Recently, an ethnically-Japanese professor from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology visited Taiwan. On a Monday night at around 11pm, the professor went to the Eslite bookstore on Taipei's Tunhua S. Road. Upon seeing the crowds inside, he said it would be impossible to witness such a scene in Japan and that Taiwan has already advanced into a knowledge-based economy.
So late, and yet so many people in a bookstore, marveled the professor. Japan has some 24-hour shops, the professor said, but no 24-hour bookshops. What the professor found even more surprising was that Chinese and English-language books were displayed together according to subject -- something also impossible to see in Japan. Bookstores in Japan also sell English-language books, but they would undoubtedly be concentrated in special sections for the minority of people who need them. The majority of Taiwan's readers can accept a mixture of English and Chinese-language books.
Of course, as Eslite is only a symbol of Taiwan's elite class of book lovers, it is difficult to make the deduction that Taiwan has already entered a knowledge-based economy. Still, the "Eslite phenomenon" certainly left a lasting impression on the professor.
Last year, Business Weekly (商業周刊) magazine had 10 popular consumer experts select Taiwan's "Top ten products of the year." The products were: Harry Potter products, counterfeit banknote detection devices, "Red Label" rice wine, the TV drama Meteor Garden (流星花園) and products featuring the pop group F4, on-line games, ADSL services, Next Magazine (壹週刊), Korean TV dramas, Internet cafes, and the movie Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (臥虎藏龍).
Besides the editors' conclusion that the products shared a common denominator of being "inexpensive and fantasy-related," we can also interpret the results from the perspective of a knowledge-based economy. Of these 10 products, apart from the rice wine and counterfeit detection devices, most of the other items are not "tangible products."
By comparison, Japan's top-ten products last year included six kinds of physical products: digital cameras, home beer-brewing equipment, ?280 Yoshinoya beef bowls, vacuum cleaners, DVD players, CD burners and canned tea drinks.
Looking at Taiwan's past top-ten lists, there was a greater number of tangible, physical products, such as the PDA, DVD players, and digital cameras three years ago, while two years back, there were more mobile phones, recreational vehicles (RVs) and hermetically sealed drinks for take-out.
Among last year's top-ten products -- Harry Potter products, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Korean TV dramas, and Next Magazine constitute "content products," while Internet cafes, online games, Meteor Garden and F4 were all "experience products."
In Taiwan's marketplace, demand for such products far surpasses that for tangible products. Actually, content and experience products are both defining characteristics of a post-industrial society. Apart from the sensitivities displayed by the Business Weekly's judges, these top-ten products are a reflection of the average person's common knowledge and experience. Thus, saying that Taiwan's masses have embraced a knowledge-based or experience-based economy is not far off.
It is doubtful whether our "producers" can keep up with consumers in terms of thinking up and creating new products. Everyone can see that the origins or original concepts for these top-ten products are foreign -- such as the UK (Harry Potter), South Korea (Korean TV dramas, online games), Hong Kong (Next Magazine), and Japan (Meteor Garden). Apart from products unique to Taiwan, such as rice wine and counterfeit detection devices, all the top-ten products were imported from elsewhere.