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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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|
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). 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.
What differences have you noticed between Taiwan vs. China?
Top Photo By 2Day929