View from a Chinese student in Taiwan

Fu Tzun-fong, who is among the first wave of Chinese students to study in Taiwan, discusses his experiences living in the country and the possible influence Taiwan can exert on the democratization of China

By Sung Shih-hsiang  /  Contributing reporter

Sun, Dec 02, 2012 - Page 12

Fu Tzun-fong (胡俊鋒), the author of Taiwan Could Be Better (台灣你可以更讚) and Taiwan in the Eyes of a Foreigner author Nick Kembel will share their experiences of living in Taiwan in a forum on Saturday titled Taiwan in the Eyes of a Chinese and a Westerner.

Fu is among the first wave of Chinese students to study in Taiwan, and is currently studying for a graduate degree in psychology at National Taiwan University. Kembel, who hails from Canada and has lived in Taiwan for six years, works as an English teacher when not traveling around the nation. In the following interview with contributing reporter Sung Shih-hsiung, Fu discusses his experiences living in Taiwan as a Chinese student, cross-straight relations and China’s democratization.

Taipei Times: On page 155 of your book, you say: “Democracy is an inevitable process [in China] and the people and government hope for democratization.” You also say that as a democracy, China observes Taiwan. What sort of democracy does China need? How should it achieve democracy?

Fu Tzun-fong: Democracy is an inevitable trend and China is no exception. The Chinese government has been working assiduously on various fronts. I am not sure how China will achieve democracy; however, we can “cross the river by feeling the pebbles” to quote the first PRC premier Chen Yun (陳雲) and develop a democratic system suitable to China’s actual needs.

Taiwan’s experience with democracy is not suited to China because circumstances between both places differ. However, Taiwan remains an important reference point for China. From Taiwan’s experience with the White Terror era to the lifting of martial law is similar to the path China has been on. After the end of the White Terror, martial law was lifted, the economy took off and political reform was carried out. These are all like the opening up and reform China went through in the 80s and these are all things that can be of valuable reference to China.

TT: What sort of influence do you think Chinese students who have studied in Taiwan and have experience of Taiwan’s society will have on China in the future? What possible help could this have for cross-strait relations?

FTF: An academic once published a piece in the Chinese-language United Daily News urging Chinese students in Taiwan be treated better. I totally agree with the part of the article that said: “These people will all go back and will inevitably become the next generation within Chinese institutions and this will influence the future development of Taiwan and China.” Many people within [China’s] Taiwan Affairs Office lack knowledge of Taiwan. After living in Taiwan for so many years, these students will make friends and develop some sense of identity toward Taiwan. After they return to China and take up work, this will influence things.

TT: Did coming to Taiwan make you view Chinese and Taiwanese history in a new way?

FTF: All my years of education have made me identify with the idea of a Greater China. This year, after taking part in the celebrations for Taiwan’s Double Tenth Festival, I referred to Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) as president in a post on my microblog. Many people replied saying that, at most, he is a provincial governor. This shows that it is just not me, but also some of my friends, who find it hard to accept Taiwan as being independent. This is even truer when it comes to my parents and grandparents.

After coming here, we will rethink things and come up with some new ideas. For example, during this year’s presidential election, Chinese students in Taiwan got together and carried out virtual voting via Facebook. The result was that not everyone supported Ma. Many Chinese students supported Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) after they went and listened to the pledges of both camps. Tsai actually received more votes than Ma and this really surprised me.

TT: In your book, you mention the “three limits, six noes” (三限六不) policy and the negative effects this has had on Chinese students in Taiwan, as well as the differential treatment other foreign students receive here compared to Chinese students. What effect has this had on your studies? In the long term, how does this worry you?

FTF: Initially, I did not think this would cause a big problem and I though I could overcome any of the difficulties it did cause. After arriving, however, I realized the policy has some big effects. This is because we (Chinese students) are unable to take money from the Taiwanese government or be involved in anything to do with government money. So, we cannot get scholarships and are unable to participate in the research projects of many teachers. For many master’s and PhD students, the only way to gain any benefit in many scientific research projects is by taking part and becoming part of the research team. If the teacher is receiving money from the National Science Council, Chinese students can’t participate.

This begs the question of whether we will leave Taiwan with a positive impression and understanding and go back to China and promote the development of Taiwan and China, or whether we will leave Taiwan feeling sad and full of regret. These two things will affect what we do in the future. Also for this reason, I will not consider doing a PhD in Taiwan, because without the support of a scholarship, classes and your study environment will become terrible.

TT: Are there any plans to republish this book in China in the future? If there is any chance of it being republished in China, will you insist on the use of terms like the “Republic of China” and “President” in the book?

FTF: As far as the use of the “Republic of China” to refer to Taiwan goes, I have two ways of thinking. Firstly, even Taiwanese people have different opinions about whether the Republic of China and Taiwan mean the same thing, so I would most likely not use this term. Secondly, where I talk about history, I think I will respect history and use this term when referring to it in its historical context.

At the moment, there are plans to publish the book in China; however, this would involve large changes to the content. Because it would have to pass censorship, I do not know how things will turn out. I guess we would delete some of the more sensitive parts and the parts that introduce China and will focus more on introducing the way of life in Taiwan with a special emphasis on how to apply for schools in Taiwan.

TT: How do you view political issues like the independence/unification issue and that of “one country, two systems?” What different opinions have you seen toward these issues from Taiwanese and Chinese students?

FTF: I am often asked about the issue of independence and unification and this is something I have a lot of trouble with. I cannot accept Taiwanese independence, whether in terms of my feelings or my sense of identity. My friends are also unable to accept Taiwanese independence. As far as their feelings go, they have received two decades of education and the message coming from home and the greater environment is that one must recognize a unified China.

We often joke: “Unification? Whatever! It does not matter which side unifies who!” However, we still have a hard time accepting Taiwanese independence. Having said that, even if the students that come here are unable to support Taiwanese independence, they are capable of understanding and will spend time trying to understand why Taiwanese want independence. They are capable of understanding differences.

Taiwanese and Chinese students debate the issue of independence and unification on public occasions and in my personal dealings with Taiwanese students, I really like the rationality and pragmatic spirit of young Taiwanese people.

TT: The title of your book is Taiwan Could Be Better and that makes it sound like you hope for a better Taiwan. In your opinion, what problems does Taiwan face if it wants to become better? What role does China play in a better Taiwan?

FTF: The arbitrary nature of the Chinese government has made Taiwan more eager to highlight its democracy. China’s Cultural Revolution made Taiwan protect Chinese culture. The competitiveness between both sides has made Taiwan better. China is constantly learning from Taiwan and when Taiwan is better, there will be more confidence in China to make some changes to its systems and policies.

Also, Taiwan and China are extremely close economically. Chinese government officials have said that it is very easy to take back Taiwan. All China needs to do is dissociate from Taiwan in terms of economics and trade. When China’s overall economic environment improves, Taiwan will also benefit.

TT: Have you come into contact with any of the people involved in the Taiwanese democracy movement during your stay in Taiwan?

FTF: My friends have, but I haven’t. And even though they have, they are worried about meeting with [democracy advocates] too much. This is mainly because of this issue’s sensitive nature and this is something we must weigh up the pros and cons of.

Wang Dan (王丹) conducts a forum at National Taiwan University every Wednesday and I have heard some Chinese students were going each week and they were later interviewed by China’s Ministry of State Security. [Wang currently holds a “China Salon” on Tuesday evenings at Taipei-based Soochow University]. The head of the Chinese students association here has reminded us that we can go and listen to Wang Dan, but once or twice is enough and that we don’t have to go every time he gives a talk because it is too sensitive an issue.

‧ Taiwan in the Eyes of a Chinese and a Westerner will be held on Saturday from 7pm to 9pm at the Yung Le Zuo Secondhand Bookstore (永樂座二手書店), 2F, 14, Ln 244, Roosevelt Rd Sec 3, Taipei City (台北市羅斯福路三段244巷14號二樓). The forum will be conducted in Mandarin and English with simultaneous interpretation. Admission is free, but those attending must preregister online at the Facebook event page:

This interview has been condensed and edited