The press coverage of Chinese tourists in Taiwan has not really touched upon anything beyond the amount of business they are bringing to the nation, how much spending power they have and what they think of Taiwanese cuisine — except perhaps for some comments about how they lack culture because of the Cultural Revolution. I haven’t read much exploration into how Chinese tourists are responding to the different political system they find here.
When I bump into Chinese tourists, I ask them, out of genuine curiosity, what they think about Taiwan now that they have seen it. One person replied that the streets were very clean.
I can’t say I was too satisfied with that answer, but then I thought about it. A stranger approaches you and asks you a question. They could be anyone; they could have come to Taiwan to keep an eye on you. You’re not all that likely to say exactly what you think.
Oh, and one other thing: The streets in Taiwan really aren’t all that clean.
I have also been reading what the New York Times has to say about Chinese tourists visiting Taiwan. The newspaper’s coverage seems to be a bit more in-depth than we get here. Apparently one of the paper’s journalists hung around an airport in China and listened in to what tour groups bound for Taiwan were talking about.
The journalist heard the tour leader giving instructions to the group members: Don’t discuss politics with the locals; only say positive things about Taiwan and China and keep well away from members of the Falun Gong.
They were also reminded about simple rules of etiquette that should be observed, and about culinary differences: how Taiwanese food tended to be less salty and oily, and how it has less monosodium glutamate.
For many Chinese tourists, the most surprising thing about their trip to Taiwan is learning that the majority of people living on this island do not want Taiwan to be merged with China. This is completely at odds with what they hear at home.
The Times article highlights one issue: that Chinese are fond of asking Taiwanese whether they hope for unification. A few years ago, I was posting on some online Chinese forums, and if anyone discovered that I was in Taiwan they would ask me the same question.
Last month, I read an online article by Song Qi (宋奇) entitled “Thoughts on unification or independence while in Taipei.” The opening line says that when one talks about Taiwan the first thing that comes to mind is unification.
The author says he had asked a masters degree student at the Chinese Culture University: “Do you hope for unification?” The answer was no. The reason? With the system as it stands, the student said, people in Taiwan enjoy a life of liberty, because Taiwan is a democratic country.
For decades now the Chinese communists have been telling the public that they will unify with Taiwan, that they are committed to “liberating” Taiwan. This is why a 59-year-old retired piano factory worker mentioned in the Times piece, prior to boarding the plane in Beijing, could repeat the sentiment commonly held in China that Taiwan and China are one country.
Interestingly, when the journalist asked her on day four of her trip how she felt about Taiwanese independence, she just laughed and said: “Independence or no independence? ... To be honest, who cares?”
Clearly, just four days in a free country can wipe away years of brainwashing and propaganda foisted upon an individual living under the Chinese dictatorship.