Taiwanese Culture

Core Concepts

  • Loyalty
  • (‘mien-tzu’)
  • Confucian ethics
  • Respect
  • Friendship
  • Hospitable 

Taiwan (officially named the Republic of China) is an island located east of mainland China, north of the Philippines, and south of Japan. The region is marked by a diversity of landscapes, from the buzzing capital of Taipei, coastal cities of Kaohsiung and Tainan, and the mountainous countryside. Many Taiwanese consider themselves politically distinct from the People’s Republic of China (mainland China). The difference between the region’s favoured name and its official name reflects the local and international tensions regarding whether there is such a thing as a legitimate ‘Taiwanese identity’ and what form it takes.

While the Taiwanese people experience complexities in defining their character, they remain renowned for their friendliness and hospitality. The culture, though significantly influenced by ongoing politics, continues to reflect its peoples’ heritage, history and environment. Much of Taiwan’s modern history has also been shaped by interactions with various other countries. For example, it experienced Japanese occupation from 1895 to 1945 and developed a strong relationship with the USA in the 20th century. 

Contestations with China

Taiwan’s national identity continues to be influenced by an ongoing process of resistance and negotiation on local and national levels. The tensions between Taiwan and China generally stem from contestations over China’s ‘One-China Policy’, whereby Taiwan is argued to be a part of ‘one China’. The growing number of mainland Chinese tourists visiting Taiwan further strains the relationship. This is generally due to the vast collection of ancient Chinese artefacts on display in the National Museum in Taipei, a majority of which were evacuated from mainland China by the Chinese Nationalist Party during the takeover by the Communist regime in 1949.

The Taiwanese population generally shares the perception that Taiwan economically depends on China. However, opinions tend to differ regarding whether Taiwan’s cultural, and political identity is distinct from that of mainland China. This somewhat reflects a generational divide within Taiwanese society, with the older generation being more likely to perceive Taiwan as a part of China than the younger generation. Many from the younger generation often feel frustrated and angry that Taiwan may be subsumed by the rhetoric of ‘one-China’. They tend to assert themselves as culturally and behaviourally distinct from the Chinese stereotype and insist upon being defined as ‘Taiwanese’.

Those who are inclined to identify themselves as ‘Taiwanese’ are often accused of ignoring their cultural heritage, while those who choose to associate their identity with China are faulted as being unloyal to Taiwan. Often, options of identity are polarised to be either ‘Taiwanese’ or ‘Chinese’, with corresponding opinions regarding the region’s future as either independence from or unification with China. Nonetheless, Taiwanese feel some sense of with their Chinese heritage and, when there is talk of ‘Tai Du’ (‘Taiwanese Independence’), it is often with respect to political disassociation rather than ancestry.

Interactions and Interdependence

The Taiwanese generally put great emphasis on their commitment to others – be that within their family, in extended relationships or in a business setting. is highly important and so cooperation and collective achievement are emphasised over self-fulfilment and gain. This leads many individuals to place the interests of others before their own, even if they conflict. Social interactions are also hierarchical, with everyone having a specific place and function within their family, workplace and society. The position of someone is often neither questioned nor subject to further justification. However, the is usually influenced by the underlying Confucian value of . This requires individuals to show respect and duty towards their parents and elders, and translates into a respect for age in general.

The notion of ‘mien-tzu’ (‘face’) also plays an integral role in the relationships and interactions between people. Face is essentially the reputation and dignity of a company, family or individual. It is possible to lose or save one’s face, as well as give another person face. Therefore, in cultures that have an awareness of face, individuals usually act deliberately and with to protect their self-worth and peer perception. Conservative conduct is the norm, as people don’t want to stand out and/or risk losing face by doing something inappropriate. For many, the fear of letting down the family or society takes precedence over almost everything else.

The and of Taiwanese society further relates to the traditional idea of ‘guanxi’ networks. These are connections developed with people on the same level or those with higher status than oneself in both business and social situations. can help create opportunities, mitigate problems and leads to the growing of the network.

Generational Differences

In recent decades, Taiwanese society has slowly shifted to become less and more . Many see this as a result of the West’s influence (namely America) on society. The cultural change is particularly evident when comparing the youth and elders of society as the social attitudes between the age groups have evolved in different ways.

Generally, younger generations experience a greater degree of privacy and freedom of choice on personal matters (such as education and marriage) but are still expected to consult and accommodate the opinions of their family. This contrasts from the experience of older generations, who grew up in a culture in which parents were the arbiters of life choices. This difference in opinion about expectations and decision-making can cause tensions among families and in wider society. The younger generation is also often more familiar with English and liberal in their political opinions.

Nevertheless, traditional and cultural attitudes have not been totally cast aside by the youth. Traditional values continue to be influential. For example, in accordance with , there remains a general cultural consensus that one should be respectful of their parents and elders and obliging of their wishes. Moreover, both generations also tend to perceive behaviours as wasteful or selfish.

Geographical Distinctions

Taiwan recently underwent a rapid transformation with its traditional agriculturally based economy shifting towards manufacturing basic goods. This change has had ongoing influences on how the Taiwanese perceive the spaces in which they interact with one another. Today, it is considered to be one of the ‘Four Asian Tiger’ economies.

While Taiwan is quite densely populated, the buzzing cosmopolitan cities are bordered by an array of national parks as well as rice fields and tea plantations. The people who live in the urbanised areas are generally considered to have more progressive attitudes and opinions. Rural areas and communities tend to have maintained more attitudes and social organisation, and also may be more conservative. People living in urban areas typically speak Mandarin (the official language of Mainland China), whereas those from rural areas often communicate in Taiwanese.

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