Why I Chose Taiwan Over China – A Matter of Respect

Friends, strangers, and taxi drivers often ask me, “why did you come to Taiwan,” and the short answer is simple; I got a scholarship to study my master’s in NCCU. The long answer? I didn’t want to go back to China after experiencing Beijing for a year.

I know that can come off as a bit stuck up. I try to avoid making generalizations, but for anyone seeing my rants on my Facebook page, you’ll know I haven’t been doing a great job lately. But I genuinely couldn’t return to China because I simply wanted to live somewhere with a free press and government accountability.

CCP’s History is Being in the Way of Progress

When it comes to China, it’s not a good idea to make too wide a berth when it comes to generalizations. It’s a country with 1.38 billion people, with 55 recognized ethnic minorities, and enough provincial differences that you’d swear you were traveling to different countries every time you went somewhere new.

I’ve never had a problem with China. In fact, Chinese history, culture, and languages are all incredibly fascinating to me. However, I feel completely at odds with the Chinese Communist Party. While some see the CCP as being a necessary evil to liberalize China’s economy, I’ve always seen them as being the obstacle in the way of the Chinese people.

Post World War 2 CCP basically fumbled their way to liberalization.

  • 2019-2020 Hong Kong Protests
  • 1989 Tiananmen Square Massacre 六四
  • 1966-1977 The Cultural Revolution 文化大革命
  • 1958-1962 The Great Leap Forward 大躍進

The US and Europe were all of the impression that China would naturally begin to open up with the advent of China integration into world trade and financial markets.
It’s funny because as much as everyone likes to say how great the CCP is for opening up China’s door ever so slightly, let’s not forgot it took the CCP getting out of China’s way for that to happen, albeit with a lot of chaperoning.
It’s like the economy, and the Chinese people were two horny teenagers, and the CCP was the dad having to say, “I want to see the door open 3 inches at all times.”

So, where are we now? Well, Xi Jinping is now Mao 2.0 after giving himself a blank check to rule with limitless terms and is slowly turning into another Mao judging by his recent actions.

Not Living in a System I Fundamentally Disagree With

I was in Beijing between 2013 and 2014, and as much as I tried to reason my being there as “I’m just studying here” or “I just live here,” I was fully aware I was part of a system that I fundamentally disagreed with. Some things I disagreed with included:

  • The persecution of human rights lawyers
  • The wrongful arrest of journalists
  • Treatment of rural people
  • Christian persecution
  • Muslim persecution
  • Tibetan Buddhist persecution
  • Falun Gong persecution
  • Crackdown on the independence movements
  • Censored internet – My VPN also didn’t allow me to watch porn

These are just a few, but I was aware or became more aware of these issues while I lived in China.

Seeing Uighur Persecution Ramping Up

I particularly became aware of Uighur persecution after the 2013 Tiananmen Square attack. I remember it because I was around the area when it happened, and I got into the first taxi I could see because I was worried that having a big long ginger beard would make me stand out.

Within days the subway system had checkpoints, and the media was quick to point out the dangers of Uighurs, and hell, there were even cartoons portraying ethnically Turkish people as being shady terrorists you should report to the police. Now, 7 years later, 1 million Uighurs are in concentration camps.

Blame the Foreigners

And then, in 2014, Jackie Chan’s son, along with some Taiwanese pop singer, got caught with 100 grams of weed in Beijing. Boom, laowai bars, and night clubs were all targetted, and everyone unlucky enough to get caught got drug tested. I was drug tested twice in Beijing. Now, foreigners were being treated like they unkindly because of stereotypes that foreigners were drug-crazed nuts. This was all even though the people arrested for the original drug charges were Chinese and Taiwanese.

Hell, there were cartoons made about the dangers of dating foreigners, and most recently, cartoons are making the rounds on Chinese social media that compare foreigners to trash.

Screen Shot 2020-04-09 at 8.58.12 PM

Sure, the vast majority of people didn’t mistreat me. Most people were extremely welcoming, and I met so many amazing friends that I still talk to. However, I couldn’t live somewhere that I fundamentally felt so detached from. The detachment came from never being accepted by people as being anything more than a Laowai (even in Ireland with Chinese colleagues) and being always legally unprotected.

No, I didn’t want to live somewhere with a government that persecuted its own people or live somewhere that I would be considered the eternal foreigner.

Having a Fake Sense of Normality

I guess as time went on in China, I noticed that I could do everything I usually could in Ireland. As long as I had a VPN, I could use Facebook and Google. I could buy drugs from deals in Sanlitun if I wanted, though I never did because I didn’t want to be that one foreigner on the news that got caught.

But, no matter how much my VPN worked, or how easier it was to get a pint of Guinness and ignore the apparent stares and weird looks (and getting kicked out of bars for being foreign) I still felt like everything I was living in was a false sense of normality.

That was always a problem for me. I remember one analogy of how life was under the CCP. Censorship is like a thick fog incasing a cliffside. You can walk forward and get away with a few things. However, sooner or later, if you keep walking, you’ll fall off. That, to me, was terrifying.

I Would Never Have Nihao’s It Going in China

Another aspect of living in China is ending up like SerpentZA. He was the original foreign China blogger, and he made pretty good content. Some of it, I didn’t agree with, but overall, he made interesting and often insightful content.

He and Laowhy86 were primarily run out of China. After years of making their lives there, and in many ways, giving insightful and humanizing content for foreigners about life in China, they were stalked, harassed, and in many ways, bullied to leave.

I saw that coming the day I saw SerpentZA’s content because I had the feeling the openness we had then wasn’t going to last, and I wasn’t about to stick around and see.

Taiwan Gave Me More Than a Scholarship

Before I came to Taiwan, I got to enjoy seeing the Sunflower Movement and Tsai Ing-wen’s landslide victory for a new Taiwan. When I arrived, I was met with a fair, open, and friendly society. Despite being ruled by the KMT with an iron fist for decades under martial law, Taiwanese culture doesn’t have the same sense of caution you saw in China. This is because Taiwan never went through the Cultural Revolution, and even under the KMT, Taiwanese still had more freedom than the Chinese.

Taiwan has given me the chance to voice myself through Nihao’s It Going. Taiwan has allowed me to feel like I’m not a “total” outsider, and in many ways, and I know this will sound pretty damn stupid, I kind of Taiwanese. I care a lot for this island and it’s people, and I feel a little silly saying it, but it feels natural to think it.

I never felt that way in China. Ever.

Closing Thoughts.

I’ve never been met with a false sense of freedom in Taiwan. I don’t have to live my life saying, “I just live here” or “The CCP got better, I suppose?”

I don’t want to sound like I’m taking a swipe at foreigners in China for choosing to live there. This is my experience, and it’s very personal, but I suppose I still believe that for most foreigners in China, their life there is basically a clock counting down. Personally, I only know one foreigner friend left in China that I knew since the early 2010s. Everyone else left.

If life in China suits you, I won’t judge, but I know I don’t want to be part of a system that doesn’t respect me, and I don’t respect it.

That’s why I chose Taiwan. It was a matter of respect.

Tomás Swinburne

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