What is holding up Taiwan becoming a real developed country?

As per title, what’s holding the place up from reaching it’s full potential.

First I’d need to state my personal definition of what I mean by developed country .

Is it incomes?
There are many definitions, but according to the World Bank, GNI per capita, data.worldbank.org/about/country-classifications
, Taiwan is a high income country (>12k USD GNI per capita), so let’s say it’s not income related (many European countries must be on roughly equivalent average wages especially if you take into account the unemployed masses.

Is it inequality?
While inequality in Taiwan is growing at a very fast rate, other developed countries such as the US perhaps have worse inequality overall. It is a problem though as wages have stagnated so long.

Is it infrastructure?
Nope, Taiwan overall has a very good infrastructure not withstanding large gaps like sewerage systems and pavements. Their electricity network, water, telecommunications, ports, airports, they are all equal to many developed countries or better in some cases.

Is it education?
The vast majority of school graduates go on to graduate from 3rd level institutions. However the quality of said institutions is a serious concern.

Is it lack of social welfare?
Not really. Although Taiwan could do a lot more in terms of social welfare from my European perspective, for an American Taiwan has a generous healthcare system and low taxes.

Is it the health system?
Nope, Taiwan’s health system is well respected, it has it’s problems but works well overall, it’s electronic records system is world class and access to healthcare must be among the best in the world

Is it daily corruption?
Nope, daily life mostly doesn’t corrupt interactions with officials

Is it efficiency in getting things done?
Nope, you can get a phone installed or the internet in days, it’s easy to buy a car or a scooter and apply for a driving test and relatively easy to get a visa or deal with immigration or tax authorities, lots of services are even online

Is it religious fundamentalism and intolerance?
No I don’t think so. Taiwan is refreshingly free of religious interference (excepting the recent homosexual marriage protests) and tolerance levels are high for all types of people. People live and let live here.

Is it the awareness of the outside world?
Yes and no. Even a country like the US has many citizens with little understanding of countries beyond it’s borders, but nobody would say it is an undeveloped country. Taiwan is quite isolated though politically and culturally. There is little practical awareness of foreign countries and cultures.

So what is it that makes Taiwan FEEL like it’s not fully a developed country sometimes and why is it fair to say this FEELING is REALITY or not.

I have my own perspective and I’d like to hear others.

I think it comes from these factors

- Lack of individual opinions
The mark of a developed society is the ability to give and hear opinions in general discourse (within reason).
I struggle to get people’s opinions on the most mundane things sometimes.

- Lack of civic organisation and local neighbourhood spirit
Local neigbourhoods and villages and towns lack civic spirit to push for higher standards. The odd community like Meinong develops this , but the vast majority of Taiwan seems to lack this civic spirit. It often feels like a collection of individuals and families living together and working together and eating together but not ‘coming together’. If you don’t organise and challenge your bosses or local cartels, nobody will get a pay hike. If you don’t pressure the government, you won’t get a better social welfare system or cleaner water.
Even finding a footpath that is clear of scooters or flat is a major challenge. This is a real marker of 3rd world status in my book, on one level because it stops people just getting around and exercising or walking with their kids safely, and on the other shows that something is seriously wrong in either thought processes , community ethics or the ability to get things done.

-Lack of willingness to challenge the status quo
Goes back to point 1. But change starts with challenge to the current status. If nobody challenges it…things proceed as is.

-Lack of education and understanding of your own democratic rights and the meaning of democracy
Votes are sold all over the island for a few hundred NTD each. Selling votes is very rare in developed countries AFAIK. Politicians may promise this and that, but direct and organised vote buying is a real mark of an undeveloped country

-Rote education system
Although there are other Asian countries that use the rote type learning education system, I feel it is not fit for purpose and a real developed country would move away from this more quickly and allow children more freedom of expression and in personal choice. This is a big problem in terms of causing many other of the problems listed here.

-Lack of environmental awareness
People here have an enormous capacity to ignore the pollution from the motor vehicles, the dirty water, the overuse of pesticides, the illegal recycling and metal plants in the middle of farmland all over Taiwan. They just keep on planting their rice and veggies beside it and everybody goes on living. Until they are TOLD it’s a problem.

-Over emphasis on money , superficial emphasis on face saving rather than doing your job properly and ethically
This is a problem that runs through the educated classes, in the government especially. Many Taiwanese have been educated overseas, but when they come back they end up getting sucked back into the system. They know there are better ways to do things, but they don’t do them. They just sit there and go through the motions and wait for the pensions. Look at the mayor of Taichung as an example, he has a PhD from Cambridge and the President has a PhD from Harvard. CSB was a law professor at NTU. This doesn’t stop them being rotten or useless at their job.

However ‘chabuduism’ is also rife in the middle and lower classes. Just good enough, no more effort will be applied. Short-term always over long-term.

I’ve been dealing with many service and business people. They have a saying in Taiwan ‘yi fen qian yi fen huo’. You get what you pay for. But in a real developed country, people will still do their job properly just for their own pride a lot of the time. Just do your job ethically and properly. Have pride in yourself and your work. Don’t take the money and do a shitty job. Have pride to say ‘no I won’t take the money’ or ‘yes I will do it’.

-Overemphasis on accumulation of money instead of developing personal interests and hobbies and local culture and making time for living

Japan feels more developed to me , even though it is not much different than Taiwan in some ways. All people around the world would like more money. However life is not only about money. For many ethnic Chinese life really does seem to revolve almost completely about money, to the detriment of other things.
Contrast Taiwan with Japan, while both have hard working cultures and emphasize material possessions, many Japanese cultivate hobbies and have an interest in maintaining their local culture. They also have about 15-20 more public holidays than Taiwan per year.

-Mistreatment of foreign workers and identity being the same as race
This one screams ‘undeveloped’ to me. Excepting places like Singapore, most developed countries that I can think of tend to treat legal immigrants (and their own citizens) fairly according to their country of origin or race. In Taiwan there is real discrimination against workers from South East Asia and also latent racism against darker people. There are different levels of citizens according to your ethnic background. Local born citizens can have dual nationality, newly formed citizens can only hold ROC nationality.

-Mistreatment of animals
This is still rampant, although much improved. Some day in the next 10 years hopefully this one would come off my personal list.

-Playing the blame game
Taiwanese are fond of blaming the government, blaming the bosses, of blaming the other party, of blaming the Americans and the Chinese. But in the end it’s Taiwanese who need to look inwards and think, hold it a second, the only common factor in these issues is US. First they need to look in at their own society, really look, and question things themselves. I know the importance of this one, because I’m also from an island nation with a history of colonisation. It’s so easy to blame other groups for your own society’s failings. But in the end, it’s up to your own society to dig into that can of worms and chuck out the rotten bits and add in some fresh stuff to make it better. It’s tough, , people don’t like it, but it has to be done.

I haven’t mentioned the positives too much, like tolerance, working to succeed, self reliance etc. But I think it’s the problems above that stop Taiwan going from GOOD to GREAT. It’s the individuals that are the problem, not the government or the bosses. It’s the weakness of the individuals ability to challenge their received education and cultural training and to organise themselves into a more powerful cohesive mass that holds the nation back.

1 Like

Great Post. Well Presented.

There will be those here who agree and disagree with you on some, or all of these points.

As a quick reply, I think the answer to your question lies in these:

All of these are deeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeep rooted in Chinese culture. Have you heard it’s thousands of years old? They seem to like a fella that goes by Confucius.

So, the next time you see a Ferrari driving 10km/hr because he can’t pass the blue smoke spewing garbage tricycle, you know you’re in Asia baby!

and BTW, I never want to see Taiwan be what you seem to imply here. You have described San Francisco, Seattle and New York. I live here in Taipei because I’ve done the other three and I like how here is rough around the edges. And the drinking water is super clean here, especially in the North.


Oh yes, this is just a collection of ideas and opinions from one person, it’s meant to be something to work off not a definitive statement.

I believe that if you took a huge knife, and cut Taiwan down the middle, then cut one of those halves in half, etc, etc, until you had the smallest indivisible particle, that particle would be a pig farmer in a Benz.

The shiny MRT cars, whizzy jianbao cards and circus-style democracy are all distractions in what is the biggest confidence trick of all time.

I think having police who patrol and look for infractions would help a lot.

Excellent point Zender, law enforcement is a big one that drops Taiwan on the development index.
I’m not really sure WHAT the police do here most of the time. It seems to be about going through the motions of being a policeman or policewoman but not actually doing law enforcement.

Pollution, politicians and policing.

The three Ps. Yeah I’d go with them as the main ones.
Do people think it’s because of failings at the individual or cultural level, or simply that the institutions for policing, politics and pollution control are weak.

What I mean to say is that every country or society has parts that don’t perform well in their particular set-up, is there a fundamental reason that Taiwan fails on these three Ps or just something that needs some work and dedicated higher-ups to push through reform?

Can the police be reformed? Can politics be reformed? Can pollution control be reformed without people as individuals challenging the current system and cultural assumptions?

I’d also throw education in there as something that needs serious work but I have no hope for fundamental reform. That’s a problem in changing mindsets or could I say opening minds.

Can Taiwan’s society and environment be improved with the current mindset, does it need more incremental change or does it need a whole new mindset?

In the same way that a computer is powered by it’s various chips and software, are the chips in need of replacement with something more powerful? After all you can only do so much with less powerful hardware.

Or is it just the operating system that needs an upgrade installed by the administrator? Or a more fundamental change from Apple to Android?

The other day i saw a group of Traffic officers supposedly setting up a check point in Zhongli, there must have been about a dozen of them. When i walked past i couldnt stop thinking about Dads Army for some reason.

Interesting thread, especially since you took the time to describe what ‘developed’ means (to you); broadly, I’d agree with your definition. Developed has nothing to do with money, baubles or freeways but basic quality-of-life issues, many of which are not (in theory) difficult to arrange, but which the greater proportion of humanity seem to struggle with.

You’re probably aware that ‘developed’ means something completely different to the average Taiwanese person. As far as I can tell, it means “more like Americans, and less like Filipinos”.

There’s not going to be much of a discussion though because you basically answered your own question already :wink:

As regards the next stage of development - what some commentators call ‘energy descent’, where energy and engineered materials become prohibitively expensive - I think Taiwan is going to struggle badly. Much of Taiwanese society is horribly inefficient in terms of energy and resource burn rate, and I’m pretty certain that’s (partially) underlying some of today’s economic woes. They locked into those systems in much the same way as “The West”, but they are even less likely to question the assumptions on which they were built, for the reasons you mentioned earlier, and less capable of innovating their way out.

It’s not unique to Taiwan, certainly, but it’s that lack of ability to take charge that I’ve seen throughout Asia. People are happy to be dumbasses that have no function, as log as they still get paid.

An example would be the empty coffee shop I sat in while it took 25 minutes for a sandwich and coffee to materialise. No-one will take on an executive role if something in the process breaks down (woman on cheese detail has 68 LINE alerts to deal with …). Magnify / extrapolate that and you have a country full of people sitting around waiting for sandwiches and not working or spending or creating.

For me the big things would be substandard housing. It shortens people’s lives and makes it a lot less pleasant than Europe. Also, the lack of ‘insurance’ against the random. Although the health service isn’t bad, the chances of a vehicle smashing into me and disabling me it a lot higher than in Europeand even though I’d lived there for nearly a decade, I would hae been fcked if I couldn’t have worked. Exclusionary immigration would be another thing: I lived in Taiwan for eight years and had no rights to stay without forfeiting my nationality, getting married, or sucking up five consecutive unbroken ARC years.

By way of balance, what makes it more developed than my country are; access to fresh food (although Taiwan is far from perfect in this respect, and there isn’t much high quality international food, it does do a lot very well), and cheap, clean, effective public transport that supports economic development. I also love the public facilities in Taipei: libraries in the MRT and airports, pools, gyms, hotsprings.

Clean? The MRT yes, but the buses… They will be clean the day they run on electricity.

If no-one took a piss on it, it’s clean, as far as I’m concerned.

Nazis. I forgot about the motherfucking Nazis. Retrograde mofos.

I was thinking about transports’ cleanliness in a pollution point of view. Piss stinking buses suck indeed, but buses that spit smoke all day suck more.

Yeah, I understand. Not having electric buses doesn’t really scream ‘2nd/3rd world’ to me, though.

I think the huge number of scooters, specifically parked scooters, is the main obstacle for Taipei appearing to be a first world city.

Additionally, Taiwan’s media is purely in the developing world. Can never underestimate the profound effect that this has on Taiwanese society.

I think zender is on the money about having police on patrol, enforcing laws. I would extend that to every department, commission, agency etc with enforcement powers, like the EPA. They all need to become active. The terrible air and water pollution, the food safety issues, the strays and animal cruelty, the traffic violations, and the littering all exist on such a grand scale because the laws are not enforced. One study I read on the stray dog problem concluded that many Taiwanese have ‘rural attitudes to dog ownership’ ill-suited to urban life. I think the authors were a little unfair on pastoral living but I’ll borrow their euphemism and say that too many Taiwanese, especially the older generations, have ‘rural attitudes’ towards citizenship ill-suited to a developed country. The youth are far more urbane than their parents or grandparents, so I feel there is reason for optimism.

How come no one ever mentions over population or population density?

No country will ever seem civilized when its entire population lives in what would be a large county back in the USA.

When you have the cultural equivalents of Manhattan, Texas, Los Angeles and Appalachia living in the same area code, you start to see how difficult it is to polish the exterior.

Every society has its elite and its bottom rungs, but most have enough space to hide the eye sores and convince each other that they’re 1st world.

And, if you’ve actually spent time living in cities like New York or Los Angeles, you realize that ‘1st World’ requires some serious gerrymandering.


Flushing the toilet paper would be a step in the right direction.

Hong Kong, Singapore, Brunei, Monaco, Luxembourg, the Vatican, and a few others that don’t immediately come to mind seem to be doing pretty well for themselves.

But I agree Taiwan is overpopulated. The amazingly low birth rate may be a good thing. (Based on my years of non-existent civil engineering studies) I think Taiwan would be best with a total population of around 17 or 18 million.

So would insulation, indoor heating, wallpaper, sidewalks, and sufficient parking space.