NEW YORK -- To
really understand China, one must visit Taiwan.
So said Michael
Chang, the director of the Taiwan Visitors Association. Chang
oversees the Taiwan governments campaign to attract U.S. travelers.
Taiwan is spending $2.6 million this year to push its U.S. visitor
numbers from 373,000 in 2004 to 600,000 by 2008.
The government is
trying to shift Taiwans economy from its manufacturing base to
tourism. But Changs assertion is more than just a catchy pitch. It
has a basis in history. Two historical events in particular
conspired to make Taiwan a repository of Chinese culture: the
Communist Revolution of 1949 and the Cultural Revolution of
When the Chinese
Civil War ended with the victory of the Communists in 1949, the
Nationalist opposition, led by Chiang Kai-shek, fled to Taiwan and
established the Republic of China. Chiang carried with him art
treasures of China, 655,000 pieces in all, which had previously
been housed in the Palace Museum in Peking but had been moved to
safe storage when the Japanese invaded Manchuria in
The art treasures
appeared again in public in 1965 when Taiwan opened the National
Palace Museum. The works span 4,000 years of Chinese
government may want to debate the ownership of the art (as it does
the whole island), but according to Chang, it is doubtful whether
it would have survived the communist revolution and the Cultural
Revolution, when Chairman Mao Zedong launched an attack on cultural
history that left Chinas cultural legacy in tatters.
Palace Museum is now undergoing its first restoration since its
founding in 1965, with a new front, a new entrance and parking
Taiwan will open
a new southern branch of the museum in Chiavi in 2008. The museum
will feature pan-Asian art, including Indian, Indonesian and Thai
Taiwan has also
preserved Chinas culture of cuisine, Chang said.
During the civil
war, Chinas most famous chefs moved to Taiwan, he said. They came
from Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzho and Canton. All the local cuisines
were gathered on one small island. We have the best Chinese food in
While the cuisine
arts took a beating on the mainland, Chang said that they survived
intact on Taiwan. If you want to taste all Chinese food in a short
period, you must come to Taiwan.
If art and
cuisine were challenged on the mainland under communism, religion
suffered an even worse fate.
In China there
was no religion, said Chang. But it was kept very well in Taiwan.
Our old temples are still functioning. A 4,000-year-old temple in
China is a historical place, but in Taiwan, people still attend,
they still practice the religion.
Chinese culture, Chang said, you may choose between the Republic of
China, Hong Kong or Taiwan.
Taiwan does not
expect to rival China, which has the hottest economy in the world
as well as one of the hottest tourist destinations, but to augment
Taiwan as a
single destination now is weak, said Chang. We always combine it
with Hong Kong, [the Republic of] China, Bangkok or Tokyo.
Eventually, we want to promote a week in Taiwan.
reporter David Cogswell, send e-mail to [email protected].