National Geographic : 1993 Nov
was so thick we couldn't move. The din of fire crackers was earsplitting, and we could barely see the water through the smoke. Suddenly the squeal and clank of Chinese horns and gongs joined the cacophony as a mummers' parade of Taoist deities pranced onto the bridge. Just then the sky opened and it began to pour. Sen Hong and I looked at each other. There was no need for words. Soaked to the skin, water running off our noses in cas cades, we simply stood there, arms around each other, laughing. It was jen-ching-wei that intangible joy of being Chinese. ESPITE their common culture, a great gulf still separates the two Chinas. No formal peace has been declared, and direct travel is still prohibited. But martial law is gone from Taiwan. And now the islanders look toward the mainland less in fear than with an eye toward business investment where labor is cheap, workers are plentiful, and construction costs are low. Indeed many Taiwanese firms have already moved-an underwear factory to coastal Shanghai, a baby-food manufacturer to Beijing, and a tomato-packing plant to the far northwest. By 1993 Taiwanese investments in main land China, pouring in mostly through Hong Kong, reached 8.9 billion dollars. Trade between the two sides was worth more than seven billion dollars. And the two were con tinuing negotiations to improve relations. I saw the effects of this thaw everywhere. On Quemoy the military's guard was still up, but the atmosphere resembled a college cam pus more than an embattled outpost. Not long after my visit the military returned both Quemoy and Matsu to civilian control. But the biggest change was on Taiwan proper. Close to 300 newspapers, many of them sharply critical of government policies, were thriving. The native Taiwanese were asserting their identity in ways I had never seen before. Of the nearly 21 million people on Taiwan, 85 percent are descendants of Chinese who emi grated from Fujian Province and elsewhere along the coast between the 1600s and 1949. Like the mainlanders, they speak Mandarin, but they also speak Min-nan hua, the old Fuji an dialect that the Nationalists had banned. "In grade school we were fined a dollar for every Taiwanese word they caught us using," recalls Fan Yun, a 24-year-old Taiwanese graduate student at Taiwan University. "We had to wear a sign around our necks that said, 'I was bad. I spoke Min-nan hua.' " Three years ago Fan led the island's first major student demonstration -a week-long sit-in of 3,000 students at Taipei's Chiang Veiled against the sun, women sort electronics trash-much of it originally imported from the United States-at a government-run yard near Kaohsiung. Recov ered metals earn big profits on this mineral-poor island, but the expense of controlling pollution during the extrac tionprocess has put the industry injeopardy. Taiwan's future lies in its own electronics industry, especially now that the man ufacture of labor-intensive goods-the foundation of re cent wealth-is being driven by high wages to cheaper locations elsewhere in Asia. This microchip factory (right) operates in a high tech industrialpark built by the government in Hsinchu, the island's Silicon Valley.
1993 Nov 30