Mandopop, Huayu, & Fake Food: Taiwan’s Soft Power Opportunities and Challenges

The data driving Asia
The debate over Taiwan’s sovereignty and status as a nation-state or part of China is being rekindled with Taiwan’s recent loss of formal diplomatic ties with Gambia, one of the few countries that recognized Taiwan as an independent country. In the aftermath, many worry about Taiwan’s ability to maintain diplomatic ties with other countries, and speculate about its position and role in the international community.

In light of these anxieties, Taiwan’s ability to effectively build up soft power becomes even more important in order to create and maintain a unique image different from mainland China, shore up its credibility within the international community, and allow its entrance and participation in international decision making bodies. We examine the perceptions of Taiwan in the international community and opportunities and challenges for Taiwan’s soft power promotion by the numbers.

8 million

The record goal Taiwan authorities set and achieved for total number of foreign visitors to Taiwan by the end of 2013. According to the Tourism Bureau, there were over 7,311,470 foreign visitors to Taiwan in 2012, over a third of which came from mainland China. At the end of November 2013, Taiwan tripled its quota for individual mainland China travelers who wished to visit Taiwan from 1,000 to 3,000 visitors a day, which helped the island achieve this all-time record for foreign visitors to the island. For 2014, Taiwan has set a new goal of having 9 million visitors to the island, and is focusing efforts on boosting tourism from Southeast Asia and the Middle East.

Tourists flock to Chiang Kai Shek National Memorial, site of both the National Opera House and National Theater of Taiwan. Source: Gadl's flickr photostream, used under a creative commons license.

Tourists flock to Chiang Kai-shek National Memorial, site of both the National Opera House and National Theater of Taiwan. Source: Gadl’s flickr photostream, used under a creative commons license.


The number of countries that recognize Taiwan as a sovereign country after the Gambia’s diplomatic break with Taiwan. Speculation that mainland China was behind the breakdown in ties was dismissed by Taiwan’s Foreign Minister. However, some believe this may create a domino effect among Taiwan’s remaining diplomatic allies, especially should the mainland choose to rescind its unofficial truce with Taiwan on “dollar diplomacy,” under which mainland China and Taiwan agreed to cease using large financial packages to incentivize the other’s allies to switch diplomatic recognition.


The percentage of the world’s Chinese pop music that is created in Taiwan. Taiwanese pop music is made mainly for mainland China consumption, as its largest market and consumer base is located there. However, Taiwan’s Chinese pop music is also popular in Southeast Asia and the United States. Popular Mandopop (Mandarin pop music) stars include female artist Jolin Tsai, U.S.-born Wang Lee Hom, and singer-composer Jay Chou. Local Taiwanese however, prefer Korean pop music. Taiwan has also recently established an academic center devoted to studying Chinese pop music and Taiwan’s role as the center for Mandopop.


The number of independently operated Chinese language centers that Taiwan hopes to create under a new eight year plan to develop Huayu education. Huayu is a politically neutral term used to refer to the Mandarin Chinese language. This measure will double the number of independent language centers from the existing 37 to 75 by 2021, with the aim of increasing awareness among foreign nationals of Taiwan as a Chinese language education center.

NT 5 billion

The cost of a facility, approximately $166 million USD, that will house a national cultural center for film in Taiwan’s latest “fertile soil” project to reinvigorate Taiwan’s film industry. Construction recently began, and is slated to be finished by 2016. Taiwan announced this project after renowned Taiwanese director Ang Lee criticized the Taiwanese film industry, citing a lack of “qi” or vitality and energy as one of the main reasons Taiwanese films have not been able to keep up with international competitors.


The number of votes garnered in a public opinion poll for the word “fake,” catapulting it into first place as Taiwan’s word of the year. Fake refers, in part, to the string of milk, alcohol, cooking oil, and rice food safety scandals that have occurred this past year. Taiwanese food products were hailed for decades as better quality than products from mainland China. However, domestic and foreign consumers have grown increasingly wary of “Made in Taiwan” products, especially since the 2011 incident where plasticizers were found to have been used in many products, including Taiwan’s trademark bubble tea. Taiwan has passed a series of amendments to improve food monitoring and punish transgressors in a bid to reverse the negative perceptions of Taiwan caused by the food safety scandals.


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