China's Best Province
I have travelled through many of Mainland China’s provinces, and recently landed in Taiwan for the first time. In this post, I’ll argue that Taiwan is China’s best province. But first I need to consider whether Taiwan is actually Chinese. Here are a few points in favor:
1. Both the People’s Republic of China and the Republic of China officially regard Taiwan as a Chinese province. A small portion of the Republic of China is part of Fujian province, but Taiwan is the main part of the Republic of China. It’s odd to call your country “China” if it’s not China.
2. I flew to Taipei on China Airlines, the official airline of Taiwan. Why does it have that name?
3. I visited the Palace Museum, which holds the very greatest treasures of Chinese civilization. It would be odd to locate such a museum in a non-Chinese country. I saw schoolchildren learning about “their history”.
4. On Taiwan they still use the traditional Chinese script. Thus by one measure Taiwan is the province that adheres most closely to Chinese culture.
Of course there is an alternative view—Mainland China is controlled by the CCP and Taiwan is controlled by a rival government. Over time, it has diverged from Mainland China in many ways.
Even so, I think that in most respects Taiwan is Chinese, in the same sense that East and West Germany were both Germany, and North and South Korea are still both Korea. So in that respect I might be seen as being in sympathy with Mainland Chinese nationalists.
But Mainland Chinese nationalists also must reckon with the fact that Taiwan is China’s best province, and not by a small margin:
1. It has the best political system, with democracy and human rights. In some respects it’s even superior to other East Asian democracies.
2. It has the best economic system, much more productive than other Chinese provinces. It relies more on the free market.
3. It has the best culture. Even Mainland Chinese tourists typically acknowledge that visiting Taiwan is a pleasant surprise. The service is friendly and many aspects of the culture are quite charming. Mainland China has its appeal, but the service can be brusque and the rules are often excessively burdensome. Things feel much freer in Taiwan.
4. Urban planning seems better in Taiwan. The big cities are not structured with wide streets and large walled-off compounds, as in Mainland China. On the mainland, even college campuses are walled off like high security military bases.
5. The air seems cleaner than on the mainland.
6. Taiwanese achievements in the arts are especially notable, with Taiwanese film directors being world leaders from the 1980s to the 2000s.
7. There are many other advantages: Uber >>> Didi, Taiwan’s internet works far better, etc.
Taiwan seems so far ahead in so many dimensions that its superiority is not even up for debate. The only question left is what to do about it. I see three possible options:
1. Mainland China adopts Taiwan’s political system, its economic system, and its cultural practices. This seems far and away the optimal outcome. One China, with a Taiwanese system.
2. The status quo is maintained. This is the best option if Mainland China refuses to adopt Taiwan’s system.
3. Mainland China invades Taiwan. I wonder if Chinese leaders understand how big a mistake this would be. Not in the sense that they would lose the war (I have no expertise on that issue), rather as a public relations disaster. Taiwan is increasingly seen by outsiders as a cute and lovable place. For a giant country like China to come in and crush the system would be seen as being deeply unfair—far more so than the recent takeover of Hong Kong.
Mainland China’s government is too proud to publicly embrace the first option. But it’s not too late for them to begin quietly edging their system in the Taiwanese direction. As the two systems become more similar, it becomes easier to solve the problem.
Ill-informed people often claim that democracy is incompatible with Chinese culture, citing 4000 years of Chinese history. Taiwan shows that this is not true. Ill-informed people often claim that the Chinese are copiers, not innovators, ignoring the fact that many key Western technologies first came from China. And Taiwan shows this is still the case, with ethnic Chinese firms in Taiwan having the most sophisticated chip making plants on the planet.
When you think about all that has been achieved by 24 million Chinese people in Taiwan, just imagine what could be achieved if 1.4 billion mainlanders had the same freedom to innovate. A win-win for the entire world.
PS. Here’s a picture I took of Taipei. “Pei” means north, and is the same word as “bei” in Mandarin—i.e. Beijing is “northern capital”. Taipei is on the north of the island. Taichung is in the center, and Tainan is in the south. On the mainland, chung is spelled zhong. Thus the Chinese call their country Zhongguo—“central country”.