The Taiwan Trilogy: (On Taiwanese Popular Culture and Famous People) 台湾三部曲:第三部曲….


The final post in the Taiwan Trilogy….

The previous two post dealt with Taiwan’s politics but this post shall deal with the popular culture of Taiwan, which has extended well beyond its borders, as well as famous people who are Taiwanese or came from Taiwan, some of whom are known internationally but which we never knew had Taiwanese connections but always presumed to be from China instead (includin. me!):

Famous Taiwanese people:

In Asia-Pacific:

The Music Scene: Currently and from the 70s until now, Taiwan has always been the mecca of Mandarin popular music NOT China. All the most popular singers in the music industry either from the 70s,80s, 90s, and even now still come from Taiwan or are based in Taiwan, NOT China. This may come as a surprise to foreigners unfamiliar with Chinese entertainment but due to the communist history of China and its only recent reform and economic opening up, the Mandarin music scene is still based heavily in Taipei, Taiwan and not Shanghai or Beijing,etc. Thus, the most popular and top Mandarin singers across China, HK, Taiwan, and overseas Chinese communities all come from Taiwan or are based in Taiwan.Amei 阿妹:

She was once the most popular, and let me repeat that, THE most popular singer in the Chinese-speaking world in the 90s and early 2000s. Everyone knew who she was and she was undisputedly the most famous Mandarin singer in Taiwan, Hong Kong, China, Malaysia, Singapore,etc….Amei, Chang Hui-Mei. She is actually not Han Chinese but is an Aborigine of Taiwan (aborigines make up about 2% of Taiwan’s population).

Wang Lee Hom 王力宏:

One of the most popular Taiwanese singers of my generation, he is popular for his r n b style and American way of singing as he’s Taiwanese-American. Also, incredibly popular for his good looks and boy-next-door charm amongst not only straight girls but also a legion of gay chinese men.

David Tao 陶喆:

Another Taiwanese-American with superb songs and incredibly famous across HK, Singapore, Malaysia, China,etc as well….love his song tian tian and love is simple.

Jeff Chang 张信哲:

The most popular Mandarin love-song singer of the 90s. Famous for his renditions of love songs and once again he can be said to be the most famous singer of love songs in China, HK, and Taiwan (as well as overseas chinese communities) of the 90s. His songs are still regular orders at karaokes today.

F4: A 4 member boy-band whom at one stage were like so popular in Taiwan, China, HK, and even in South East Asia in places like Singapore, Malaysia, and Indonesia.

The Movie Scene: Although Taiwan’s film industry dwindled in the 80s and 90s, there has been a resurgence in recent yrs with many films being produced, most notably those with gay content, have been surprisingly successful not only amongst mainstream audiences in Taiwan, but also in Hong Kong and overseas communities.Hsu Chi 舒淇:

Arguably Taiwan’s most famous export to Hong Kong, Hsu Chi, was and still is the top Hong Kong actress in the Hong Kong movie industry. She is probably the most well known and bankable actress now and started off as a soft-porn actress in Hong Kong. Her success from soft porn to the A list is something of a miracle.

Brigette Lin Hsing-Hsia 林青霞:

The most famous actress of the 70s and 80s, she was famous for her roles in all the romantic melodramas produced in Taiwan in the 70s and 80s. People of my parent’s generation, even those living in Chinese communities in SEA all know who she is.

Qin Han 秦汉: Brigette Lin’s onscreen partner…the two basically were linked together all the time…and it is said they had an offscreen romance as well….before Brigette Lin wisely decided to marry the CEO director of international fashion house ‘Esprit’.


Many people famously known around the world now, or in America now, come from Taiwan or were children of immigrant Taiwanese parents. Here’s some:Ang Lee:

Obviously, an important person. The director of ‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon’ , ‘Brokeback Mountain’ and the first director of Asian origin to receive an Oscar Best Director as well as two-time Venice top prize winner. He was born and raised in Taiwan and has always been adamant in representing his films as ‘Taiwan films’. Thus, ‘Crouching Tiger’ won the ‘Best Foreign Language Film’ category at the Oscars representing ‘Taiwan’ and Not China as many mistakenly believe.

Ang Lee also insisted that his latest film ‘Lust, Caution’ be labeled as representing ‘Taiwan’ when organisers, prob out of political reasons, labeled it as a ‘China’ film before.

Lucy Liu:

Who would have thought that the most successful Asian-American actress in Hollywood, Lucy Liu, was born to Taiwanese and not Chinese immigrant parents??? Well, here’s her intro at wikipedia:

‘She was born and raised with her brother, Alex Liu, in

Jackson Heights, Queens, New York by Taiwanese immigrant parents.[1] Liu has said that she grew up in a “diverse” neighborhood.[1] Her family spoke Mandarin at home and she did not learn English until she was five years old.[2][3] Her father was a civil engineer and her mother a biochemist in Taiwan, but they sacrificed those careers to come to the United States.’Way to go Lucy~~~

Coco Lee:

Once again, the only Asian-American singer to have ever graced the Oscars Award, Coco Lee, when she sang the title theme for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, is also from Taiwan.

Iris Chang:

The famous author of ‘The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of WW2’ is ALSO born to Taiwanese parents, not mainland Chinese parents. Without her book, the Nanking Massacre would well still be destined to obscurity now and the the Sundance award-winning docu ‘Nanking’ by AOL vice-pre. Ted would never have been made as that docu was made in memory of Iris Chang.

Jerry Yang:

One of two co-founders of Yahoo! (yes an Asian actually founded the world famous Yahoo! search engine) is an immigrant from Taiwan. Who would have thought that a Taiwanese would one day invent the most famous search engine in the world?? (at least most famous in the 90s)

Teresa Teng Li-Jun邓丽君:

The title of the most famous Mandarin singer of all-time in recent Chinese history has got to go to Teresa Teng. Born in the small town of Tainan, Taiwan, she went on to become the most famous singer of her time. Her fame swept through China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, as well as ALL overseas Chinese communities such as in America, Canada, UK, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, and etc. It was at one time said that wherever there are Chinese, there will be Teresa Teng (songs). Even today, her songs are still well known amongst all Chinese people, old and young, and her songs can still be heard at karaokes and in Chinatowns across the world. Truly a Daughter of Taiwan.

Sam Ting:Winner of the 1976 Nobel Prize for Physics. He immigrated as a child to America from Taiwan.

Dr. David Ho: 1996’s TIME Magazine Man of the Year. He also immigrated as a child from Taiwan to America.

Thus, many famous Asian-Americans in America nowadays actually come or have roots from Taiwan and not China which is a common misconception of Americans and other nationalities. Although it is also accurate to call them Chinese-Americans, it would be more precise to also call them Taiwanese-Americans. The reason why so many successful Americans of Chinese background come from Taiwan and not China has to do with America’s immigration policy as well as the history of China. The 1965 Act in America opened the doors for Asian immigrants to immigrate to America. However, China had closed its doors to the outside world since 1949 and Chinese citizens were not allowed to travel overseas under any circumstances, especially not to such capitalist countries such as UK, Australia, America,etc. Thus, only Taiwanese and HK people could immigrate to these countries early on and establish roots there with most Taiwanese immigrating over to these places being those with means and intellectuals. So obviously, there children would be more well placed to succeed in American society thus the abundance of examples of successful well-known Taiwanese-Americans in America now. Mainland Chinese could only immigrate overseas in the 1980s and thus had a later start and also many immigrated as illegal immigrants or lower paid jobs thus the lower likelihood to succeed in life. link: 

Taiwan’s popular culture has also been extremely influential across Asia today, with Taiwanese food and the ‘bubble tea’ trend having originated from Taiwan and the top Chinese cuisine restaurant Ding Tai Fung 鼎泰豐 being based in Taiwan and not China. This restaurant serves arguably the best Shanghai Xiao Long Bao in the world outbeating any in Shanghai (i’ve tasted the ones in Shanghai, even at the famous Nanxiang place in Yuyuan, sorely dissapointing) and has chains in Japan, Singapore and other countries as well. In fact, I think Chinese food such as Sichuan Beef Noodle Soup, Shanghai Xiao Long Bao, etc taste way better in Taiwan than compared to in Sichuan or Shanghai in China!! Further, Chinese style breakfast such as soybean drink are more established in Taiwan, where there are chain stores selling chinese breakfast and chinese supper such as congee with side dishes unlike in China where its still more street style and uncommercialised, though Taiwanese chainstores selling these chinese food have popped up everywhere in China and are incredibly popular (not to mention expensive!!!!) amongst mainland chinese. 

Din Tai Fung Link (in Chinese,Japanese,English):

Taiwanese idol dramas 偶像劇and variety shows 综芸節目are also the most popular in China and not locally produced mainland Chinese dramas and shows. Its kinda like how in Australia, all the most popular TV shows,dramas, and movies are from America. Well, Hong Kong and Taiwan, represent the Chinese Hollywood for mainland Chinese audiences.

Thus the ‘soft power’ of Taiwan is immense and popular shows such as Kang Xi Lai Le 康熙来了by Cai Kang Yung and Xiao S help to shore up Taiwan’s image for mainland Chinese as well as overseas Chinese. Further, as China was closed until the 80s, all foreigners and overseas Chinese who wanted to further their education in Mandarin had to go to Taiwan (HK speaks Cantonese). Thus, many people of my mother’s generation went to Taiwan for their university education and have maintained links with Taiwan. This is particularly common for ethnic Chinese living in Malaysia and Indonesia back in the 50s~90s with my mother being one of them. Even today, there are still Malaysian and Indonesian Chinese whom go to Taiwan for their university education although its much less now with many choosing to go to China as their education destination of choice.

So as one can see, many famous people come from Taiwan and not China, and the popular culture of Taiwan has incredible ‘soft power’ across Asia and the world.

Well, thats the end of my Taiwan Trilogy, I hope you’ve enjoyed it and learnt more about Taiwan.:)

10 Responses to “The Taiwan Trilogy: (On Taiwanese Popular Culture and Famous People) 台湾三部曲:第三部曲….”

  1. 1 marcellous

    I wouldn’t have thought it was such a common misconception as you say that many Chinese in America are actually from Taiwan. After all, until the 1980s, it was well-nigh impossible for people to get to the USA from the PRC. What perhaps you also leave out is how many of those who went from Taiwan to the USA were the children of people who just a generation earlier had come to Taiwan from the mainland in the wake of 1949, such as, for example, Pai Hsien-yung, author of Crystal Boys.

    Incidentally, have you been following the recent developments on beijingorbust? Hard to feel cheerful about it.

  2. 2 hcpen 彭皓全

    marcellous: You would be surprised how many Americans and Australians have this misconception. Even here in Australia, many people assume u r from China or with parents from China once they know u r of ethnic chinese origin…ask people where lucy liu’s parents come from and the first answer would be ‘prob china?’ and not ‘prob taiwan?’.

    I also didn’t feel the need to mention the part on mainlanders immigrating to taiwan then america as its not very relevant in my opinion. Taiwan is an immigrant society, having parents whom were from the mainland does not make one any more ‘Chinese’. A good comparison is the UK and Australia. One does not need to mention how some Aussie guy whom immigrated elsewhere had grandparents who came from England would we? Many Australians have british roots but no one mentions them now (in fact many aussies dislike being associated with the brits too much) , so there was no need for me to mention that some had mainland roots. Besides, those whom immigrated had lived in taiwan for years and held taiwanese passports and thus can only be regarded as taiwanese.

    about beijingorbust, r u talking about the internet clampdown by authorities? quite frankly, its nothing new, and i don’t feel much about it. china will improve its human rights record at its own pace…

  3. 3 marcellous

    Actually I was talking about the recent arrest which has tempted BorB out of his safe zone – see the latest posts and the series of clips from youtube about life under house arrest by the person who has now been (re-)arrested.

    I’m not getting on a soap-box about human rights in a general way – I’m thinking more about the individuals who, to adopt your way of looking it, are ahead of the times so far as China’s own way of improving its human rights is concerned. It’s not really a very nice place to be.

  4. 4 hcpen 彭皓全

    marcellous: Oh ok, yeah, another activist being rearrested would certainly serve as a threat to Beijing or Bust given his ordeal…but i think if he tries to remain invisible, the authorities shouldn’t harass him…but then again this yr is the olympics and they may not want to take any chances.

    We can only hope.

    As for China not being a nice place to live in due to its record, the sad thing is it is merely one of dozens of other countries in the world with similar oppressive systems. But people now only care about China’s situation cos its the next superpower and neglect to see the sorry state of other countries.

  5. 5 marcellous

    I realised my “not nice place to be” statement came out looking more categorical than I meant. I meant not nice for wh or hj or other people who for whatever reason aren’t able to go with the flow the way most of us are able to do with prevailing social values and so are kind of trapped while they wait for China’s position to develop in its own way. I think wh is finding it hard to remain invisible.

  6. 6 hcpen 彭皓全

    marcellous: Well, I don’t think most of us do ‘go with the flow’, especially in this day and age of individuality and liberalism. Its just that some people are more passionate about their convictions whilst others are more practicable and choose bread over principle.

    indeed some people like hz are ahead of their times but it is ppl like them which push china to reform faster..however, everyone has to be patient, a quick transformation such as that seen in the former Soviet Union would only lead to chaos and disaster, as can be seen by the state and status of Russia now on the world stage.

    I personally don’t think its difficult for hz to remain invisible, i think he’s just worried that even if he does nothing the authorities will still decide to put him on ‘protection’ until the olympics is over.

  7. 7 marcellous

    Now you have me confused: hz 是谁?

  8. 8 hcpen 彭皓全

    aimlesswanderer: hz是BorB的作者。

  9. 9 Anonymous

    It wouldn’t be an understatement to call taiwan as the brain center of china from what the blog entry says and from my own personal knowledge. But in my opinion taiwan is something china should emulate, I mean where else in china is creativity allowed to flow freely, where else in china is iconoclasm allowed?. Also perceptibly, taiwanese i believe have a feeling that they have been continuously suppressed by the chinese, and hence taiwanese demand for seperate stateship does make sense to a certain extent.

    But in my opinion chinese do not see the importance of harnessing soft power. Probably with the exception of taiwan,HK their service sector lags compared to their economic growth.

    As a final conclusion i think taiwan has always been 70 percent western and 30 percent chinese.

  10. 10 hcpen 彭皓全

    Anon: erm, are u hari deepak? cos ur comments are eerily like his, they don’t make much sense and aren’t relevant to what i wrote…how in the world is taiwan 70% western??? Hong Kong maybe, Singapore yes, but Taiwan??

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