On Taiwan, Part 1: A Formidable Asian Tiger In It’s Own Right

Another Tiger of Asia is Taiwan, formerly known as Formosa. While China has tried to reclaim Taiwan after the Japanese returned it following World War II, the Kuomintang claims it is the legitimate government of all Chinese people. The current rebel government of Taiwan is modeled on a representative democracy (celebrating its own Nationalist Day on October 10). It does not have “official” relations with the U.S. but has specific offices that maintain unofficial diplomatic representation. Its highly successful capitalist economy was at first a source of cheap piece goods labor, then it produced and assembled electronic components, and later emerged as a leading supplier of computer chips and information systems. Your phone probably contains some part that was manufactured in Taiwan, although you are advised not to take apart your phone to find out. With that being said, make sure that your products are patented or registered in Taiwan to prevent imitation.

Taiwan has come a long way, and yet it has nuances of both Japan and China. Like most of Asia, Taiwan adheres to the teachings of Confucian, particularly hierarchy concerning elders, where they are acknowledged first in a group, allowed to pass first, etc. Also like China and Japan, their approach to time is similar, be punctual, but things may take the time they need to develop. However, unlike China, where the basic unit of society is one’s work group, the basic unit here is the family. The purpose of life in Taiwan is to work hard, be successful in business and accumulate wealth for one’s family.

Japan’s presence is still felt in Taiwan, in not only the language—some of the oldest Taiwanese speak Japanese—but also in the idea of preserving harmony through saving face and indirect communication. When in a meeting with the Taiwanese, emphasizing the compatibility of your two companies, personal amicability, and desire to conduct business will make your company a more desirable business partner. Though profits are important, harmonious relations are crucial here.

Westerners are stereotyped as being boisterous, and unlike Hong Kong, dress here is more on the modest side, so try to leave the glittery skirts and red leather pants at home! Men should wear conservative suits and ties (you can remove your jacket if your Taiwanese colleague doe so first). Women should wear conservative skirts and blouses or suits; pantsuits are considered business casual. And as a side note, for women, revealing clothing may be considered as a mark of “poor” (*cough*loose*cough) character.

Since English is the second language spoken here, many businesspeople, especially younger ones, feel comfortable enough to communicate in English, and their names are in the same order as westerners. The exchange of business cards is similar to the importance of Japan and the style of the Chinese. Many younger, foreign-educated Taiwanese, use the handshake, or more like a handclasp, as a form of greeting. Taiwanese women will shake hands, however western women may need to initiate one with their Taiwanese male colleagues.

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