You probably know about the history of Taiwan. When the Kuomintang lost the civil war against the Communists, more than a million people fled to Taiwan and created their own independent state. After a long period of one-party rule, Taiwan is now a democracy, and a fairly liberal one at that. In 2003, Taipei hosted the first gay pride celebration in a majority-Chinese country, and the Taipei mayor took part in it. Taipei is also considered one of the capitals of Chinese food, and you’ll read all about it on this page next month.
This is all wonderful, except for the “independent state” part, a matter of fact that is not recognized by China, which considers Taiwan a “renegade province.” The efforts of the PRC to negate, in every possible symbolic way, the independence of Taiwan are legendary. If you live in a big city pretty much anywhere in the word, and you search your phone book for “Taiwan consulate,” you will not find it. That is because in order for a country to have diplomatic relations with China, they must not recognize Taiwan as an independent country. Instead, Taiwan has Taipei Economic and Cultural Offices that provide consular services under the name of a trade and cultural office. This is the one in San Francisco.
Arriving in China, you have to fill up a form to be given to the customs officer. It has a box to check if you are a Chinese national, and another if you are a foreigner. If you are a foreigner, there is space to write your nationality; if you are Chinese, there are a few more boxes to specify if you are from one of three “special” provinces: Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan. (Note the double symbolism here.)
At the airport, flights to Taiwan leave from the international terminal, and, obviously, we can’t have that. So all signs refer to the international terminal as the “International/HK/Macao/Taiwan” terminal. By the way, in the US, flights to Canada leave from the domestic terminal.
Did you hear the story of the Trojan pandas, by the way? As part of a recent series of initiatives targeted at the Taiwanese public, China wanted to donate two pandas to Taiwan. The catch was that the pandas would be sent to Taiwan under the law that regulates domestic transfers of pandas. Taiwanese authorities rejected the deal, and called the animals “trojan pandas.” Wonkette makes the obvious 5th grade joke.