ETHNICITY & LANGUAGE
The ethnic make of Taiwan is actually more diverse than visitors might think and is a sensitive issue that is often a a subject of tension in the political arena of Taiwan. Some 30% of Taiwan's population is ethnically Han Chinese, meaning at some point they or their ancestors crossed the Taiwan Strait (the water separating Taiwan and China) from China to live in Taiwan. Culturally the Han Chinese share a several common cultural characteristics, but in terms of language they are a diverse group of people. Until very recently, asking someone if they were Taiwanese was quickly answered with a defensive "I'm Chinese" (for more info: history section). Now days, this is not the case, the opposite often applies, making it safer to ask people whether they are Taiwanese versus Chinese.
The most widespread language spoken in Taiwan in Mandarin Chinese. In addition to Mandarin, Taiwanese is spoken mainly by the older populations, but young people know it as well. In addition to Taiwanese and Mandarin, there are many different smaller dialects spoken by the aboriginal populations.
Learn some Mandarin Chinese words by clicking here.
Left: College town Feng Chia. Right: Taichung high rises.
CUSTOMS & ETIQUETTE
Taiwanese pride themselves on being very hospitable, especially when you visit their homes. Much is made about the Chinese concept of "face" or "saving face". For example, in situations such as receiving a gift or the repayment of a loan, the Taiwanese (and Chinese people) will often initially refuse to accept. After the giver insists several times and the receiver refuses several times, then is it okay to exchange the items. As a result the person who is to receive something has saved face!
The Taiwanese believe strongly in omens, which probably explains why Chinese geographical names always mean something wonderful, like "Paradise Valley", "Heaven's Gateway", or "Happiness Road". The Taiwanese are really into longevity, therefore death is a taboo topic, or one that is not discussed very openly. In Mandarin, the word for four sounds just like the word for death. As a result, hospitals never put patients on the 4th floor, and most buildings don't have a 4th floor- the floors go from 1st, 2nd, 3rd, right to the 5th. Thus if your apartment number is 501, your apartment is technically four stories up!
In Taiwanese and Chinese culture, their symbols have a different significance than in other cultures. The color red is one of good luck and prosperity. Gold is the imperial color. White is the color of death (and is the color traditionally worn at funerals). Black symbolizes misfortune.
One thing that the Taiwanese prefer is a clean floor. The state of the outside of the home is less important than the inside cleanliness. This tradition seems to have been inherited from the Japanese during their occupation of Taiwan. Most of the homes in Taiwan are "shoes off". There are usually slipper/sandal like shoes by the entrance door. When using the bathroom inside a home in Taiwan there will be another set of shoes especially for the bathroom use because the floor is often wet (Asian style showers usually don't have enclosed areas with a ledge on the floor or a door or shower curtain- just a shower head and a drain on the floor.)
For more information about Taiwanese customs and etiquettes click here.
A Taiwanese man quickly pushes his bicycle across a busy intersection during rush hour.
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