Allow Mainland Tourists to Go From Alishan and Sun Moon Lake to the Night Market
United Daily News editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
April 22, 2009
When ARATS Vice Chairman Zheng Lizhong came to Taiwan, he could only shuttle back and forth from the hotel and the conference center, under heavy guard. Before he left, he said with regret that he originally hoped to visit the Shihlin Night Market, but unfortunately "conditions did not permit."
By "conditions did not permit," he of course was referring to the Yuanshan Hotel protests of last year, when Chen Yunlin visited, which led to bloody clashes. Fearing a repeat of the incident, security was made extremely tight, even at the expense of the guest's enjoyment. The host authorities were impotent to control the masses, so they resorted to controlling the guests. Their caution was excessive. Tourists spots such as the Shihlin Night Market, and Keelung Temple Entrance are full of local Taiwan flavor. If mainland visitors lack the freedom to come and go from them as they please, is that not a sad commentary on Taiwan's democracy?
Zheng Lizhong wanting to see the Shihlin Night Market was no accident. Most Mainland tourists who come to Taiwan follow the standard tourist itinerary. They visit Alishan, Sun Moon Lake, and the National Palace Museum. Members of large corporations such as Amway visit boutiques shops in Taipei's East District. But those who have visited Taiwan several times, and those with greater curiosity about Taiwan society, often choose to visit such local hot spots as the Shilin Night Market, On the one hand they can enjoy a wide variety of local Taiwanese delicacies. On the other they can experience first hand contact with local Taiwanese. That is authentic, in-depth tourism. As an official in charge of Taiwan affairs, Zheng Lizhong naturally wanted to make personal contact with the people of Taiwan. Sad to say, given current circumstances, "conditions did not permit."
After a concerted effort by both sides, the number of visitors coming to Taiwan during the last two months has surged. It has exceeded the daily limit of 3000 people. The government is considering increasing the limit to the 7200 people a day. This means that tourism is likely to bring economic benefits. It also means that Mainland tourists coming to Taiwan are undergoing a change. They are beginning to value quality over quantity. Put simply, we now need to consider more than the tourist capacity of our tourist attractions and tourist hotels. We need to think outside the definition of traditional tourism. We need to think more about genuine contact and comprehensive interaction. If the Shihlin Night Market or roadside shops can receive Mainland tourists freely, that will represent a real expansion in cross-Strait exchange.
Zheng Lizhong was not alone in wanting to visit the Shihlin Night Market. A few days ago Terry Gou treated a large number of guests from Shanxi to snacks. Many Mainland exchange students, accompanied by local students, go there for an enjoyable taste experience. From wanting to visit Alishan to wanting to visit the Shihlin Night Market, reflects an evolution in Mainland tourist preferences. It also reflects an inevitable deepening of cross-Strait exchanges. For Mainland tourists, Alishan is a United Front era textbook image of a Taiwan tourist attraction. It is a must see attraction, but not necessarily as impressive as the one in one's imagination. On the other hand, the Shihlin Night Market is part of contemporary Taiwan's urban culture. Tourists can quickly experience first hand the diverse nature of society on Taiwan. If "conditions permit," who wants to be confined to restaurants designated by their tour groups? Who wouldn't prefer a real taste of Taiwan? For shop owners in the Night Market, who wouldn't want to have Mainland tourists publicize their artistry through word-of-mouth praise?
Neither Zhao Gengda from Changzhou, who despoiled a tourist attraction with graffiti, nor the wealthy elites of the Amway corporation are typical Mainland tourists. The majority of Mainland tourists merely want to come and see how Taiwan and mainland China differ. They are neither extravagant nor rude. They are curious and envious of the ROC's democracy. They silently observe Taiwan's culture. They remain vigilant against anti-Mainlander agitators. Some people on Taiwan may be concerned about large numbers of Mainland tourists flooding in. But let's not forget that 20 years ago, the public on Taiwan explored the mainland in the same way. The Mainland survived it just fine, and the opening led to change and progress.
For Taiwan the same is true. Allowing Mainland tourists to visit is not about anything so short-sighted as "boosting consumption." It is about allowing people on both sides of the Strait to engage in exchanges to enhance mutual understanding and friendship, thereby reducing hostility and conflict, learning from each other, and finding more things in common. That is why the government should allow Mainland tourists greater latitude. It should not limit Mainland tourists to the standard tourist attractions. It should allow them to freely associate with the public. Pro independence elements inclined to act out their hostility toward Mainland tourists should stop and think. They should consider a soft offensive against Mainland tourists, using gourmet cuisine and the human touch to persuade these Mainland pioneers to acknowledge and support the ROC's democracy, instead of merely haranguing them with insults.
If you encounter Mainland tourists at the Shihlin Night Market, what will you do? Will you chat with them? Will you share a few insights about the food? Or will you quietly observe them? The Night Market is a kind of forum, but one in which one need not speak. Just remember that when you observe others, others are observing you as well.
2009.04.22 05:57 am