases, millions of consumers. Furthermore, the addition of marketing, product strategy, customer service, and consumer experience to the management mix swells the number of decisions a company must make in order to succeed. The decision-making requirements of an international brand are exponentially more complicated, making it near impossible for a single business owner to be successfully involved in all decisions.”

This OEM/ODM mindset is another of Taiwan’s key three challenges, as Stocker sees it:

“For the most part, Taiwanese companies are waiting to be told what to do by their OEM/ODM customers. When companies do try to escape the OEM/ODM trap by doing their own brand, they tend to over rely on their existing customers’ product lines to define their own-brand product portfolio. But without a brand, little sense on how to differentiate through marketing, and a me-too product (since they only dare to do what their big client was doing in the first place), they don’t make much progress.

“Overall the OEM/ODM mindset limits the willingness to take on many of the risks needed to do effective exploratory innovation. It was a great way to make money when it lasted, but the era of delivering the highest CP Value has now past — lost to China. Meanwhile, the habit of listening to the OEM/ODM customer for so many years has meant that many companies never got the chance to exercise their product marketing muscles, so they remain highly incompetent in the area of deciding what products to do and what not to do.”

This brings us to the third key inhibitor on Taiwan’s international success: education.

“The business environment as far as I can tell is a reflection of the classroom. People are trained into this way of thinking/acting over 16 years, and when the company they join reinforces this mode of operation, people just default to what they are used to.

“When each individual is taking his/her own test, you aren’t going to build a very innovative culture. No experimentation. No exploration. No observation. No conversation. No debate. To the converse, if you as an individual do come across a good idea, you are going to keep it to yourself, and when the timing is right you will ‘start your own company’. This is why Taiwan has so many small and medium-sized businesses! But small businesses lack the resources to invest in big breakthroughs. So most small businesses are really just doing exploitative innovation built on an already existing innovation.”

Yet Stocker isn’t all doom and gloom, and having worked with so many business people across multiple industry sectors, he also has positive things to say:

“Taiwan has been highly successful at costing down material and production technologies in order to manufacture professional-grade goods that help drive the development of prosumer market segments. It’s time to stop thinking in simple terms (volume up, cost-down) and start looking for opportunities from the market perspective.”

He’s also got positive suggestions for how companies can escape from their corporate crises:

“A collective purpose and envisioned future for the organization brings individuals together in pursuit of a common objective so that decisions happening across the organization have a common core. The business owner is then left free of the many minute decisions that once took up his or her day, so that more time can be spent on the next big objective. It’s a win-win situation for all, and the recipe for building a robust global brand.”

At the very least, it’s a specific direction and some constructive advice for Taiwan’s tough way ahead.

DDG team

Mark Stocker and some of the team at DDG.

(All images for this article taken from the DDG website: )

What the Media Thought of the 2016 Taiwan Election

On 16 January 2016 Taiwan’s Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) swept to power following 8 years of Kuomintang (KMT) government. Having warned the world about the election’s potential for generating instability across Asia, what have the international media been saying since?

By Stuart Hill

The widely predicted victory for the DPP presidential candidate Tsai Ing-wen came to fruition on 16 January 2016. The less certain vote for parliamentary seats also swung in the direction of the DPP and a number of candidates in the newly created New Power Party. The result saw the KMT lose its majority in the parliament for the first time in over 100 years of governing the Republic of China, Taiwan’s official constitutional entity.

Taiwan election worries China

It’s this fundamental change in the makeup of the parliament that represents the biggest game changer for Taiwan’s domestic politics; the potential for re-setting the agenda on a range of issues long-buried by the dominance of the parliament by the KMT. While the headlines tend to focus on relations with China and concerns about future economic management, many issues cover a broad spectrum of unresolved legal, historical, and cultural threads, many of which the KMT has avoided confronting or simply prevented resolution.

The entire debate about Taiwan’s place in the world has been dominated by an over-arching narrative concerning who are the legitimate rulers of China, the KMT’s role in that, and the US government’s role in saving its ally from imminent annihilation at the hands of the Chinese Communist Party. After the CCP’s victory at the end of World War II, Taiwan was the KMT’s place of retreat. Ever since their arrival, the KMT have attempted to cement their legitimacy by defining Taiwan in Chinese colonial terms: “Taiwan is an inalienable part of China” being the most quoted by both sides of the Taiwan Strait, though the KMT also claims “with each side having its own interpretation of One China”.

How will China respond to the Taiwan election

As mentioned in the previous article about News Clichés that Inaccurately Describe Taiwan, much of the language used to describe and explain Taiwan’s predicament has been defined and spoken by these three players: CCP, KMT and the US government. Other voices such as those of non KMT groups – despite the rhetoric about Taiwan’s free-wheeling media – have been relatively drowned out on the world stage. As such, the media rarely reflects any discourse about Taiwan self-determination, post-World War II de-colonialism, and of course land and asset ownership issues tangled up by lengthy periods of Japanese and Chinese colonialism.

With this in mind, the election results as reported by the media still reflect the essence of this narrative, yet there are slight adjustments being made by individual media who appear to be looking for new angles to the old CCP-KMT-US-centric clichés.


Taiwan Elects its First Female President

Taiwan elects female president

Much has been made of the fact that the DPP’s chairman is a chairwoman.

Yet Tsai was not the only female candidate running for president. In fact, the KMT’s presidential candidate – the deputy speaker of the legislature – was also a woman. Tough talking Hung Hsiu-chu was seen as a refreshing and outspoken alternative to her male colleagues. However, realizing her vocal stand in favor of China-Taiwan unification – or at least the poorly communicated version of that position – was not working as an election platform, Hung was quickly replaced by the KMT chairman, Eric Chu.

The media has reported about Tsai’s education in the US and UK, her roles as chief trade negotiator for Taiwan’s entry to the WTO, and her past experiences of negotiating with China. She is credited with drafting former KMT president Lee Tung-hui’s “state-to-state relationship” in describing China and Taiwan. No less significant has been her ability to rescue the DPP from its national humiliation and political implosion following Chen Shui-bian’s 8 years in office. She is also a cat lover.

“The results today tell me the people want to see a government that is willing to listen to people, that is more transparent and accountable and a government that is more capable of leading us past our current challenges and taking care of those in need,” said Tsai Ing-wen as quoted by the New York Times.

See the story describing Tsai in the New York Times


The DPP Gains Majority in the Legislature for the First Time

DPP wins legislative majority

At a Carnegie Endowment for International Peace & Global Think Tank webcast held on February 8 2016, former head of the American Institute in Taiwan Douglas H. Paal remarked about the extraordinary rejection of local sitting candidates – the majority of which were KMT party representatives – and their replacement with DPP members or candidates from other parties. This is despite the intricate network of contacts and strong political influence of the KMT at the local level in elections past. “It was such an accomplishment to so turn off voters in the last year and a half,” Paal observed.

Paal also commented about the quality of the people who will be leading the new government. “If you look across the board at those people closest to this [year’s DPP] campaign, you’ll see people who have a real track record of accomplishment.”


K-Pop “One-China Policy” Helps Swing the Vote to the DPP

Like many countries, political advertising is prohibited on the last day before the polls in Taiwan. Yet despite this official media blackout, previous elections have been dominated by news that’s said to have influenced the results. The most famous is the attempted assassination attempt on the incumbent president and vice-president in 2004.

The 2016 elections also saw one such political event transpire. While the CCP government tried to maintain its lowest profile in years, Chinese media generated their own Taiwan election news. Previous CCP tactics have included firing missiles into waters around Taiwan. This year’s proverbial missile saw 16-year old Taiwanese K-pop entertainer Chou Tzu-yu become a symbol of Taiwan’s international humiliation.

Taiwanese K-pop star forced to support One China

Having appeared in an online broadcast carrying Taiwan’s national flag, and been denounced by a popular Chinese TV show host as unpatriotic (toward China), she was pressured into publicly denouncing her Taiwanese roots. In a recording social media observed was reminiscent of a terrorist hostage video Chou announced her support for the One China policy. Taiwanese netizens went ballistic.

“A citizen of the Republic of China” — Taiwan’s official name — “who shows her recognition for the country should not be suppressed and should not be forced to say the opposite of what she originally meant,” said Tsai Ing-wen.

The other two candidates for president agreed.

See the story in the Japan Times  

Political commentators have suggested that the incident had a significant impact on Taiwanese swing voters.


Is there a Future for the KMT?

At a Carnegie Endowment for International Peace & Global Think Tank webcast, guest speaker Alan Romberg of the Stimson Center stated that the KMT defeat had a lot to do with the historically low turnout of their supporters, mainly due to dissatisfaction with the party’s recent performance. He adds, that the KMT need to recruit younger members and appeal to young Taiwanese if they are going to survive.

While he agreed with the general direction and intention of President Ma Ying-jeou’s policies, poor execution and communication with voters were some of the key causes of the KMT’s drop in popularity, according to Romberg.

Romberg also believes that Tsai Ing-wen, while not endorsing the 1992 Consensus (that there is only One China with Taiwan as an integral part), will not push for official Taiwan independence due to various political realities.

Watch the video of the webcast here:


Madonna Creates Her Own Taiwan Strait Crisis

Soon after the election, the two biggest local news stories where the Lunar New Year earthquake and the historical first visit of pop diva Madonna.

Hardly known for her personal diplomacy, Madonna started her tour on the wrong foot by borrowing the imagery of the KMT to appeal to local audiences via social media. A cut out of her face was placed within the circular design of the KMT flag.

Madonna Insults Taiwan and China

For many Taiwanese, this is a symbol of oppression and imported “Chinese mainland” politics and culture. Making matters worse, Madonna’s social media marketing team innocently announced the dedication of a song for the Taiwanese people. The rarely performed “Take a Bow” paired with the flag imagery and expressed at a time of anger with the KMT and China was taken by some on social media to mean “Taiwan, kowtow to the KMT and China”. Oops.

Stumbling further around the stage of Taiwan’s tricky politics, Madonna and her DJ revved up the audience during their first Taipei concert screaming “I love Taiwan” (audience response: YEAH!!) and “I love China” (audience response: Ugh…). The second night played out a bit better with “Where are you?” (audience response: Taiwan!).

Literally wrapping herself in Taiwan’s national symbols in the form of the flag and by exciting the local crowds, Madonna followed up by annoying China’s online patriots; as any oxygen for the flames of  Taiwan independence inevitably generates among China’s online trolls.

“Disgraceful act, what kind of message are you sending to China?” and “What a cheap way to get attention from the mainland. Your music isn’t very welcome or known in our country anyway,” the BBC quoted a Weibo site user as saying.

See the BBC’s article: Madonna Causes a Commotion in Taiwan for their take on the historic visit.

Having worked out all the diplomatic niceties of Chinese and Taiwanese identity politics, Madonna’s team flew off to Hong Kong, only to address the audience with the friendly northern Chinese greeting of “Ni Hao!” — proving just how hard the Greater China market is to crack.

Favorite News Cliches that Inaccurately Describe Taiwan

Serious journalistic interest in Taiwan among the western media typically ebbs and flows with Taiwan’s presidential election cycle, unless it is an issue of immediate military or economic importance to China or the US. Yet though the stories may differ, the language that’s used to describe key details often rehashes some well-established clichés.

By Stuart Hill

It’s not unexpected that journalists will write from and appeal to the perspectives of their readership. So when writing about Taiwan, the key themes often concern regional military stability and freedom of trade (in which the US and China have a huge vested interest), various forms of territorial competition and, more recently, the beacon of light that Taiwan represents for all Chinese people.

Taiwan’s history is dominated by a narrative of economic exploitation from opportunistic powers from within Asia and Europe. At the same time, there is a pattern of cultural colonialism that has seen the dispossession of Taiwan’s aboriginal inhabitants and the domination of local elites by multiple waves of more powerful external forces.

It’s in this context that today’s reporting about Taiwan is heavily framed by the last big influx of settlers to Taiwan, who happen to have fled the Chinese Communist Party after World War II and secured an ally in the United States, especially leading up to the Second World War, then later the Cold War.

Taiwan Mainland Map

Looking back at the large landmass it had escaped, Taiwan’s KMT could be excused for its description of China as the Mainland. Less than 14 kilometers separates China from Taiwan’s most outlying islands of Kinmen and both the KMT and CCP have held dreams of unifying the two sides of the Taiwan Strait. It’s still China’s key goal for any concessions it makes to Taiwan’s business and political leaders.


The language used around these events, and the wording used to define these relationships, still heavily influences the way Taiwan is described in the media today.

Here are some examples.

Mainland China

It’s almost impossible to hear or see something written by a journalist concerning Taiwan without this cliché appearing somewhere. It really is a lazy term that appears almost by default as the journalist’s only adjective to describe China, notwithstanding the classic “Red China”.

This term is a politically loaded way of differentiating between a China run by the Chinese Communist Party – what everyone today would understand to be China – and the part of “China” under the control of the Chinese Nationalist Party (the Kuomintang or KMT) that fled from China and imposed itself on the remnants of Japan’s relinquished colony (with US help) which we know as Taiwan. After the Second World War, Chiang Kai Shek’s “Republic of China on Taiwan” had plans to take back “mainland China” by force, but it never eventuated.

Today, the possibility of a China that includes a mainland and “islands” is still justified by early Chinese imperial maps that ascribe ownership of these islands to China. Meanwhile the ongoing use of this language is a convenient point of difference for the US government’s support of a Free China (on Taiwan). Yet, in the context of a world where Taiwan and China are both separate political entities, there is no “non-mainland China”, there is only China.

To see how easy it is to get confused about which China is really China, take a look here:


1992 Consensus

Forget that the original consensus never existed between KMT and CCP delegates over the statement “there is only one China and that each side has its own interpretation”. Let’s also forget that the existence of any consensus was actually a huge KMT fib to make the same meeting appear to have achieved something of importance.

Fast forward a few years down the track to find the Chinese Communist Party clinging to its own definition of the KMT-inspired “1992 Consensus” as a non-negotiable pre-condition for any dialog about the future of Taiwan.

As with many discussions about Taiwan, it boils down to a patchy reconciliation between two Chinese adversaries dating back to the Chinese Civil War, with only President Ma Ying-Jeou and his KMT and President Xi Jinping and his CCP deciding that they had reached a new consensus on a lie about something that never even happened.

Taiwan’s Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) rejects the “consensus” on the basis that it does not effectively represent the beliefs or aspirations of all Taiwanese. In this dramatic love triangle, there really is no consensus.

1992 consensus

“Communist Party chief Xi Jinping yesterday told honorary Kuomintang chairman Lien Chan that the mainland would respect Taiwan’s choices so long as both sides negotiate under the “one China” principle. ‘We respect Taiwan people’s choices of their social system and lifestyle,’ Xi told Lien at their meeting at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse yesterday. But he also warned that cross-strait ties would be affected if both sides were not willing to adhere to the ‘one China’ principle under the so-called 1992 consensus.” (South China Morning Post, 19 Feb, 2014)

Read the article from the South China Morning Post where it refers to the 1992 Consensus and one-china principle.

Taiwan, the Renegade Province

You could imagine this phrase to be lifted straight from the Terms and Definitions pages of Xinhua News Agency describing Taiwan in the 1950s, but today’s repeated use in respected publications like The Washington Post surely does little more than denigrate the legitimacy of Taiwan’s long-standing self-government. Given that all hopes of “retaking the mainland” died along with KMT leader Chiang Kai Shek in the 1970s, and with borders that are clearly defined by the surrounding sea, it’s hard to imagine Taiwan as a provocative rebel base ready to stage an imminent take-over of China.

It wasn’t so during the 1950s to 60s, and Taiwan’s outlying islands are evidence of the huge battles that took place between the communist and nationalist forces over the right to command China. In China’s defense, Taiwan does have smaller islands in extremely close proximity to its coast which can be reached by fairly conventional cannons, and could be some justification for the hundreds of missiles China has deployed to “defend” its borders and get ready to take back this “breakaway province”.

But to continue describing Taiwan’s democratically elected president and parliament, its legal system, military system, education system, and economy as that of a renegade province is a bit of a dramatic stretch. As Issac Stonefish says, even the Chinese just call the place Taiwan, Province of China.

Taiwan as renegade province

“China has protested to the United States after Taiwan’s de facto embassy in Washington hoisted a Taiwanese flag on New Year’s Day, and urged the US to respect the ‘One China’ policy. The US State Department said it had not been notified in advance of the ceremony and it was inconsistent with US policy. China deems Taiwan a renegade province and has not ruled out the use of force to take it back, particularly if the island makes a move towards independence. The One China policy holds that there is only one China and that Taiwan is part of it.” ( 16 Jan, 2015)

Read the full article.

Read Issac Stonefish’s plea to today’s media: “Stop Calling Taiwan a Renegade Province”

Taiwan Strait Status Quo

A decade or so ago, the status quo between Taiwan and China was still being dominated by the notions of Taiwan as a stateless entity, with sovereignty to be resolved. Taiwan was a place, not a nation, and as long as the ROC “authorities” did not redefine Taiwan as a nation, the question of ownership could remain a topic for future discussion between the KMT and CCP.

What complicated all this theory was the fact that the Republic of China (ROC) was established in China in 1911 with its own constitution, army and governmental structures, and these were imported with the KMT when it fled to Taiwan. Yes, it brought national institutions with it and then set about governing people – through military dictatorship initially.

That’s also why Taiwan has China Airlines, China Steel, “Chinese” Telecom, “Chinese” Post, China Petroleum Corp, etc., all government established businesses. This is why Taiwan today, still officially the ROC, operates as a fully functioning social and political entity; albeit without the recognition of many other nations.

At the political level, an uneasy, unofficial truce between both sides of the Taiwan strait held together an atmosphere of delicate peace, that allowed economies to prosper and each society to evolve. As Taiwan’s society and political dynamic gradually transformed into something less authoritarian and more democratic, the status quo slipped into a feeling of “keeping things the way they are” – though no-one ever dared elaborate what that actually referred to.

And here we are today, where “keeping things the way they are” means maintaining the institutions of a normally functioning democratic nation. Thus today’s status quo means a society where free choice is the norm, where society is run by an elected government, where law is adjudicated by (hopefully) an independent judiciary. Winding all that back could only be described as altering today’s status quo, which is not the same status quo the CCP desperately wants to protect.

Taiwan China Status Quo

“The summit between the mainland’s Xi Jinping and Taiwan’s Ma Ying-jeou created a new status quo – one that lets leaders on both sides talk on an equal footing under the ‘one China’ principle, experts say. The summit not only set a precedent for the two sides to have high-level talks but also set an example – and restrictions – for the future ruling party and president of Taiwan to accept the one-China principle if peace was to be maintained.” (South China Morning Post. 9 Nov, 2015)

See the full article from the South China Morning Post about how the KMT and CCP have shifted the definition of the status quo.

The Diplomat warns about the shifting and multiple Taiwan Status Quo definitions.

Taiwan Independence

To hear China and the US talk about Taiwan’s independence, you’d think that Taiwanese were living under an undemocratic regime, one that frequently stifles the media and book publishers, locks up lawyers and human rights proponents, places strict controls on access to social media, the internet, and foreign movies, and threatens students and academics with defunding. If we were talking about the “Republic of China on Taiwan” in the 1970s – or the People’s Republic of China of today – you would be spot on.

So what does it mean when a DPP leader is described as “pro-independence”? As if somehow the KMT welcome other people to tell them what to think and do. In fact, all Taiwanese are in support of independent thought, choice, and movement. Certainly no leader on either side of the domestic political spectrum has advocated submitting themselves to the Chinese Communist Party or any other party as the way of the future for Taiwan (though a quickly dumped presidential candidate on the KMT side did start to go there).

Indeed, the KMT is known to be “pro-unification”, but this notion stems back to their core delusion of taking back the motherland after their loss in the Chinese Civil War. In those days, unification was to be enacted with the KMT in control, and no doubt a triumphant return to the halls of power in Beijing, or Nanjing, or Chongqing, or Shanghai…wherever they felt the capital ought to be located.

Instead, Taiwanese today suffer other modern tyrannies: the tyranny of consumer choice, the tyranny of the people’s right to vote, the tyranny of bans on their national symbols (and country’s name) appearing at international events, the tyranny of unfair representation on international bodies. But they are hardly lacking their independence.

Taiwan independence debate

“I will not declare independence, I will not change the national title, I will not push forth the inclusion of the so-called “state-to-state” description in the Constitution.” Quoted from Chen Shui-bian in 2000 (BBC News, 2009)

Read about Taiwan independence as reported by the BBC in 2009

Taiwan independence

A typical response to Taiwan’s presidential and parliamentary elections: “China’s Taiwan Affairs Office warned it would oppose any move towards independence and that Beijing was determined to defend the country’s sovereignty.” (CNBC via Reuters)


President Ma’s Easing of Tensions with China

UK Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s claim to fame was that he had negotiated peace with Hitler. That was before Germany began sweeping across Western Europe. It didn’t stop the blitzkrieg on London either.

You get the echoes of the past every time “peaceful relations” and “the easing of tensions” and Taiwan’s President Ma Ying-jeou are mentioned in the same sentence. The over-arching media narrative is that since Ma was elected in 2008 (after 8 years of “trouble” caused by former President Chen Shui-bian), relations between China and Taiwan and the US have never been better.

You can definitely say that relations between the Chinese Communist Party (China’s CCP) and the Chinese Nationalist Party (Taiwan’s KMT) have never been better. The result of which has been less trouble and more cooperation. The easing of tensions has been heralded in much the same way obedience is applauded in a slave. President Ma’s trade and transport and communication deals, and his historic meeting with China’s President Xi Jinping in Singapore, reflect a renewed alignment in the ambitions and interests of the former adversaries.

So yes, at the regional level President Ma has reduced the headaches of the US, and made the Chinese feel that their unification strategy is working, but as Taiwan’s frustrated youth have highlighted through protest, and as Taiwan’s recent election results have reflected: what’s the ultimate risk and cost of Taiwan’s continued compliance?

easing of Taiwan tensions

“Relations between the two sides have improved since Taiwan’s independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party under outgoing president Chen Shuibian was roundly defeated by the more mainland-friendly Kuomintang. ‘KMT Chairman Wu’s visit will be conducive to strengthening communication and dialogue of the two parties and will push forward the peaceful development of cross-Strait relations,’ the mainland’s Xinhua news agency reported” (AsiaNews 19 May, 2008)

To see the article about post-2008 easing of tensions in the AsiaNews.

Discover Taipei: Evergreen Maritime Museum

For shipping buffs, the Evergreen Maritime Museum should be a treasure trove of all things nautical, covering the history of shipping world-wide. Featuring a collection of maritime themed art, interactive exhibits, and no doubt the biggest collection of model ships – modern and ancient – in all of Taiwan, a half-day visit represents an intriguing and enjoyable adventure.

By Stuart Hill

Evergreen Maritime Museum Lobby

The first floor lobby provides model replicas of Asian, European and aboriginal vessels. This floor includes a gift shop and ticket counter.

The Evergreen Group is not just a well know shipping and airline brand, the ebbs and flow of its yearly revenue performance provide a bellwether for the Taiwan economy in general.

While the company itself started with a small second-hand ship in 1968, and has now become one of the world’s leading shipping fleets, the Maritime Museum only opened at its current location in 2008.

Evergreen maritime equiment

In addition to modern examples of shipping equipment, uniforms, maritime flags, and knots, the Evergreen Maritime Museum includes artwork, and detailed replicas of military, cargo, and transport vessels.

Evergreen’s buccaneering founder Dr YF Chang has amassed an enormous collection of maritime themed art and models, and his foundation has created an educational experience that provides a lot of interesting content that appeals to all ages.

The museum now occupies the old headquarters of Taiwan’s KMT party on ZhongShan South Road, located directly opposite the Presidential Office Building , which was sold to an Evergreen trust, with 5 floors converted into galleries and exhibition space.

Interactive displays at Maritime Museum

Evergreen Maritime Museum features interactive displays that provide practical information about sea trade and ship navigation.

After buying tickets on the first floor, visitors begin their journey on Floor 5 and gradually descend back to the lobby.

Floors 3-5 prohibit photography, explore the history of naval exploration, the technological development of modern shipping and an exhibition of nautically themed paintings and other artwork.

Floors 1-2 cover the equipment used for modern and ancient sailing, which covers tools for navigation, as well as new technology for communication and safety at sea.

Meanwhile tucked away in the basement is a modest restaurant/cafeteria where you can get discounts on simple meals if you also buy a ticket to the museum. The food provides the familiarity of dining on an EVA Air flight.

More Information:

Naval explorers at Maritime Museum

The Evergreen Maritime Museum covers the world history of naval exploration, travel, and transportation. You can spend half a day browsing its 5 levels. There is a cafe on the first floor and a restaurant in the basement.