What do you think of when you hear about Taiwan? Maybe you aren’t familiar with it or you confuse it with another country. The first thing YuChing wanted to emphasize is that she comes from Taiwan and not Thailand. People can sometimes mix up the two countries, but she thinks they do not intend to offend her. She came to study for her MBA in International Healthcare Management (specializing in pharmaceutical studies). She plans to stay a few years and then return to Taiwan. Taiwan is an island located in East Asia and has over 23 million inhabitants. The state recently made headlines with the adoption of a law allowing same-sex marriage, becoming the first Asian country to do so. But we don’t often hear about the country. I wanted to know a bit more about this country and its fascinating history and culture.
Taiwan : a history by colonization
The colonial eras, in Taiwan, have left their mark on history. In the 17th century, Formosa (Taiwan’s historical name), was divided into different kingdoms and colonial administrations. The northern part of the country was a Spanish colony, while the southern part was a Dutch colony. In the central east, there was the kingdom of Middag, while the Pescadores island located to the southwest was under the control of the Ming dynasty.
Then, two Chinese dynasties followed one another and ruled Taiwan: the Tungning dynasty which ruled from 1661 to 1683 and the Qing dynasty which ruled from 1683 to 1912. The Sino-Japanese war took place from 1894 to 1895 and Taiwan came under Japanese rule until 1945. A second Sino-Japanese war took place from 1937 to 1945. The conflicts were caused by a dispute over control of Korean and Taiwanese territories in the first war and a desire to fight Japanese expansionism in the second. Japan ceded Taiwan to China and Chiang Kai-shek became president.
Colonization has left its mark. Chinese and Japanese influence is felt in Taiwanese culture. I wanted to know more about how Taiwanese culture has been shaped by these cultural influences in terms of culture and morals.
Chinese cultural heritage and Japanese cultural influence
The periods of Chinese and Japanese rule left a significant cultural impact on Taiwan. On one hand, Chinese celebrations are also celebrated in Taiwan including the Chinese New Year, the Qingming Festival, the Lantern Festival and the Dragon Boat Festival. On the other hand, the Japanese influence is visible in contemporary culture. Japanese films, literature, and television shows were very successful in the 1990s. This phenomenon has been called “harizu”, which means people who are fans of Japanese culture. In addition, the influence of Japanese culture can be seen across all generations. YuChing’s grandparents, for example, speak a local dialect and Japanese, but they barely speak Mandarin. The influence is also notable in food. Sashimi, Teppanyaki, and miso soup are all popular foods in Taiwan.
What about religious practices? Where they also impacted by the Japanese and Chinese cultures?
Between Buddhism and Taoism: Taiwanese religious culture
Chinese religious cultures have a much more significant impact than Japanese ones. Religious practices in Taiwan is a combination of Taoism, Buddhism and traditional Chinese religions. So what are the beliefs and the practices?
They have 16 gods and goddesses and they worship them on specific days. YuChing explains that religion is based on moral and ethical rules and these are rules for believers to follow. For example, killing, lying, stealing are not permitted. Concerning the morals to follow, qualities such as contentment, and self discipline are necessary.
Only Buddhist priests follow specific dietary rules: no alcohol and no meat. In addition, family history also has an influence on religious practices. Some believers, like YuChing, do not eat beef. She explains that her ancestors were farmers and the cows helped with agricultural work. They are considered to be the peasant’s friend and cannot be eaten. Temples are places of prayer, but prayer is not mandatory–it is according to the will of the believer.
In the Taoist religion, one does not choose to be a priest but is chosen by God to be a priest. In YuChing’s village, for example, a girl is God’s chosen one to become a priest. This is called “Kitang” in Mandarin. “You know it when you are chosen by God because you feel it,” says YuChing. It’s a feeling that can’t be described, inexplicable. Some signs can show you have been chosen: like tremors, or saying incomprehensible words.
Religious objects in Taiosm
Some religious objects are part of daily life. This religious object is the Mala, a small wooden bracelet. On Wikipedia, Malas are defined “as a traditional tool used to count the number of times a mantra is recited, breaths while meditating, counting prostrations, or the repetitions of a buddhas name.”
The second one is a Fu Talisman. The North Atlantic Books define the Fulu talisman as “an ideograph that represents an intention. It consists of both drawings and writing, sometimes legible, but oftentimes not. The ideographs represent a systematic language or code that is used to facilitate communication between Heaven, Earth, and Man”.
The colonial periods have left a strong mark on Taiwanese culture. Taiwan’s complex and unique history has enriched the country’s culture, which is diverse thanks to these various influences. There are many aspects of Taiwanese culture that were not discussed here, but I hope you gained a little insight into Taiwanese culture. If you would like to learn more, I invite you to visit Taiwan and experience the country and its culture for yourself.