Mainland China V Taiwan

When I was two years old, my family moved from Taipei, Taiwan to Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia. Since then, I have not have the chance of revisiting my birth town. So, when I learned I would have the opportunity to return to Taiwan after all of these years, I was excited, to say the least.

My class made this trip to Taipei last month. Upon exiting the plane, Fuji revealed our trip’s assignment: make a short film about one thing Taipei has that Shanghai does not have. After spending a significant amount of time in China and Malaysia this year, I was already curious to see how Taiwan compared. Initially, I noticed the obvious distinctions between the Mainland China and Taipei. For instance, Taiwanese typically use scooters for transportation and Chinese typically use bicycles. Ali and I chose to focus on Taiwanese scooter culture for our short film. Still, overtime I noticed more and more subtle differences. These obvious and subtle characteristics help construct Taiwan identity and culture.


Taiwan and Mainland China share the same official language: Mandarin. Nonetheless, Taiwan uses traditional Chinese characters, and Mainland China uses simplified Chinese characters. This was the first dissimilarity I noticed. The characters I had grown accustomed to in Shanghai were morphed in Taiwan. Although I hear the transition from simplified to traditional, or vice versa, is doable, I had the hardest time reading street signs, subtitles or product packaging during my visit.


While driving through Shanghai, one will see skyscraper after skyscraper. Disregarding Taipei 101, the buildings are noticeably lower in Taipei. Additionally, the city of Taipei is tucked between the mountains and the coast. There is a visible contrast between the city and the surrounding green scenery, which does not exist in Shanghai. It only took a thirty-minute drive from downtown to Yangming Mountain National Park. I believe the luxury of spending a day in a “natural” setting is less convenient in Shanghai. The mountains around Taipei are a constant reminder of the importance of environmental preservation and enjoyment. Furthermore, the mountains restrict development to a certain degree.

Endless noise pollution and traffic sounds disturbed my sleep and concentration during my first month in China. Now, the same sounds murmur in the background as I go about my day in Shanghai. During our bus ride from the airport to the hotel in Taiwan, I was shocked by silence of traffic. The level of noise pollution in Taiwan is minimal compared to Shanghai. Additionally, the air quality in Taipei is better than Shanghai. I follow the Con Gen ShanghaiAir Twitter feed for air quality reports. Almost everyday the US Embassy reports: “Unhealthy (at 24-hour exposure at this level).” Standing at the top of Yangming Mountain, I could clearly see out for miles to Taiwan’s coast. But, when I look out the apartment window in Shanghai, the hazy atmosphere screens the skyline of the Bund. Taipei’s development and ecological footprint is simply smaller than Shanghai. Undoubtedly, this environmental difference is mostly due to scale.


While we were in Taiwan, Dr. Rigger introduced our class to the youth interns at the Democratic Progressive Party. Through our discussion we learned more about Taiwan’s democracy and the Taiwanese perception of Mainland China. From this meeting it was clear that the Taiwanese people proudly reject any political affiliation or identity with China. In fact, they only grudgingly admit their ethnicity is Chinese. I tested this generalization with my family friends in Taiwan. When I asked if them if they were “Chinese,” their faces jaws dropped and they immediately replied, “No, we are Taiwanese!”

Additionally, the democratic system of Taiwan permits people to express opinions and thoughts more openly. While China blocked all traces of Tiananmen Square from its Internet, the Taiwanese government published the facts and used Tiananmen Square to depict the weaknesses of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). The censorship that controls Chinese publications does not exist in Taiwan, and the people of Taiwan campaign to maintain their freedom of speech. Recently, Taiwanese activists protested against the monopolization of media sources, fearing the monopolization would result in an authoritarian like system. During my visit, I could browse Facebook, Twitter and YouTube without connecting to a virtual private network (VPN) to “jump to Great Firewall of China.” This easy access to social media illustrates the freedom of information flow and speech that Americans take for granted everyday.


With more than half of the semester under my belt, I have adjusted to life in one of the largest and most populated cities in the world. In particular, I have grown accustomed to Shanghai’s dog-eat-dog disposition, which is absent in Taiwan. I never apologize or say, “Excuse me,” while pushing my way through crowds of people in Shanghai. In fact, I must push and shove in order to guarantee a spot on the bus. My professor described the dynamics of Shanghai as “controlled chaos.” After going to Taiwan, I can see this even more so. In China, people spit, litter, and urinate in public everyday. Though these actions could be controlled or discreet, individuals choose to do what is convenient for their schedule. From an outsider’s point of view, these actions are dirty, inconsiderate and chaotic.

In Taiwan, order exists everywhere. Courteous patterns and rules of foot traffic are followed. For example, on escalators people either stand on the right or walk on the left. Public restrooms are clean and toilet paper is provided. All drivers wear their seatbelts and scooter drivers all wear helmets. Sidewalks are litter and feces free. These small things add up to a big difference in comparison to Shanghai.

Where is the order in Shanghai? After spending two months in “controlled chaos,” I believe the answer does not matter. Shanghai people get from point A to point B. Sure, the journey is not as smooth or easy, but the bumps along the road do not stop the city of Shanghai from flourishing.


During our last day in Taipei, DJ asked me whether or not I would have liked studying in Taipei better in Shanghai. I was a bit taken aback at first by the question. The luxuries of Taiwan make everyday life easier. But, the madness of Shanghai makes life exciting and unpredictable. In all honesty, our group had fallen in love with Taiwan’s culture, food, people and landscape. We also missed our home in Shanghai. Going abroad is about putting yourself out there. I chose to go to Shanghai because I wanted to be somewhere unique. I wanted to experience things I could not experience in the United States. Shanghai is too big and too messy to grasp in just a weeklong trip. So, I think I made the right decision. As one of my classmates said, “study in Shanghai, vacation in Taiwan.”