Taiwan vs. Mainland China Culture

I’m Taiwanese American and I’ve been living in Beijing for 4 months now. One topic of discussion with the locals here that is always interesting is the topic of whether or not Taiwan belongs to China. A recurring argument that I hear is that both China and Taiwan have the same culture, so they must be the same country (something along these lines).

I lived in Taiwan for 3 years when I was 10-13 years old, and it’s been a while since I went back, but I really don’t remember the two cultures being that similar.

A lot of my Taiwanese friends tell me that Taiwan is heavily influenced by Japanese culture, which obviously would make it drastically different than what I see here in China.

So my question is this: how different are the two cultures of Taiwan and China? Can anyone name any specifics? Also, just how much influence does Japan have on Taiwan (culturally)?

China is a big country and its culture varies a lot from place to place, even among the Han. Taiwanese people’s ancestors migrated mostly from southern Fujian and, to a lesser extent, from Hakka-speaking areas of Guangdong. So the Taiwanese variant of Chinese culture is basically Fujianese. Besides, Japan occupied the island for 50 years and tried very hard to assimilate its people, so naturally Japanese culture has left its mark, despite the Kuomintang’s efforts to get rid of it. There were also the lowland aborigines, who have been entirely assimilated with the Hans. Since they were quite a significant part of the population, one would expect that they have influenced the culture to some extent. As you know, there are still unassimilated Aborigine tribes who, to varying extents, maintain their own culture, quite different from that of the Han people.

Well, China and Taiwan have diverged for the last 110 years so the differences are going to be great. One obvious difference is religion. Here it is a vital living part of everyday life. Temples are centres of worship and community whereas they are largely museums in China.

Taiwan and China do not share a common history except in the abstract: think of the way Canada and Britain share a common old history but are very distinct because they have taken different paths in more recent decadess. 20 years ago China was just coming out of the horrors of the Cultural Revolution whereas Taiwan was booming economically and martial law was gone giving new freedoms. This creates different thought patterns and habits in people.

One big difference is that people are prosperous here in a comfortable middle class way. You don’t get the hordes of hungry young hustlers in every Chinese city. You don’t have child beggars. Assumptions about what life is and can be are very different. Chinese are in their first consumer phase whereas the Taiwanese are just starting to see life as more than acquiring goods. An example of this can be seen in the biking craze. People of all ages are out touring the island or the city bike paths, relearning the freedoms of a simple life.

China has culture? China has Chinese Culture? By a tautology, yes…but…

In Taiwan most traditional culture has survived primarily intact. Holidays, religious beliefs…etc…People generally have a good understanding of traditional literature…etc. Generally these things are considered a part of normal life.

In China most people have no clue. They think that Dragon Boating is a traditional activity for every Chinese holiday. Many have no idea about the meaning or rights behind any what we might consider “traditional” Chinese holidays like Ching Ming, (now that it has been resurrected). Many of the “traditional” activities for weddings, births, deaths don’t exist. They don’t know how to pray at a temple, (though now a days they are trying again). They think it is really weird to have a company bai bai like one might in Taiwan. They generally won’t understand any Classical Chinese or Classical references. I’ve been told that Classical Chinese uses, “incorrect” characters.

General politeness and manners is much more common in Taiwan. Serving other people to a high level of quality is not considered as demeaning.

Chalk & cheese if you asked me…

Read Paul Thearoux’s Riding the Iron Rooster about his one-year (yes, one year) train ride in the early 80s across China. Compare the utter vacuity of culture there (everything has been ruined, though a few things are starting to be rebuilt), with the vibrant pop culture of Taiwan at the time, the cheerfulness of the people, the religious freedom, prosperity, the heady influx of western influences.

One stark difference is that Taiwanese nationalism, if you want to call it that, began in opposition to the oppression of the government here, whereas in China it is blooming in opposition to the west. Taiwanese don’t have a massive chip on their shoulders about the Opium Wars which makes them a whole lot easier to be friends with.

Elegua, nice post.