Eye On Taiwan
Date: May 13, 2016
By: David Wang
Depending on one’s age, length of residency in Taiwan, upbringing, location of one’s formative years and extent of immersion in cultures abroad, professional experiences, range of friendships, and exposure to media, one’s perception of the island and its progress since the 1950s inevitably varies. Specifically has the Taiwanese mindset and culture, which were partly symbolized by ubiquitous pedicabs in Taipei during the 1950-1960s and water buffalos trudging occasionally even in Taipei in the late 1960s, evolved in step to catch up with the Information Age that is often represented by the iPhone, ever rising Internet and mobile phone penetration island-wide?
Perhaps the answer to this question lies enigmatically in the photo (taken May 12, 2016 in Taipei) shown?
If one actually bases one’s judgment of Taiwanese cultural progress on the prevalence of mobile phone usage, Internet penetration, the extent of IT or information technology-related news aired in Taiwan, the number of Japanese-branded department stores and globally-branded fashion outlets as Zara, Uniqlo, as well as the endless offering of name-brand goods from Adidas to Under Armor, then one would be self-delusional.
Underneath all the IT gadgets, western fashions, fancy imported BMWs, Ferraris, Porsches and world-class condo towers in the major cities from north to south remains the sheepish worship of antiquated religion, deities, customs and family-centric (read generally patriarchal, nepotistic and male-dominated) traditions that have not changed an iota since the days of ego-inflated Chinese emperors who buried alive with himself servants, concubines, wives upon death in glorified rituals and sometimes epic-sized tombs.
Many real-world examples in Taiwan prove that the traditional culture of keeping corporate reins within the family has not changed.
The now struggling Taiwanese mobile phone maker HTC is headed by Cher Wang, an heiress of the Formosa Plastics Group, who has no background in IT but is privileged to be in her position simply due to being born in the right family.
One of the richest clans in Taiwan, the Tsais of the original Cathay Life empire, is another example where nepotism thrives to keep the glass ceiling securely in place and corporate upward mobility a mere textbook term.
Ditto for the Koos of the China Trust banking empire and EVA Air- Evergreen Marine of the Chang clan.
The same applies to the countless small and medium-sized enterprises in Taiwan.
While many Taiwanese corporate movers and shakers copy western counterparts to try to further develop to global standards, they fail to emulate the essential aspect of running a business, which is to step aside to allow adults to handle it when founding families have only given birth to silver-spoon-fed babies.
After all, have Marissa Myer, Carlos Ghosn, Jamie Dimon, Doug McMillon, Martin Winterkorn, Masamichi Kogai, CEOs of major global businesses, been promoted to their positions due to blood relations to the founders?
Besides the complex issues of proper corporate governance that typically follows global standards worldwide in major firms, Taiwanese corporate trains, due to being guided by dusty traditions, often derails melodramatically after the passing of patriarchs as has been seen in the cases of Formosa Plastic’s Wang Yung-ching and Chang Rong-fa of EVA Air.
Adhering to antiquated traditions mindlessly also implies the “Emperor Syndrome” whereby patriarchs and whoever happens to be handed captainship is no longer obliged to act responsibly, rationally and logically, with many instances of Taiwanese corporate bigwigs straying beyond the law to wreak havoc on even on family members.
I’ve worked for a small Taiwanese exporter where the founder or patriarch ruled over his son like a king over his serf. The son did all the work over the years and yet was deprived of profit-sharing, hence forever locked in the family business without independence, self-esteem and wherewithal to venture out on his own.
Such outdated culture and resulting pecking order in business and family life also takes a toll on free will of grown children. A female Taiwanese nurse in her early 40s, despite being single, is regularly ordered by mother, long divorced from her father, to pick up the pieces after her uncle. He, with a Taiwanese wife who has given him children, went to China to set up business but, like many others, has found a new love who has also given birth to a child. The man has also suffered heart attacks in China as well as gone into debt, all of which puts the onus on the nurse to help out as she has no choice but to obey mom.
A Taiwanese young man who is an engineering grad is obliged, due to the same family tradition that automatically relieves him of free will, to work as an air conditioner technician or installer for another firm as apprentice only to learn the trade to prepare to take over the family business.
The same honoring among Taiwanese of religious traditions, generally taught and passed down through the generations without justification, helps to perpetuate sheepishness among Taiwanese minds, which has been often criticized as without independent discretion.
Incidentally scammers, hundreds of the Taiwanese variety have been caught over the years, typically cannot succeed by praying on people able to think on their own.
The fathers or creators of religions, sects, superstitions and cults also must have sheepish minds to sway decisions of all kinds and preferably choice to open wallets.
And it is obvious that the temple in Taipei, renowned among patrons praying to excel in school and exams, as shown knows the formula well.