Land and People
Taiwan is an island of spectacular beauty and rich cultural diversity. While the island is only about 386 kilometers (240 mi) long and 145 kilometers (90 mi) wide, its population of some 23 million people makes it one of the most densely populated lands in the world. This 36,000 square kilometers (14,000 sq mi) island lies about 160 kilometers (100 mi) off the coast of China on the Tropic of Cancer. The natural beauty of this fertile island’s landscape, rugged shores, lofty mountains, and natural hot springs makes it a lovely and delightful place to live.
Asia has been termed by some as "the world’s most fascinating continent." The record of Chinese culture has been in existence for over 3,000 years, making it one of mankind’s oldest civilizations. Taiwan is made up of a variety of Chinese cultures and some 16 different aboriginal tribes, making it both diverse and fascinating.
Taiwan culture has been shaped by its own unique history. Past political control of Taiwan under Chinese dynasties, Japanese colonial rule, and certain Western influences including Dutch, Spanish, and the United States have affected its cultural diversity. Additionally, the island has its own aboriginal tribes who have their own tribal rule and traditions. The resulting modern-day culture in Taiwan is varied and diverse, to say the least.
The Taiwanese often have values based on Confucian ethics. They tend to treat people with dignity and respect. Modern pressures from advancing industrialization are tempering traditional values, but, in general, people here are very warm and delightful. They typically will help you if you are lost, and many will even stop what they are doing to take you where you need to go.
Consider Taiwan’s traditional family ideals. Taiwan is a patriarchal society, perhaps influenced by Confucian teachings. Until recently, divorce was very rare and almost never spoken of in a public setting. Parents feel a deep responsibility to provide well for their children. This often results in both parents working while the grandparents raise the grandchildren. The eldest son usually is responsible for caring for his parents and often will live with them even after marriage in order to care for them. Children are encouraged to pursue advanced education. Most go to what are termed "cram schools" in order to excel in their scholastics. The objective is to score well on tests, which they hope will ensure entry to a prestigious university.
Traditional Taiwanese Cuisine
Traditional Taiwanese cuisine is usually based on several Chinese-style variations. Some enjoy the Fujian-style and others Hakka. There are also aboriginal and other local dishes; especially popular is the beef noodle soup. While some are vegetarian, the Taiwanese in general eat pork, seafood, chicken, and—of course—rice. Rice is a staple. Beef is far less common, especially for the older generation.
Another favorite food is the Chinese dumplings with pork or leeks or a combination of both, and some enjoy them fried. Not to be forgotten is the "stinky" tofu. Many locals enjoy this like a Westerner might enjoy a hotdog.
An important beverage in Chinese culture is tea. Many Taiwanese take tea very seriously; some spend more money on a good tea than some Westerners would spend on fine Scotch. Taiwan’s oolong tea is a favorite for many, but they also enjoy green tea and black tea as well. The method for serving Chinese tea is elaborate, and a "must-see" for any visitor. The traditional preparation of boiling water, preparing the tea pot, cups, utensils, and washing the tea leaves, is done with flowing artistic rhythm. The final tea is then poured into a very small, usually ceramic, cup. First you must enjoy the aroma and then a sip of the tea. Sugar and milk are forbidden! The flavor of the second pour is considered the best. Each time you finish your cup, more will be poured. So when you are done, simply leave the cup full—trying not to waste that last cup of tea will be futile.
Taiwan respects religious freedom and they have both Eastern and Western religious groups established island wide. That being said, there are two main religious influences here in Taiwan. While the teachings of Confucius might be regarded by some as a religion, most Taiwanese honor him as a sage and view his teachings as a philosophy or an ethical way of life. Taoism is the predominate religion, with elaborate temples and way of worship. It is characterized by traditional ceremony, often with loud firecrackers and a parade of their gods through the streets. Ancestor worship is fundamental to their worship, as the gods are believed to have formerly lived as mortal humans on earth.
Originally, Taiwan Taoism was separate from Buddhism. However, during the Japanese occupation, Taoist worshippers were singled out for persecution and began secretly worshipping in Buddhist temples. Thereafter, the two religions blended together. While some temples remain purely Buddhist, many have blended a mix of Buddhism, Taoism, and ancestor worship together. Christianity was first introduced during the 17th century by Spanish and Dutch missionaries. A number of Presbyterian missions were established in the latter part of the 19th century. Jehovah’s Witnesses began witnessing here in the 1920’s, but regular organized activities began in the 1950’s.