Discussions over Taiwan generally focus on the island’s strategic importance, its contributions to international trade, and the need to draw a line in the sand regarding China’s growing military might and territorial ambitions.
We often lose sight of the Taiwanese themselves – 24 million of them – who are unique.
As a frequent visitor to Taiwan, I can tell you how wonderful it is and how special its people are.
For me, Taiwan is more than statistics on a Wikipedia page or a chess piece in a game to contain Beijing.
Of course, Taiwan has the 8th largest economy in Asia (18th in the world), not bad for a country of 24 million people. It is now a mature democracy, ranked among the freest nations in the world. And, yes, Taiwan is the only democracy in the Chinese-speaking world, which offers a stark contrast to the increasingly brutal totalitarianism of the mainland regime.
But there is so much more.
To me, Taiwan is the towering splendor of Taipei 101 (when it opened in 2004, the tallest building in the world), the National Palace Museum (with 700,000 works of art and artifacts, spanning 8,000 years of Chinese history). ), the exotic Shilin Night Market and Bangka Lungshan Temple, dating from the 18th century.
There is also the bustling port town of Kaohsiung, Kenting National Park with its miles of beaches and hundreds of butterfly species and the picturesque Sun Moon Lake, nestled in an alpine setting, a favorite haunt for honeymooners. .
All of this provides a backdrop for the people of Taiwan – Han Chinese, but with their own identity, as different from mainland Chinese as American settlers were from the British in 1776.
Taiwanese are religiously diverse, with Buddhism and Taoism dominant, but Christianity, Islam, Confucianism, and various indigenous religions are added to the mix.
With 24 universities and 45% of the population with a bachelor’s degree or above, they are among the best educated people in the world, particularly excelling in math and science. This probably explains their predominance in high technology. Taiwan is the world’s most technologically advanced microchip maker.
South Koreans are known for their good nature, hence their reputation as Irish Irish. For me, the Taiwanese beat them hands down. They are extremely polite but also outgoing, friendly and helpful. Even if they don’t speak English, they will try to give directions to tourists.
They cherish family and good manners, two natural reflections of Confucianism. The elderly are treated with respect. The stranger is honored.
A visitor can stay in a 5-star hotel and look out their bedroom window to see people practicing tai chi in a nearby park or walk past the shop of a Chinese herbalist or a man doing acupuncture. on the way to the most modern of shopping centers.
These people will never be absorbed or condemned to live as subjects, like the Hong Kong people.
China’s military might (which is growing almost hourly) will have to be faced at some point. Beijing in possession of both sides of the Taiwan Strait would be a nightmare. If Taiwan’s economy joins that of the PRC, it will be virtually unstoppable.
But, please have a little concern for the great people of Taiwan, the human factor in the equation. If the last century has taught us anything, this is what happens when great nations betray small nations and lose their soul in the process.
• Don Feder is a former writer and columnist for the Boston Herald.