Thursday, November 29, 2007

Wasai-- Racism in Taiwan

If you approached most Taiwanese people and asked them about racism in Taiwan, they would probably tell you that there is no racism in Taiwan. They might say racism is a problem in other countries and they will be quick to relate stories about this if it has personally affected them. However, if you spend a little time observing and listening to people in Taiwan you will soon find that racism exists in Taiwan, just like every other country in the world.

The classified ad above (from the Taipei Times 24 June 2006) shows that Taiwanese employers can very specifically advertise for employees based on race. Discriminating on the basis of race or ethnicity is probably the worst one. However, in Taiwan it is considered quite normal to specifically state the age, gender and even marital status in an employment ad.

I remember once visiting a school and the owner told me she was having difficult employing new teachers. She said lots of people had applied but they were all “block” teachers. I wasn't quite sure what she meant and it was only later that I figured out she was in fact saying “black” not “block.” Discrimination against foreigners wanting to teach English whose skin is not considered to be the right color is common. So is the terrible treatment that many migrant workers from Southeast Asia are subjected to.

Racism manifests in many ways. In Taiwan it is probably reasonable to say it rarely manifests as physical violence. Instead it is expressed in more subtle ways through verbal discrimination and exclusion.

In many ways I am fortunate, as an English speaking white male I don't really experience the negative forms of racism discussed above. However, there are also positive and neutral forms of racism which I encounter on a daily basis.

The positive form is something that most people probably actually appreciate. The “foreigner” is singled out for special treatment. They are given a special place at the table, others insist upon paying for their meals or giving them things for free. This is often people being very friendly or going out of their way to take care of guests. It is not necessarily a bad thing, but I sometimes feel uncomfortable in these situations. Why should I enjoy all this special treatment when there are Taiwanese people around me just as deserving of it.

There is also a neutral type of racism that is also commonly encountered. It is the person who insists on pointing out the presence of a “foreigner.” This is often accompanied by chatter amongst their group speculating about whether the foreigner can speak Chinese or whether they should go and practice their English with him.

What annoys me about this is constantly being seen as other or outsider. In reality we are all humans. No matter what color our skin or what language we speak we share far more in common than that which differentiates us.

It is important to discuss this topic because Taiwanese people are in a state of denial. Although racism is not going to disappear overnight, if people begin to openly discuss then attitudes can change. Taiwan's demographics are changing with the presence of many foreign workers and spouses. They are all an important part of Taiwan's future. Taiwan must ensure that they are welcomed and integrated into the community.
Contributted to Wasai Taiwan by: David Reid
(Australia--- Taipei, Taiwan)
Visit his blog: David on Formosa


MJ Klein said...

this article is very well balanced, and David handles the topic delicately, yet with authority:

"There is also a neutral type of racism that is also commonly encountered. It is the person who insists on pointing out the presence of a “foreigner.” This is often accompanied by chatter amongst their group speculating about whether the foreigner can speak Chinese or whether they should go and practice their English with him.

What annoys me about this is constantly being seen as other or outsider. In reality we are all humans. No matter what color our skin or what language we speak we share far more in common than that which differentiates us."

this particular trait is not only annoying, but also limiting. Taiwan can never become a truly international country until the people embrace multi-nationalism! while Taiwan is pressing for UN recognition and their own international identity, everyday people are pointing to "foreigners" and consider most "foreigners" to be little more than an opportunity for English practice, or a comical diversion from their everyday norm.

great article, David.

Anonymous said...

I personally had to face this type of "racism" both here in Taiwan and in mainland China. As a student studying in Beijing I understood very well that the concept of racism wasn't well understood by my fellow Chinese classmates. They couldn't relate to what racism felt like. As an African American I felt frustration and pitty at the sametime.

Host - World Learner Chinese

Anonymous said...

yes, the American/Caucasian history has taught people about the discrimination and it is therefore built into Taiwanese's brain that Afro American are to be discriminated. This comes from watch and learn from the movies or media. Taiwanese are fed with decayed mass media in their daily life. Most of Taiwanese are not interested in international fairs and are not educated in terms of international perspectives. Being colonized is part of their life and they don't even recognize it. They consider themselves international, because the culture itself is strongly influenced by foreign country like Japan and their willingness to open their arm to developed countries (only).

Being a foreigner myself as a Taiwanese, I see it's inevitable everywhere that people hold their favor toward certain ethical group in whatever the reason it is. To be honest, Taiwanese people are blind in this topic :) They don't even think of it.

Anonymous said...

Taiwanese people may not think they're racist just because they all come from the same place and share similar physical features, unlike in the US where there are people from many different cultures therefore the opportunity for racist comments to arise. As a Taiwanese living abroad, it is very saddening to read articles like this about my own people.
The Taiwanese ideology mainly follows those of Americans, and I'm sure other countries in Asia are following suit too. A lot of people in Taiwan are following America's culture, whether in fashion, music, movies, foods, anything you can name. American culture is now the "ideal" culture of Taiwan.
As a Taiwanese, I'm disgusted at the amount of discrimination and racism I see here in a white-dominant country, so I guess it goes both ways. What the author suggested about opening their minds should also be applied to those in the US, Europe and in the Pacific too.

Anonymous said...

Taiwanese are racists, that is a fact. the racism against foreigners is neural. If you can understand Chinese, you will notice that racists are elected as president in Taiwan, unlike most western racists being red necks. (No offence) Taiwanses are racist toward to minority ethnic groups in Taiwan such as: Haka, Mainlanders, aboriginals...Since most of you are in education business, try talk to the kids and dig out their cultural legacy of racism, in fact they are proud of it. In Taiwan they practice scarcity mentality....

venessa said...

awesome post ... this is one good example of racism in taiwan ... and taiwanese still denies ..

Recently while i was googling about taiwan website i found yours and, where you can catch up with some Sexy Taiwan girls. Don't know if you are aware of it. (:

Anonymous said...

after reading all of your articles i agree that taiwanese people are selective racists when it comes to racial color as a person's skin tone is viewed either as good or bad
for that,i feel ever saddened as black and other darker skin tone people are discriminated against .This unfair judging of people needs to stop !

but all said
i would have to say that true racism stems from white people .
it comes from a long line of imperial colonialisation through military dominance.
it all started from the secrets of making fire crackers (gun powder) was stolen from the chinese (originally banned by the chinese emperors only to be used for ceremonial and festive purposes in china for fear that it would cause great harm to mankind).
anway, the secret was leaked out to the west by a white missionary and from then on guns cannons and bombs were invented and thus began the down fall of every other non-white race today.
military dominance (you know... guns, battles ships ,tanks , fighter jet planes etc.and of course the crem de la crem of all weaponry the "a-bomb" dropping oneor two of those on a race would really make big point wouldn't it?) and after all that brutality... other non-white races were forced to sign unfair treaties that benifited the white race further more and so over time white people were provided with all the finer things in life their ancestors had unrighteously acquired for them. like owning land and all of the wonderful resources in countries that didn't origianlly belong to them .
ex. the portugese and spanish taking over south america the french taking over north and west africa and pacific islands the british taking over north america india south africa australia new zealand parts of china hong kong etc the americans -phillipines panama central america the list goes on!
i would have to write a book just to finish the list but you get the picture.
if you are further interested in liberating yourself on this matter go to google and type up "colonialisation" or "lambing flat riots" or the "history of racism" and you will find that it stems deep in white people and their ideology that they are the chosen race ordained by their god jesus and god of all races to govern everyone.
(funny how most white people nowadays don't believe in god anymore therefore excusing themselves of past crimes altogether! )
most white people today don't even realise that they are racist cause it has been so genetically imprinted in them since ancient historical times of colonizing for white people to feel racialy superior to all no-white races.
and the beauty of it all is that they will almost always surely deny that they are racist when you confront them .
they will say that "it happened a long time ago by my ancestors i didn't do it,it has nothing to do with me !"
" i'm not racist i only make fun of other people that don't look dress eat and do the things i eat and do !" "and why can't they speak english?"
it has become so normal for them to feel that they are righteous when infact they have done so much hurt and harm to every other race .i really think that the white race and culture is facinatingly bizarre and bordering on pure genius in the realm of being able to brainwash its own people in thinkig that it isn't a racist group of people. they think of racist as being a southern redneck in america behaving towards black people.when infact it is present in all facets of their everyday life. for instance i have heard so many racial comments white people make towards asians for the way they look to the food they eat and for coming to their countries and stealing their job opportunities.i can remember a time when it was aimmed towards black people .now they can no longer do the same for black people for now ,if they make a remark like that to a black person they will have physically traumatic consequences as a black person will anhillate them.and so they turn to asians because they can still get away with it as asians are nonconfrontational by nature and are physically smaller to combat against them.but it is no excuse to do so anyhow.
xenophobia is deeply rooted in the white race for reasons i have yet to understand .sometimes i wonder if white people are just so scared of things that aren't used to ?
it actually makes them very closed minded.(which they will also readily deny)
and say that they are the most open minded people cause they have traveled to many countries and seen so much suffering (all of which were caused by their doing ironically) and eaten at all the macdonals and subway joints these coutries have graciously provided for their sake.
not only that ,but they feel a crying need to impose their beliefs and ways everywhere they travel.i think it is very important for white people to look into themselves and realise that they need to stop slandering on other peoples' ways of living for being different to their own ways of living. Different physical appearance, foods cultural beliefs that other races consume and believe in that is very different to their own and accept the difference as a good thing instead of something to ridicle at a dinner table of white obesely hairy english teachers eating macdonald happy meals who come to asians countries to make large sums of money teaching english, a linquistic imposition that their white ancestors have done for them to ensure their dominance.
doesn't it infuriate you to hear that white people come to your country make big sums of your money and still give your culture and people shit for being not like theirs ?
well if their white countries are so great why aren't they there then ? it raises a lot of questions as to their white mentality an issue for another day ..
but for now
if you can understand the origins of why english has become the international language today you can surely understand that white people have been actively imposing their culture on everybody and forcing other races to adopt to their ways through military and economic might.
the fact that white people are able to ridicule and discriminate at others and still deny that they are racists.
strikes tremendous facination in me .

and so through all of this colonialisation,the white culture was imposed upon the conquered has over time permeated through all facets of everyday life.
in this day and age we live and breathe white culture really .from the clothes we wear to the music and movies we watch to all the macdonalds burgerkings starbucks subways tgifs alley cats sababas establishments in taiwan ...white cultural presence is everywhere .
can you imagine a day where all cultures ceast to exist and is taken over by white culture ?
what a scary thought! i don't think it would be for white people though, i think they'd love it
but all the beauty of the world will die along with it and that is
the disease of the white race far scarier then any epidemic known to humans even aids as it was also a disease made by white people and leaked out to africa of which the white people will deny once more .but that is also another story for another day....

i feel that white people are always trying to excuse themselves of being racist by stating that their country is "multi-cultural" but if you look at the demographics of their population you will realise that the majority their inhabitants are white .and that their "multi-cultural" inhabitants only make up less than 10% of their overall population .but yet they will still deny it for they are never wrong for they are the chosen ones to end all sufferings of the world !

and they say asian people are racist !?

it is time to admit to yourselves white people !
you guys are the racist !
get your facts straight !
and put an end to it by learning to speak chinese and eating chinese food. and if you don't like it just leave it at that
you don't have to make stipid wise ass comments about it
and try to understand that the reason that you are here is because you "can" actually make money and have a life whereas back in your country you'd probabaly still be waitng on tables or working in a gas staion pumping gas so be grateful instead of being a bunch of whinny bitches!
and most importantly don't discriminate !and exclude people !
you have no right
not even if your white!

Anonymous said...

The fact about racism existing in every single country is just a destructive reality. Where ever you are, you will find people who hate another due to their outlook. Mostly because of the general image they have of the race, and maybe what was done in history. For example I have asked several Chinese and Korean friends, they hate Japanese, because of what happened in WWII. I was shocked by this answer, but apparently they do not understand that the world is moving forward, and the people itself does not have anything to do with what was done before and the Government.

It is just dumb and sad that such uneducated people exist, and they tend to pass their uneducated thoughts to others and eventually this long chain of hatred and the idea of Racism will forever exist as a shame of Human being.

randy lin said...

you're being too fair to taiwanese. there is a DANGEROUS kind of racism in taiwan, and that is hok lo chauvanism.
also do you really consider yourself lucky to be able to teach english in taiwan? that's all they'll ever let you do here. they will make sure that you remain an english teacher. just try and do something else on your own.
what about how they call us big nose on TV? would we call them "slant eyes" on US TV and get away with it?
there are a lot of tawainese who hate foriegners or at least think we are a joke.
don't be so fair on them. taiwanese for the most part are nice, but the powers that be are FUCKING RACIST and don't you ever forget it.

Patrick Cowsill said...

"Since most of you are in education business..."

LOL! This is a beautiful example of what David calls neutral racism. I simply correct people, tell them "Foreign" is not a country and that I don't think stinky tofu is strange. It's a great way for me to practice my Chinese.

Anonymous said...

I wouldn't call it racism if you are treated nicely.
Does not make sense, dude.

Chiara said...

You can see how the preference and kindness are really acts that are manifestations of the results of living in a racist society.

The prejudices are developed (prejudices meaning preconceived judgments or opinions based on limited information, usually - like media, movies, etc.) because of cultural racism, or the cultural images and messages that affirm the assumed superiority (often ascribed as the intelligence, beauty, popularity) of whites and the assumed inferiority of people of color. You can see that in hiring practices (assume intelligence and beauty), reasons for exclusion and inclusion, etc.

There has to be a great thing moving within you that causes you to to assume (and act on!) the idea that a white person deserves kindness and preference over your own race (people of color) simply for the color of his or her skin. In order to do so, you have to internalize dominant Western thought in regards to whites being superior to people of color, including yourself.

It is necessary to be explicit (at the end of your article), and articulate that it is not about Taiwanese sowing extreme kindness to "foreigners," but whites in particular. So, it is about race and the prejudices that develop from racism. What you point to is a manifestation of prejudice (in this case creating preference) and internalized racism.

What's happening here, unfortunately, is that oppressed groups (people of color) have been pitted against each other instead of paying attention to what is really going on, and the dominant authority, while the dominant power can sit back and enjoy the ride, and the relative perks that come with it.

It's a shame that in the midst of having racist thoughts and ideology harbored against us, we (people of color) turn around and adopt the practice, and do the favor of reinforcing those who truly are racist towards us in every sense, and performing the same to another group systematically intended to be oppressed. It does not help anyone except the same people from whom we demand our human rights. For shame.

Authenticity said...

You would like to believe that an increase in foreign spouses and such means an open port of colonization of Taiwan by Western, white individuals.

When in fact the country is headed in the opposite direction.

I am an American born asian and after having lived in the West all my life, have seen the hypocrisy in your so-called egalitarian society. You profess equality and practice in superficial ways, yet deep inside harbor sentiments of elitism. There is a reason why Taiwan is aligning itself more closely with mainland China, and it is racially based. One day you hegemony will fall, and there WILL BE a new world order. FUCK the USA and FUCK YOU.

Anonymous said...

Let us make one thing perfectly clear, I have lived in Taiwan for two years and I have never had any issues. Everyday has been fine and I have done my job teaching English with no complaints. I pay my taxes and I help my Taiwanese land lord carry out his garbage. I like stinky tofu and I like chicken feet. Did I mention I am in fact British.

No I have to admit there are foreigners here that are to say the least culturally insensitive and it annoys me to see them behave in ways that would piss me off never mind a native Taiwanese. Yes I have seen western guys treat Taiwanese girls like shit and just kind of jump from one girl to the next. I am sure you have seen this as well.

However.... I also know Taiwanese men who do the same thing, in fact i have a Taiwanese female friend that has been cheated on three times by her ex-boyfriends all Taiwanese. And yes I know of western guys that have done the same. Yet I also have a Taiwanese friend that has been with his first girlfriend for 5 years now and I also know a western guy that has been married for 7 years to a taiwanese women and they both have kids.

Anyway to my final two stories that should highlight my point further. I saw a white guy start a fight with a Taiwanese guy half his size for no reason, and the Taiwanese guy didn't even fight back. (WHITE GUY IS ASSHOLE YES?) Second story: I was in a club and had NOTHING to drink, then a Taiwanese guy offered my a drink. I drank it and within 5 minutes I blacked out... Later I discovered that my drink had been spiked intentionally with rohypnol. Since the guy admited he did it on purpose. WHY? I quote "Because I hate foreigners and me and my friends want to kick that foreigners ass" or so my Taiwanese friend told me. We went to the police and in fact I GOT LABELLED AS A TROUBLE MAKER.

RACISM as a concept does exist but no particular group holds full responsibility. It is just a shame that the 'news' or should I say propoganda is fuelling racism in Taiwan again I quote taiwanese news 'professional' "Many Taiwanese girls think that it is cool to date foreigners, but look what happens when they do. Do we need foreigners in our lives? I don't think we do!"

Ironic isn't, especially since Taiwan is quite happy to let America continue a treaty of protection in case mainland China ever invades. Give and take people.

So what I want to say is that races don't exist and that only individuals do! One or two assholes does not make the whole group so. I think it is time for everyone to take a look in the mirror and think what they need to change within themselves rather than continually point the finger and blame someone else. I have done this and my post is in hope that you do too... whatever your so-called race!

Live long and live peacefully.

taiwanese said...

i am a taiwanese, and i do hate you foreigners!!!! leave taiwanese girls alone!! fuckers

Anonymous said...

Well your right about white racism
if you look at the 18th and 19th century, its policies and treatment of chinese, Indian well as africans. however the only real existance of this now is in groups of bullies /gangs not with the majority except austrilia and south africia which are presently going through reverse racism on europeans beause of ill policies and racism to africans in the past.
in all do not hate it is the cause of racism and it encourages racists.
Most europeans are good but report any racism to the police and they will deal to them.

Anonymous said...

I doubt that any Taiwanese person would actual deny the existence of racism. I think that they just don't think it's a big problem, or that in the cases mentioned, it's justified.

Anonymous said...

Taiwan is like anywhere. There are racist assholes everywhere.

From my personal experience I've experienced both extremes. For example, a person literally stopped me in the street to welcome me to Taiwan and shake my hand. In contrast, I've been refused entry into Longshan temple (ironically a popular tourist spot) because I'm white. One of the old ladies working there then asked my wife (who is Taiwanese) is she married to me? When she replied yes, the old lady told her she was disgusting for marrying a white.

Skin color, country, religion, it doesn't make a difference. There are assholes everywhere

Anonymous said...

Racism is found in every country. What I'd like to know, how would a white person that holds Taiwanese citizenship come over if he were a cop in Taiwan? After all, there are lots of American-Chinese cops in the US and the UK. Will he or she have the same respect and authority here in Taiwan?

Anonymous said...


I am European psychologist currently based at Taipei. I am doing research about social exclusion through language at Taiwan – that kind when people speak to you in English if you doesn’t look as Taiwanese for them even if they know you can speak Mandarin or Taiwanese. I don’t mean that kind of behavior, when people speak to you in English when they don’t know you (and they possibly turn into Mandarin/Taiwanese when they recognize you can speak them). I also don’t mean racism, when people make notes or are aggressive because of your skin color or physical characteristics, because they want to express their bad feeling for some particular race or ethnicity. I mean that behavior, when your appearance is “objectified” that way, that you are expected or demanded to be an English speaking person and people continue to speak to you in English even if they know they could not (and simultaneously they speak in Mandarin to others but not to you) and they exclude you from the community this way.

I want to learn more about this behavior from people, who live at Taiwan longer than me and make some interviews with them. If you live at Taiwan several years, you are visually distinguishable from Taiwan majority population, your Mandarin or Taiwanese speaking ability is enough to make a normal conversation (so you may have experience of that kind), you have experienced language social exclusion behavior as described above and you want to share your experience with me (maybe one hour interview), please contact me at:

chupachups567 (at) yahoo (dot) com

Thank you!

Anonymous said...

I am a white girl and I am still discriminated against in Taiwan. I have taken 3 academic years of Chinese and had previously made plans to move to China eventually to teach English because I was aware that they are in more need of Native English speakers to teach. Now that I have visited Taiwan there is no way I can do that anymore. I have been so hurt by the discrimination here that I really don't ever plan on coming back to China or Taiwan. I have been called fat, had someone refuse to serve us, and have been called all sorts of names. Most of the time they will talk bad about me right as I am standing next to them because they think that I can't hear them! It is a real shame. They don't realize how much their discrimination effects us.

Anonymous said...

yes taiwanese are racists. But they dont even realize it. Because most of the racists are people who have never left the island. And since the level of education is pretty low. They have no idea how racist they are. Every time i pass by a school or group of kids, they will point at you and say hey look a foreigner. The problem is that they may be so poor they had never seen a foreigner or travelled abroad. Well when they get more internationally educated people, they will be able to learn .from them and maybe one day understand why its racist. Because now people think its cute to do that. They can not understand why you dont like that extra attention everywhere you go .

Anonymous said...

I'm Latino. White/american aboriginal mix. From the USA. I've Been in Taiwan 12 years. All of the above and more has happened to me here in Tw.

I've been illegally fired (contract breached) just to let a white person take my job. Many times have I been called "black", given ugly looks, excluded from activies, excursions, etc.

Countless times have I been walking hanging, partying w my white(r) friends, whe we are encountered by locals. All their interest, friendliness, good will and all goes to my white friends (though not their fault) while I sit on the sidelines being ignored. They feed them, wine them, practice their language skills and even the girls show sexual interest to whites quick, simply because they are white.

Pay attention to TV commercials and you'll only find millions of make up, creams, etc. which promise to make you or keep you white as possible. Not one ad offers any product to darken your skin. Not 1. Ever. Never.

And yes, bring it up and they ate on blissful denial.

99% of girls all want pale skin, and local males make it worse by rejecting darker girls, calling them ugly, black or dirty, even if the girls are beautiful. Then the ignorant n gullible girl goes and gets all the whitening cream n make up they can get their hands on.

Its a vicious circle. Yet, they don't consider themselves racist. And when its brought up, they will give you a million reasons why they are not, & then tell you about all the Times they were victims of racism from foreigners.

Again, a vicious circle.

Anonymous said...

I bet u still live in the US right now huh?

MJ Klein said...

Anon 8/23/2013: who are you addressing your comment to? The author is from Australia.

Dylan Lawrence said...

Thank you for this post. What I need now is a way to deal with this. I am tired of constantly being called a Wai Guo Ren.外國人。 I just don't know what to do anymore it really bothers me, but it's hard for me to leave because I have two children and a wife.
How can I live and be apart of a society that judges me by my skin color and will has difficulty believing that I am not a foreigner?

Times Three said...

There is a difference between being in denial and simply not realizing there's a problem. When one considers that the population is 98% Han Chinese and a little more than 2% aboriginal then it is easy to see how the "racist" behavior persists. A lot of Taiwanese people simply have no idea, simply because they have no way of understanding what it's like to be in the minority.

美杏郭 said...

I came upon this article of yours because my friend in this group Taiwan Against Discrimination shared it with us. I agree with a lot of things stated does this article:

ian said...

I agree. I used to live in Taiwan and experience some of the things mentioned here. This is also takes place in other places in Eastern Asia like China, Korea and Taiwan.

Taipeir said...

I've been in Taiwan over 15 years. Over that time people in Taiwan has reduced their overt shouting at foreigners, the 'hellos' and shouts of 'adogah'. But as a person of non Chinese looking appearance (White in my case), it's still proves difficult to be taken as a local, even when speaking fluent mandarin. It's a drag, and mentally I think I checked out of this place a couple of years ago, because I'd rather live in a place where I can be accepted as a local or at least go about my business without being labelled everytime I work into an establishment.
Plus the lack of movement on voting rights and a method to gain citizenship is troubling.

It's an easy place to live Taiwan, but sometimes not very satisfying. Too many rote conversations repeated..over..and over...and over.

And yes the people who speak English when they know full well you speak fluent Chinese are most annoying.

Anonymous said...

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