TAIWAN: by Jeffry BabbNews Weekly
Taiwan celebrates centenary of Republic
, October 15, 2011
On October 10, 1911, the Shin Hai Revolution, led by Dr Sun Yat-sen, overthrew 5,000 years of dynastic rule in China and established the Republic of China. On Double Ten Day, when Chinese communities worldwide celebrate this centenary, they inevitably think of Taiwan.
For many years, after the relocation of the seat of Republican government to Taipei in 1949, Taiwan stood as a bright but lonely beacon in a dark world dominated by the contending totalitarian powers of the People’s Republic of China and the Soviet Union. Taiwan survived ejection from the United Nations in 1971 and bounced back, even after US President Jimmy Carter in 1979 recognised Beijing as the sole legitimate government of all China.
And what has been the result of all this?
When the Kuomintang (KMT) or Nationalist Party government arrived in Taiwan in 1949, the island had been a Japanese colony for 50 years. An insurrection caused by the heavy-handed policies of the KMT governor had been put down with some casualties, and the KMT knew they were on their last chance. There was nowhere else to go.
The KMT, led by President Chiang Kai-shek, instituted the “Land to the Tiller” land reform program. In compensation, the landlords received shares in state-owned enterprises, which turned out to be very good investments.
Agricultural productivity soared, providing a surplus which helped fund Taiwan’s industrialisation.
At first, Taiwan’s manufacturers concentrated on producing stationery and other low-level manufactures. The canned asparagus so popular at ladies’ lunches in the 1960s was a key export for Taiwan, along with other processed agricultural products.
By the 1970s and 1980s, Taiwan dominated world markets for footwear, clothing and budget goods such as toys and giftware. Today, Taiwan exports integrated circuits (“chips”), electronic goods, flat-panel television and computer screens, chemicals, optical, photographic and measuring equipment and medical instruments. In other words, Taiwan’s exports are dominated by high-tech goods; there’s hardly a clothing factory to be seen. Most exports go to China, Hong Kong, Japan and the United States.
Taiwan will always be compared to “somewhere” else. That “somewhere” has had double-digit growth for about 30 years since the death of Mao Zedong in 1976, yet the figures are nowhere near comparable. The CIA World Factbook says Taiwan had a per head GDP of US$35,700 in 2010, compared to China with US$7,600, meaning the average person in Taiwan is over four times better off than the average person in China.
And that’s not the whole story. While some areas of China — for example, Shanghai, Beijing and Guangdong — are incredibly prosperous, 80 per cent of China’s people still live in rural areas, where an average farmer might earn only $500 a year.
Taiwan’s wealth is far more equally distributed. By comparison, US per head GDP was US$47,200 and Australia’s per head GDP was US$41,000 in 2010. In other words, China is still struggling to make itself into the middle bands of countries, but Taiwan is near the top.
Taiwan is moving to develop its society in other directions. Taiwan’s film industry, which went from great success in Chinese communities around the world to a slump when, like its Australian counterpart, it produced about one good movie a year and a lot of dross for global film festivals, is booming again.
A film, which featured at the Cannes film festival, about an aboriginal revolt against the Japanese is topping box offices in Taiwan. Pop goddess Lady Gaga showed she has her head screwed on properly when it comes to marketing when she visited Taiwan recently.
Music festivals are big business and most of the talent is home-grown. Compare this to 30 years ago when the only Western-style music came on occasionally on International Community Radio Taipei (the converted US Armed Services network), which featured the saccharine sweet “Inside of My Guitar” on high rotation.
Press and cable-television channels are far more probing, vigorous and profitable in Taiwan than in Australia, much to the dismay of the island’s politicians and erring public figures.
How does an island half the size of Tasmania, with 23 million people shoe-horned into its scarce flat areas (about 60 percent of the island is mountainous), compared to China’s 1.3 billion, accomplish so much?
First, there are 150 so-called “universities” of which 10 are top class. The only way to gain entry to the best high schools and universities is by competitive examination.
Second, people work very hard. For example, school starts at 8am and ends at 5pm. Students go to school even during “holidays”; they also clean the school.
Third, while some things are woefully deficient, for example aid for families and the elderly, Taiwan has universal health insurance and care that are often far in advance of Australia’s, because Taiwan makes the high-tech equipment.
In conclusion, one could say Taiwan is a very competitive society, but it is also a very fair one.