China's slow-mo­tion thaw of re­la­tions with Tai­wan

The Pak Banker - - Front Page - Karl Gerth

and that the two nations re­main tech­ni­cally at war.

These fig­ures rep­re­sent not sim­ply com­modi­ties trav­el­ing back and forth but a trans­for­ma­tion of or­di­nary lives. Girls who once lined up by the mil­lions in iden­ti­cal Mao suits to shout Com­mu­nist Party slo­gans now wear the trendi­est fash­ions and sing the lat­est pop tunes from Taipei while walk­ing down streets full of restau­rants and clubs. Per­haps as im­por­tant as this re­sump­tion of trade was Tai­wan's par­tial lift­ing of a travel ban to China upon the death of Chi­ang Kai-shek's son, Chi­ang Ching-kuo. This led to an in­for­mal cul­tural ex­change as fam­i­lies, di­vided for decades, re­united and shared a tide of cul­tural in­flu­ences. Those Tai­wanese driven into ex­ile by the Civil War of the 1940s and their chil­dren now be­came agents of new con­sumer life­styles as they trav­eled back and forth be­tween the two coun­tries, tak­ing new cus­toms and tastes with them.

When the fa­ther of one of my for­mer Tai­wanese students trav­eled to see his rel­a­tives in ru­ral He­nan prov­ince, he didn't arrive empty-handed. Like tens of thou­sands of other Tai­wanese vis­i­tors, he re­turned to China with lav­ish presents. He had in­tended to give his rel­a­tives a color tele­vi­sion, one of the most cov­eted prod­ucts in China at the time -- but they begged him not to. Not only would it elicit envy, they feared, it would force his rel­a­tives to host TV par­ties for fam­ily, friends and hang­er­son. Many oth­ers, of course, were less cau­tious and eagerly ac­cepted not only TVs but wash­ing ma­chines, mo­tor­cy­cles and cash. Such gift-giv­ing be­came so com­mon that en­ter­pris­ing Tai­wanese stores stream­lined the process by al­low­ing trav­el­ers to buy the gifts in Tai­wan and then pick them up in China.

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