Taiwan is formally called The Republic of China (ROC). It is located in East Asia, and its closest neighbors are Japan in the east and northeast, the Republic of the Philippines in the south and the People’s Republic of China in the west. Taipei is its capital.
Although still claimed by the People’s Republic of China (PRC) as part of the Chinese mainland, Taiwan still wants to assert its independence and is governed separately. PRC has unseated the ROC from the UN and has become the internationally recognized representative of China. However, there are still 22 member nations of the UN as well as the Holy See that maintain diplomatic relations with Taiwan.
Taiwan used to be called “Ilha Formosa,” which translates to Beautiful Island, a name given to it by the Portuguese sailors that have seen it in 1544. It was inhabited by mainland Chinese farmers 4,000 years ago, with aboriginal languages belonging to the family of Austronesian languages. Linguists believe that Taiwan is the homeland (Urheimat) of the speakers of the language, as the country’s aboriginal languages are more diverse than all Austronesian languages combined.
While it was unattractive to traders before due to the hostility of the tribes that inhabited the island, today, Taiwan, which is home to nearly 23.4 million inhabitants, 50% of whom are under 30 years old and 98% of whom are Han Chinese, is a highly developed country with an economy more advanced than its neighbors. It is one of the Four Dragons of Asia, together with South Korea, Singapore and Hong Kong. The IMF ranked it the world’s 19th largest economy in 2012, with a $901.880 billion GDP/PPP. A multiparty republican system governs the county. Religious tolerance exists in the country although its culture is still very much Confucian-centric.
Mandarin Chinese is the official language in Taiwan, although Min-an or Holo, which is a dialect of Southern Min is spoken by inhabitants that descended from southern Fujianese. Some of the original aboriginal languages have been preserved. There are still many elderly citizens who are able to speak Japanese as the country came under Japanese rule for a time. The most important foreign language spoken in Taiwan is English. It is part of the country’s school curriculum. Most businessmen in Taiwan understand and speak English.
Taiwan, being in the Tropic of Cancer experiences marine tropical climate with the rainy season occurring from June to August with the southwest monsoon. It is not true for the whole country though, since the rainy season in the northern section of Taiwan starts from January until March, coinciding with the northeast monsoon. In May, the country goes through what is called the rainy season in East Asia, called “méiyǔ” in Chinese. Others call it plum rain and it occurs for about two months between late spring and early summer. Humid and hot weather then persists over the whole island from June to September. From July to October, typhoons are common.
Numerous attractions, man-made and natural, lure international tourists to this East Asian country. One of the tallest buildings in the world, Taipei 101 is located in the capital city. The landscaped gardens at the Yangmingshan National Park, planted with hundreds of blooming cherry trees beckons. Looking for a natural hot water bath? The best is at the Beitou Hot Springs. Not to be missed is the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial, the Sun Yat-sen Memorial, the Presidential Office Building, the Martyrs’ Shrine and the National Palace Museum that houses nearly 700,000 fantastic examples of priceless antiques, including jade carvings and boat sculptures made from olive seeds. One of the most famous temples, created in the early 18th century is the Longshan Temple with Guanyin Goddess of Compassion statue. The fine carvings of dragons in the temple are also worth a closer look.
What’s a vacation in Taipei without shopping? The country is known for its night markets and one of the best is the Huaxi Night Market, which is near the Longshan Temple. Do not miss on the culinary delights the country offers, fresh, savory, light yet very filling. A variety of fresh fruits, most of them locally grown are available at the night markets. Enjoy a local cooling drink, Boba, or pearl milk tea. From the street to the finest restaurants, you’ll have several choices, from dumplings, various soups, braised, grilled, fried meats, fish and vegetables, stews and exotic dishes you’d only be able to savor in Taiwan.
While the country is very modern and has become a center of commerce, technology and manufacturing, the young population of Taiwan still retains their Confucian beliefs that at times run counter to modern ideas and practices.
However, despite the modernity and the country being a global economy, it is still very critical to observe the country’s customs and traditions. The “concept of face,” also called “mien-tzu,” is very important to the Taiwanese, so too, are sincerity, respect for seniority and age and the obligations of each individual towards other people based on their relationships according to Confucian teachings. The women in Taiwan enjoy a high degree of freedom and are able to hold higher business positions and social status. Work and education are highly emphasized, as well as ancestor worship and filial piety.
Mien-tzu is very much part of the business relationship in Taiwan. Face is not only for individuals but also for companies. Respect, compliments and things that increase self-esteem are highly valued. Another important thing to remember is “guanxi.” This is about relationships and connections, something that businessmen will have to deal with when attempting to conduct business in Taiwan. This is like a network that will smooth out problems that might arise, open doors and lead and bring more social and business connections.
Heads are sacred and you must avoid touching anyone’s head, even those of children. The same goes for shoulders. Winking is not allowed. Never use your foot in pointing at anything as the foot is considered dirty; use an open hand instead.
Greetings are given formally from the most senior to the youngest in the group, in that order. For foreigners, a firm handshake is the most common form of greeting. Looking down is a trait Taiwanese do as a sign of respect to the person being introduced. Foreigners at not expected to do this.
Address the person you meet with their proper title or designation, whether honorary, academic or professional, followed by their last name. Women do not change their names after marriage. Address them only by their first name when permitted to do so.
Business cards are placed in high regard when conducting business in Taiwan. Your business card should have Chinese translation on the other side, using traditional Chinese scripts used in Taiwan and not the simplified script that is used in Mainland China. Present your business card with the Chinese translation side up, using both hands. After receipt of the card, take a look at it carefully before placing it on the table near you or in your card case. Show respect to the business card as it is indicative of how your business relationship progresses. Likewise, you should not write anything on the business card, especially in the presence of the giver.
Dress conservatively during business meetings and do not be late. The meeting though is not generally structured but an agenda is necessary. While the business meeting may be conducted in English, it is best to have all documents translated in Mandarin Chinese. It would be good to bring senior business officials during meetings and hire a professional interpreter if needed. Patience is definitely needed because discussions could veer off course. Taiwanese are slow in putting their ideas forward, so remember the concept of guanxi and mien-tzu because these come into play. On your first meeting, be sure to bring nicely-wrapped gifts. Those with your company logo would be very much appreciated, even if they do not open your gifts at once.
Anything that is used for cutting should not be given as a gift because it is interpreted as severing ties. Straw sandals, handkerchiefs and clocks are not good gifts, just as white flowers such as chrysanthemums are a non-no. Wrap gifts elaborately, using yellow, pink or red wrapping paper. Do not give anything that is made from Taiwan. Use even numbers (except the number four) when giving gifts. The number eight is considered the luckiest number by Taiwanese.