Friday, 29 August 2014

"Little Thirds" (小三) - Taiwanese Businessmen and Chinese Mistresses

One day I went with a friend of mine to a nice coffee shop near the campus of National Taiwan University. I don't know how or why, but we began talking about family values. I don't recall the details of that conversation, but one scene I remember vividly as if it had happened yesterday. She smiled at me and said, "We are more responsible."

What she meant, of course, was that Taiwanese people care more about their families than Westerners. I have challenged this view several times, showing that terms like 'love' or 'responsibility' have different meanings in the West and in East Asia. In this and the next posts, I would like to talk about the phenomenon of the "little thirds" (xiaosan, 小三, also called 二奶), which, as I will show, derives from traditional East Asian concepts of family life.

In this post I will tell a few stories of Taiwanese businessmen who took mistresses during their stay in mainland China. In the second post I will show how "cross-strait families" (husband in China and wife in Taiwan) actually reinforce traditional values and social roles. In the third post I will provide ancient examples of concubinage, and in the fourth one I will explain the concept of "feeding", or "nurturing" (養) a mistress, and what this has to do with traditional family structures.

Nightclubs, 'Company Girls', and China's 'Little Taipei'



According to the Washington Post, in 2010 more than a million Taiwanese lived in mainland China, half of them in Shanghai, most of them for work. Stories of Taiwanese men who spend almost the whole year apart from their families in Taiwan are therefore not uncommon. And while men in East Asian countries may keep mistresses and concubines according to their financial possibilities, men who live far from their family and native social environment are often even more tempted to do so. 

As Taiwanese businessmen face tougher competition in China, they are also experiencing greater difficulties in keeping a mainland mistress. Since the economy of the mainland has developed rapidly, Taiwanese are no longer as wealthy as they used to be when compared with the local population. A Chinese mistress may demand a monthly allowance of 300,000 NTD (around 10,000 US dollars), which is more than many Taiwanese can afford. Many men can't make a "deal" with potential mistresses if they offer a lower price. 

Monday, 25 August 2014

Bao'an Temple (保安宮) in Taipei's Datong District

Bao'an Temple (保安宮, pinyin: Bǎo'āngōng) is one of the major temples of Taipei's Datong District. It is located on Hami Street, in an area known as Dalongdong, one of the oldest Han settlements in the Taipei Basin. Bao'an Temple is just a few minutes walk from the Confucius Temple, and close to Chen Yueji Residence as well as Yuanshan MRT Station

The first nucleus of Bao'an Temple was built in the 7th year of Emperor Qianlong (1742) by Han settlers from Tong'an, in Fujian Province. The temple is devoted to Baosheng Dadi (保生大帝, literally "Life Protector Great Emperor"), a deity of the Chinese pantheon worshipped in Fujian Province and Taiwan. As is often the case in Chinese folk religion, Baosheng Dadi is a deified historical figure, a doctor and Daoist practitioner surnamed Wu (吳), born in the village of Baoliao, near Xiamen, in Fujian Province. He is said to have performed medical miracles, and after his death in 1036 he began to be worshipped as a god. He was subsequently deified by emperors of the Song and Ming dynasties.

Friday, 22 August 2014

Cisheng Temple (慈聖宮) in Taipei

Cisheng Temple (慈聖宮, pinyin: Císhènggōng; literally "Palace of kindness and holiness") is a temple located in Taipei's Datong District. Along with Xiahai Chenghuang (霞海城隍廟) and Fazhugong Temple (法主公廟), Cishenggong is one of the three major temples of Dadaocheng, an area of Datong which under Qing rule used to be a small port town outside of Taipei walled city. As one of the oldest parts of what is now Taipei City, Dadaocheng has retained its "Chinese" character, shaped by the immigrants who came to Taiwan from southern China over the centuries. 



Cisheng Temple was built in the 19th century by immigrants from Tong'an, a district of Xiamen city, in China's Fujian Province. It is devoted to the Sea Goddess Mazu, one of Taiwan's most popular deities. In imperial times, crossing the strait was dangerous and the Chinese settlers who went there often risked their lives; this explains why so many of them were eager to thank Mazu after they had started a new life on the island. At the beginning, the people from Tong'an lived in Mengjia, one of the oldest Han settlements of the Taipei Basin.

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Chen Yueji Residence - Taipei Qing Dynasty Historic Site

The Chen Yueji Residence (陳悅記大厝, also called 陳悅記祖宅), commonly referred to as "Teacher's Mansion" (老師府), is one of Taipei's lesser known treasures. It is located on Yanping North Road, in Taipei City's Datong District. It is one of the few remaining residences built during the Qing Dynasty era. The residence is close to other major tourist attractions, such as the Confucius Temple. It can be reached on foot from Yuanshan MRT station



During the Qing Dynasty, the Chen Yueji Residence was part of Dadaocheng, which at that time was a city of its own. When the Japanese occupied Taiwan in 1895, they set about building a modern colonial capital. They tore down Taipei city walls as well as nearly all buildings constructed in Taipei walled city under the Qing. The only Chinese buildings that they did not destroy were four out of five city gates and a part of Taiwan provincial administration hall. On the ruins of Qing Taipei they created the government and business district of Jonai; an entirely modern, Western-inspired district where nothing Chinese was left that could awaken the Taiwanese people's nostalgia for their past. That part of the city still maintains its Japanese colonial structure. 

In the 1920s Jonai, Dadaocheng and Mengjia were united to form Taipei City. Dadaocheng and Mengjia were the more traditional and "Chinese" districts, where mostly native Taiwanese lived. That's why up to this day several Qing era buildings, especially temples, survive in these two areas, giving them a characteristically "Chinese" flair. 

The Chen Yueji Residence began to be built in the early 19th century by members of the Chen clan (陳氏) in the traditional style of a Chinese courtyard house. The Taiwanese branch of the family was established by Chen Wenlan (陳文瀾), a doctor who came to Taiwan from mainland China during the reign of Emperor Qianlong (乾隆; reigned from 1735 to 1796). Chen Wenlan's eldest son, Chen Xunjing (陳遜經), set up a store that sold ship components, since trade between mainland China and Taiwan prospered at the time. The store was called 'Chen Yueji' (陳悅記).

Monday, 18 August 2014

Taihoku: The Modern Capital - Taiwan Under Japanese Colonial Rule

We - the Westerners who have had the privilege to stay in Taiwan long enough to know it at least a little bit better than the occasional traveller - are not the first generation of foreigners who have been to this island and have had the chance to discover its treasures. Most of the people who came here long ago did not write down their impressions, feelings and observations, and their memories are now lost to us. Yet some of them did, passing on to future generations their invaluable knowledge and experience.

One of these Westerners was Owen Rutter (1889-1944), a British historian, novelist and travel writer, who visited Taiwan in the 1920s, during the Japanese colonial era. In this post I share with you the 7th chapter of Rutter's book Through Formosa, in which he describes Taipei (called Taihoku by the Japanese) and the general development of Taiwan as a colony. This part of the book is interesting for several reasons. 

First, it shows us the Taihoku of the 1920s from the perspective of a foreign traveller. Second, it sheds light on how the Japanese wanted their colonial capital and their colonial enterprise on Taiwan to be perceived by the outside world; in fact, Rutter's 'tour guides' were Japanese officials who, as a matter of fact, explained to him the development of Taihoku from their own point of view. Third, it proves how successful the Japanese colonial administration was in the eyes of Western imperialists; Rutter was very impressed by what Japan had achieved on the island in merely thirty years, believing that the Japanese were better colonisers than the British. 

Obviously, Rutter was a man of his times, and his thinking reflects prejudices and stereotypes of early 20th century Westerners (some of which still exist).

The following chapter is divided into sections. Some parts have been omitted to make the reading easier. 

***

Owen Rutter: Through Formosa - an Account of Japan's Island Colony. London 1923, Chapter VII



I.

We arrived at Taihoku in a blaze of glory. A host of officials was waiting for us on the platform as the train drew in; there seemed to be a never-ending procession of them as they were introduced, card in hand. Among them were Mr. Kamada, head of the Foreign Section (the immediate chief of Koshimura, who now effaced himself), Mr. Hosui, also of the Foreign Section and chief interpreter to the Governor-General, Mr. Yoshioka, an official of the Monopoly Bureau, and Major Akamatsu, who was on the Headquarters Staff of the Formosan garrison. All but the latter spoke English and all were very anxious to do everything they could for us. 

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Donghe Bell Tower and Soto Zen Temple in Taipei

One evening I was walking along Ren'ai Road (仁愛路), close to Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall, when suddenly I noticed a peculiar old building on my left. I was surprised because I had never seen it on any Taipei guide. On second thought, though, I wasn't sure whether it was an old building at all. It actually looked brand new. Was it one of those neoclassical oriental structures so beloved by the old KMT guard? After all, Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall, too, looks like an ancient building, but in fact it was constructed in the 1970s. 

I drew closer and saw that it was a bell tower. It stood lonely behind a huge high-rise building and next to a gloomy construction site. I looked around to see if there was any plaque that explained its history. I went into the archway at the centre of the tower. Suddenly I heard a coarse coughing and the sound of steps, and I stopped. An old man emerged from the other side of the tower. His scrawny upper body was naked, his skin was dark, and he looked as if he hadn't taken a shower in a while. In the distance I saw an improvised bed made out of several blankets. It was probably a homeless man that I had disturbed in his sleep. I turned around and decided to return another day.

Friday, 8 August 2014

Qing Dynasty Taiwan Provincial Administration Hall (臺灣布政使司衙門)

A few weeks ago on a Saturday I decided to go to Taipei Botanical Garden to take a walk and escape the hustle and bustle of the city. Established during Japanese rule in 1921, the botanical garden is in itself a tourist attraction worth visiting. Located just a few minutes walk from Xiaonanmen MRT Station, the park has about 1,500 species of plants, and there are also animals such as frogs and squirrels. However, I didn't go there to enjoy the nature, but to see a building that I'd been wanting to visit for a long time.

It is a small, Chinese-style building, with a traditional curved tiled roof, white walls, and full of Chinese-style decorations. It is hard to believe that only a century ago, this structure stood in the middle of present-day downtown Taipei, on the location of today's Zhongshan Hall

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Foreigner Goes Berserk, Assaults Taiwanese Bus Driver

The case of a foreigner that assaulted and insulted a bus driver in Taoyuan has become a major piece of news in Taiwan yesterday.

On August 4, a US national of Taiwanese descent named Jason accused a bus driver of not halting at a stop. The driver, surnamed Chen, claimed that the passenger had not pressed the stop button on time, while Jason himself argues that he did. Jason was travelling with his pregnant wife. 

A female passenger sunamed Lin uploaded a video in which Jason can be seen shouting at the driver and threatening him. He can be distinctly heard saying to the driver: "I will f*** kill you, bitch". Jason was furious because the driver had not stopped after he pressed the button. He insulted him repeatedly. The word "f***" can be heard 17 times. Jason also demanded the driver apologise to him. Several elderly people intervened and apologised on behalf of the driver in order to soothe the man who had turned violent and had entirely lost his temper. 




Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Taiwanese Peeing in the Street, Chinese Peeing in the Street

Over the past few years Taiwanese and Hong Kong media have often exposed cases of mainland Chinese children urinating or defecating in public areas. The anger felt in Hong Kong and Taiwan against mainlanders' misbehaviour has even prompted China's Xinhua News Agency to publish "Six Guidelines and Six Taboos", a guide for Chinese tourists travelling outside the mainland. 

As I have argued in one of my posts, I believe that, although it is right to expose and criticise those individuals who misbehave, it is not acceptable to blame 1.3 billion people for the faults of a few. It is also necessary to try and understand the background of these people. Only a few decades ago, China was a predominantly poor and rural country, and old ways of life may have survived despite the country's recent economic development. Furthermore, it must be noted that in mainland China itself public urination and defecation has led to violent altercations. Admittedly, there seems to be a certain level of acceptance in China towards children who "can't hold" their urine any longer. This has probably to do with education. It can only be changed through public campaigns. A successful example of government-enforced bans of bad behaviour is Singapore, where public spitting has been outlawed (as it is considered a form of littering) as a habit that is not only unhygienic and could spread diseases, but may also hurt other people's sensitivities (see David A. Mackey: Crime Prevention, 2011, p. 393). 

As habits have changed and are changing in East Asia, so are they in the West, as well. Ross Coomber, professor of sociology at Plymouth University, once stated: "There are reports of people spitting in parliament right up to the end of the 19th century. I like to remind people that we were still building pubs in the 1930s with spitting troughs at the bottom of the bar." Smoking, too, used to be a universal habit tolerated in almost all public areas

Despite frequent complaints about mainlanders' misbehaviour, I must say that I have never witnessed any such case myself when I was in Hong Kong or during my brief stays in Beijing and Shanghai. I must have seen hundreds if not thousands of mainland tourists during my long walks in Central, Admiralty, Tsim Sha Tsui etc., but nothing strange ever happened.  

However, I have seen people urinating in public in Taiwan. Usually, I just look at them in astonishment and keep on walking. But yesterday, I decided to take a picture of a man who was peeing in the street near Guting MRT Station.

Monday, 4 August 2014

Modern Love, Confucian Values - The Case of Huang Yuting (婷婷)

A few weeks ago I stumbled upon an article about Huang Yuting, commonly known as Tingting (婷婷), the ex-wife of Taiwanese actor Shao Xin (邵昕). The article appeared on the popular Taiwanese tabloid Apple Daily, a newspaper that often talks about the private lives of celebrities.

Tingting and Shao Xin divorced two years ago. This year, a friend introduced Tingting to a man who is now her boyfriend. They have been together for about half a year. He has already proposed to her and they are planning to get married. 

What interests me about this article is not the gossip. What I find fascinating is how Tingting and her boyfriend explain and articulate their relationship by using a mix of traditional Confucian values and of modern concepts of love. Let us examine the text a little closer. In an interview, Tingting stated:

There is almost no resistance [on the part of our families] to our being together. My mother likes him. His parents, too, have accepted me (我們在一起幾乎沒有阻力,我媽很喜歡他,他家人也接受我).