Taiwan vs. China: What’s the Difference?

What differences have you noticed between Taiwan vs. China?

Taiwan vs. China: What’s the Difference?

“Where are you going in China?”

“No, I’m going to Taiwan.”

“Wait… Isn’t that still China?”

At this point in the conversation, I usually become sarcastic. With the modern access to information, who needs to know anything anyway?

Aside from political differences (and even definitions), Mainland China and Taiwan have several differences that even someone passing through for a few days will notice. Here are the big differences between Taiwan vs. China.

Taiwan vs. China: What’s the Difference?

1. J-Walking

In China, crosswalks are optional. When waiting at one, you’re better off ditching the light and joining the locals to do battle with the never-ending traffic. Sidewalks are treacherous, filled with invisible bumps, stairs, slick tile, and textured pathways for the blind to follow (setting them up for failure).

Bikes and scooters have also claimed all usable sidewalks as their own, zipping along in either direction. Car horns make silence a novelty. For any global J-walkers out there, China is your heaven. As long as you don’t get hit, cross wherever and whenever you want.

Motor scooters are wicked fun to ride, but stay on their good side – when on foot, stick with your fellow pedestrians who obey the traffic lights.

Taiwan has its own flavor of chaos. The streets are smaller, trafficless, and the concert of car horns is softer. But as a pedestrian, be sure to follow the crossing signals. At night the streets are not as well lighted so you are much less visible to drivers, namely motor scooters. Motor drivers are the true rulers of the road, far outnumbering four-wheeled vehicles.

Motor scooters are wicked fun to ride, but stay on their good side – when on foot, stick with your fellow pedestrians who obey the traffic lights.

2. Food

China offers a massive variety in – take a guess – Chinese food. But that means more than you think. Mainland covers impressive amounts of territory, spreading from the Guangdong home of dim sum, to some of the spiciest food in the world in Sichuan, to Halal goat meat skewers in Northwestern Xinjiang, to boiled dumplings and fried everything in the Northeast.

This food is also accessible on every food street and in every mall food court in every city across the country.

Tainan’s famous coffin bread is only sold at a few locations around the city, turning local eateries into culinary tourist destinations.

Taiwanese food has variety, but of a different sort. It offers the standard fare of noodles or rice with veggies and meats, but with a very subdued flavor. You can also find more Asian cuisines, Japanese being the most common, followed closely by Thai and Korean. But Taiwanese specialties are indeed special: Mango Shaved Ice, Tainan Coffin Bread, and Milk Bubble Tea being near and dear to my own heart. Access is limited in order to artificially create demand.

For example, Tainan’s famous coffin bread is only sold at a few locations around the city, turning local eateries into culinary tourist destinations.

Taiwan vs. China: What's the Difference?

3. Language

Both Mainland and Taiwan use standard Mandarin Chinese in daily life*. But there is a slew of vocabulary differences between the two:

US English Mainland Mandarin Taiwanese Mandarin
Trash Laji Lasì
Pineapple Bolúo Fènglí
Week Xingqi Libài
Traditional Characters Fántizì Zhèngtizì

Most interesting is actually the way each region refers to its writing system.

Taiwan uses the original form of written Chinese (original as of Qin and Han Dynasties, anyway) and is noticeably more complicated than its current Mainland counterpart. Taiwan, calls Traditional Characters “Proper” characters, hinting that the simplified writing system used across the strait is a shortcut, and detrimental to their cultural heritage.

In the 1950s China changed their writing system to Simplified Characters, reducing the number of strokes each character takes to write. This change was made in order to increase literacy among its citizens.

So in efforts to promote the switch from Traditional to Simplified characters, China refers to Traditional as “Complicated” characters, emphasizing the positive move from an unmanageably difficult to an improved writing system.

4. Relating to Digestion

As any good traveler, you should be curious about the bathroom situation. China offers many options. You’re likely to find squat toilets that double as showers that triple as the family commode who owns the restaurant you’re eating at. You’re just as likely to find western-style toilets in the most fancy mall you’ve ever set foot in.

But there is typically one commonality – a lack of toilet paper. Anywhere in China, you should be equipped with a pack of tissues for just this purpose.

Taiwan is about half-and-half for squat and sitting toilets, but consistently has tissue (all except for the heavy traffic public bathrooms that you would expect not to have paper).

Taiwan is about half-and-half for squat and sitting toilets, but consistently has tissue (all except for the heavy traffic public bathrooms that you would expect not to have paper). However, in either location please save yourself a plunging adventure and put all paper in the trash.

*This short discussion leaves out regional dialects and languages. For the sake of name dropping, these also exist: Taiwanese, Hakka, Cantonese, Mi Nan, ect. Look here for an abbreviated introduction to language diversity.

Taiwan vs. China: What's the Difference?

What differences have you noticed between Taiwan vs. China?

Related Reading

Top Reasons to Visit Taiwan
Throwing Out the Rule Book: Getting Lost in Taiwan
Understanding Taiwanese Identity: A Conversation with Dr. Pei-Ju Mona Wu

Have you traveled to China or Taiwan? What were your impressions? Email us at editor@pinkpangea.com for information about sharing your experience and advice with the Pink Pangea community. We can’t wait to hear from you.

What differences have you noticed between Taiwan vs. China? top photography credit: unsplash.com.

About Anne Twombly

Anne TwomblyAnnie Twombly is a born Oregonian, resident of nowhere, and curious of everywhere. She has lived in and traveled to France, Switzerland, Senegal, China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, and South Korea. When traveling to a new city, the two things she looks for first are: live music and a pretty park.

14 thoughts on “Taiwan vs. China: What’s the Difference?

  1. Avatar
    July 1, 2018

    BOB P. was absolutely right! As a native of Beijing, I must say you have such a good and accurate observation.

  2. Avatar
    June 19, 2018

    My mother was born in Mainland China (PRC) while my father was born in Taiwan (ROC). I have lived in both countries and prefer Taiwan 100% of the time. Not only does Taiwan maintain more of the 5000 year traditional Chinese culture, but people in Taiwan actually have hearts. I have dated a few women in Mainland China and man are they greedy, spoiled brats. they often measure love with material gifts. One of them dumped me over text because I politely refused to buy her a $1150 USD iPhone X.

  3. Avatar
    Harry McNicholas
    May 10, 2018

    Having been to both Taiwan and China, I prefer Taiwan. More freedom. The people are much friendlier. Much cleaner and you can actually drink the water. No bribes. I think if you are a single man, meeting and dating Taiwanese ladies is much better and easier than Chinese.

  4. Avatar
    Rich Soong
    September 13, 2017

    I’ve been too both. Once at an airport from Taiwan to China, a lady with an elderly man walked up to me and asked if she can cut in front of me because of the elderly man. Immediately after, she took out a banner, and the rest of her travel group (about 30 people) cut in front me. This has forever set a bad reputation for Chinese people in my head

  5. Avatar
    January 27, 2017

    douce. from the second sentence.

  6. Avatar
    Bob P.
    January 25, 2017

    Taiwan People are Free, Chinese are not.
    Taiwan People are team players and integrity matters, china, not so much
    Taiwan People are kind, and patient, wait in line well. China, not so much
    Taiwan has large families, and family members learn to disagree and commit, china is mainly now only children and tend to be spoiled by the parents and so many aunts and uncles.
    Taiwan is a democracy, china is a not
    Taiwan has freedom of press and you can protest, china, you will be tossed in jail and or killed. Press is all government owned.
    Taiwanese pay for things, china steels it (only 8% of Microsoft windows is purchased for example)
    Taiwan is clean and safe, China not so much
    Taiwan has a flag, cut can not show it out of TW, china can
    Taiwan has good water, China not so much
    Taiwan is very ecologically minded, and care about environment, china not so much, only care about $$$
    Taiwan does good R&D (Research and design), china does good R&D (Replicate and duplicate)

    I have lived in TW about 30% of my time for last 5 years.

    I love landing in Taiwan airport TPE, not so much going to china.

    • Avatar
      Chris Z
      January 26, 2017

      Wow, how biased. Bet you’ve never really been to China or care to learn about it. You mindset is the same as of those from Taiwan who believe China is still the same as it was in the 80s

      • Avatar
        March 10, 2018

        Taiwan is a country but China don’t think so

  7. Avatar
    October 2, 2016

    You should talk about the differences in Government. I know China is still communist and most people don’t realize that. I’m not sure what Taiwan is but that is why I read your article.

  8. Avatar
    June 30, 2016

    Hi, I think you made a mistake. Mainland Mandarin(China) uses Zhèngtizì (“Zheng” means simple/simplified; ti means form; zi means word), Taiwan Mandarin uses Fántizì (Fan means complicated in this case). I’m Taiwanese and I hope it helps 🙂

    • Avatar
      January 24, 2017

      correct me if i am wrong…
      i thought China use “Ji?nt?zì”, which means simplified Chinese, “Zhèngtizì” is how Hong Kong calls the Tradional Chinese Characters, “Fántizì” is the way how Taiwan calls the same thing…

  9. Avatar
    June 16, 2016

    It helped me alot on my proect!

  10. Avatar
    Sarah Kang
    August 18, 2015

    This list is awesome-sauce!! Having gone to Taiwan it was hard for me to explain the difference from China to everyone who confused the two (as I’d never gone to China), but I knew they were inexplicably different. If you’re still in the States at all (namely Oregon), we need to see each other! 🙂

    • Anne Twombly
      Anne Twombly
      August 18, 2015

      I’m glad this list helps! It took me about a month to adjust to the seemingly similar (but so different) life in Taiwan compared to Mainland. Now that I’ve figured out how I feel about the two, it’s nice to have a few examples on hand for when people ask what I think is different between them. It stimulates a lot of really interesting conversation with my Taiwanese friends, but lets them bring up more sensitive opinions on their own terms.

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