Mao, if you had only been relaxed…

by mr


20/12/2013 – 03/01/2014 Taiwan
By: Petra Tomljanović, Miro Roman

Familiar Strangers

Three hours ago our plane landed in Taiwan. A new country, a new city, and we are on a train leaving Taipei. Everything is entirely new and unknown, but we feel relaxed like we are in the suburbs of Zagreb. The distance between what we call familiar and our new surrounding is 9.149 kilometers. It’s amazing how the globalized network of signs, communications and applications (apps) can create a sense of intimacy that goes beyond a mere spatial orientation.

continuous city

Like familiar strangers, everything around us is new, but we are not lost. There is something beautiful in the generic, or rather in the familiarity of the unknown emerging from globalization. The infrastructure – the physical and the digital – becomes like a universal language in a foreign country. All the roads, paths, trains, shortcuts, spaces – all of it is inside our pockets. Just like in Star Trek, you have your own little tricorder and you feel safe. If you encounter a problem, with the assistance of a local sim card, a universal translator will speak for you – even in traditional Chinese.

infinity secrets

Formosa (Beautiful Island) is 400 kilometers long and 150 kilometers wide. Any destination on the island can be reached in less than three hours due to the high-speed railway system. The west coast of Taiwan is a 450 kilometers long continuous agglomeration (a city?) with its population exceeding 20 million. Sometimes it is more urban, sometimes more rural, density of people is pulsating, but one thing is certain – there isn’t even a single foot of land left unused.

one and many

The sights, one resembling the other, are a product of a fast and rapid economic development in the last 50 years. Even the names of the cities serve more as physical landmarks than they tell us about their etymology: Taipei literally means Northern Taiwan, Taichung – central Taiwan, Tainan – south Taiwan. It’s a habitat of different landscapes where urban centers, smaller centers, airports, container storages, cultural centers, farms, rice fields, villages, cities, business centers, office buildings and commercial buildings are constantly interchanging – just like Cedric Price’s scrambled eggs.


Republic of China?

Republic of China

Taiwan, officially named Republic of China (ROC), is not the People’s Republic of China (PRC), which we colloquially call China. A tale of two Chinas cannot be so easily explain, but we will try to summarize it as clearly as possible: in the 1950s, the national government of the Republic of China was overthrown by Mao who initiated the Cultural Revolution. And when China entered a period of a hundred flowers blooming, the former national government under Chiang Kai-shek moved to Taiwan which experienced a real and not a metaphorical economic blossoming. Along with the fugitives from Mao’s regime, the traditional Chinese characters also defected on Taiwan.

fashion inversion

Both governments proclaimed to be constitutional and legislative representatives of China, with a significant advantage of Taiwan. Namely, the United States, active in its quest to strengthen the anti-communist policy, placed Taiwan under its patronage and appointed Taiwan as the official representative of China in the UN. Twenty years later, the U.S. opportunistically changed its policy, and pulled the chair under Taiwan, thus giving it to China in order to initiate an economic dialogue. Taiwan lost much of its political power, and it remains in fond memory of only 21 UN Member States, which recognize it today. China, in turn, sharpens its teeth from one occasion to another, considering Taiwan its province and economically blackmailing anyone who wants to establish any relations with Taiwan. Ironically, today, China is the largest economic partner of Taiwan.


Let’s return to the consequences of the 1950s schism. Today, Taiwan is an inspiring and interesting historical blend of various cultural influences. History has left its mark with Taiwanese aborigines, Dutch colonists, Chinese and Japanese rulers, and more recently, with the USA and the new China. This is exactly what constitutes the special charm of Taiwan which goes to show that the wealth of a nation lies in its manifold history stories which form flexible national identities. Only such identities are capable to deal with the plurality of narratives and myths of our time.


Beyond Beauty

Beyond Beauty

“Beyond Beauty: Taiwan from Above” is a big-budget documentary film produced by Taiwan in late 2013. For all you familiar with the cult documentary “Home” from 2009, “Beyond Beauty” is staged in an almost identical manner. The message of the film is unequivocal: We have a beautiful island/planet that is being destroyed by the desire for progress, land and rivers are polluted, the destruction of the ecosystem is at the door. However, there is still hope if we act now! Taiwan’s position is thus clear: We are now above the poverty line, the industrial revolution is over and we’re playing a new game with the new economy. We are now bio, eco, we are interested in protecting the environment and we love a good design which can sell such an idea. Sounds familiar? It’s a global trend – the new eco-economy adopted by all Western countries.

aliens and friends

“Made in Taiwan” clearly testifies to the importance of the industry in a Taiwanese society and to the way its identity is formed. In order to get rid of the stigma of being a mere place for production, and to affirm the new level of social development – the one that is sustainable, environmentally conscious, critically engaged – they decided to do an inversion. The industry is removed from factories, within which, via triggers of the new development, culture and ecology, the new meaning gets inscribed and literally situated. In the globalization game, environmental awareness has never been stronger. The warehouse – a symbol of industry – becomes a place of celebration of eco-design and art. Today, Taiwan is on its way on the positive and complex path of social development.


The renaissance of art and ecology currently taking place in Taiwan is inspired by global trends, with Taiwanese industrial heritage giving it impetus. Art, design and architectural projects are associated with railways, trains, warehouses and abandoned factories. Cultural projects that are springing up around the country don’t seem to be entirely comprehensible to the citizens who, a bit confused, wonder around exhibition and gallery spaces. Complete contrasts to the re-contextualized cultural centers are the Night Markets, which can be found in almost every city. They are sincere places for socializing and entertainment with an abundance of food, places where people feel comfortable. This energy is exactly what the new Taiwanese cultural landscape fails to capture. Still, a culture, which is more than just a decoration of a city, is something which a society needs to systematically cultivate over the long haul. The question is should culture be institutionally introduced or should cultural centers be allowed to develop organically following social development, or is this question incorrectly posed altogether? It is difficult to say, especially when our (Croatian) daily life consists of saving culture from extinction.


foto: Miro Roman – smartphone
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