“What are the major stereotypes people have about Taiwan and to what extent are they true?” This is a question I recently answered on Quora that I thought would be worth sharing here on the blog.
There are several major stereotypes about Taiwan that I’ve encountered, so I’ll list the top 5 and explain the extent to which each one is true.
1. Taiwan is dirty, polluted and full of factories.
Taiwan does have several science parks in different cities with hundreds of high-tech
companies, especially in the semi-conductor industry. These companies do a lot of processing and fabrication, which does create quite a bit of air pollution.
However, the majority of air pollution in Taiwan actually blows across the Taiwan Strait from mainland China, and we receive air quality reports and warnings when new “waves” head our way. Overall, Taiwan is quite clean and a really diverse and beautiful country comprised mostly of mountains and beaches, and it’s really a hidden gem of Asia.
2. Taiwan is a developing or under-developed country.
Taiwan is actually quite highly developed. As mentioned in #1, Taiwan is home to hundreds of high-tech companies, which at one point were said to produce about 85% of the world’s electronics. Furthermore, Taiwan has an excellent transportation system comprised of highways and freeways, buses, trains and a high-speed rail system.
There is also a strong Japanese influence in the design of cities, transportation and some architecture from the 50-year period that Japan occupied Taiwan, which ended in 1945. This was a great benefit to the development of Taiwan.
Taiwan has an abundant array of businesses from all over the world from Starbucks to Costco to IKEA to Zara, as well as very modern and well-designed shopping malls and other buildings. Even the latest car makes and models are well-represented with Mercedes-Benz, Audi, BMW, and Toyota being the most common.
Lastly, Taiwan uses 110V electricity with 220V for some appliances, just like the U.S.
3. People in Taiwan speak Taiwanese.
The official language of Taiwan is, in fact, Mandarin Chinese, but unlike mainland China, which uses Simplified Chinese writing, Taiwan’s writing system uses Traditional Chinese (more complex than simplified).
While the main language everyone speaks is Mandarin, there are also other local languages, such as Taiwanese, which is primarily spoken by people in southern Taiwan, and Hakka, which is local to two counties in the north (Hsinchu County and Miaoli County). There are also several aboriginal languages spoken by each of the 12 major aboriginal tribes scattered across the island.
It is not uncommon for many Taiwanese to speak one of the local languages in addition to Mandarin, depending where in Taiwan they grew up. English has become a major language as well, with most signs, public brochures and even menus written in both Traditional Chinese and English. This is especially true in the north, where most of the international commerce is conducted.
4. People eat cats, dogs, bugs or other “strange” food.
First of all, Taiwanese people DO NOT eat cats and dogs. This is something that comes from parts of mainland China, especially from the Canton region in the south. Bugs are not on the menu either, although they seem to be more popular in China and Thailand.
However, some Taiwanese cuisine (which is quite good), might make visitors a bit squeamish, such as pork blood cake, pig knuckles, and chicken feet. There are even parts of a pig, cow or chicken that Americans, for example, would not eat, such as the cartilage, fat and marrow, which are considered very healthy in Chinese medicine.
Tofu is also commonly eaten in Taiwan and can be cooked in countless ways. Taiwan is especially famous for “stinky tofu,” which smells like dog poo, but actually tastes quite good if you can get past the smell.
5. Everyone looks the same – short with black hair and glasses.
This one is sort of true, but with some qualification. For most Westerners like North Americans and Europeans, most Taiwanese people will probably seem short. I am 5’6″ (around 167cm), and I’m the same height or taller than most adults, both men and women, although there are, of course some exceptions.
Many Taiwanese people require corrected vision, even as children, and although some people do wear contact lenses, it is far more common to see Taiwanese people wearing glasses. In addition, while some people, women especially, do color their hair to shades of lighter brown, red and even blonde, black hair is still the predominant color.
So for foreigners who are accustomed to seeing more variety in hair, skin and eye color, it definitely can seem like everyone looks the same. However, after spending time in Taiwan and meeting and getting to know people, it also becomes quite evident how unique and different everyone is.
Back to You
What stereotypes do you have about Taiwan or Taiwanese people? If there are any additional questions, or you want clarification on anything, don’t hesitate to ask and I’m happy to answer!