I’m glad to say that my feature story on mainland students in Taiwan was published recently in Taiwan Review magazine. I thought this was an important issue because it’s a step towards normalizing relations with the mainland by actually allowing mainlanders to come to Taiwan and be able to interact with locals and be part of Taiwan society. This past school year 2011-2012 was the first year that mainland students were able to come study fulltime in Taiwan universities. However, only 928 students came (less than half the official limit of 2000), and they face a lot of restrictions such as not being able to work. I interviewed a number of mainland students and it went very well generally. It was good to see how aware they were of current issues in society and politics. They all had positive feelings towards Taiwan, with one actually saying she had fallen in love with this place. However, several had also experienced prejudice such as petty remarks from people including even professors. Several students also had sharp criticisms of Taiwan’s media, especially with the incessant coverage of the Makiyo controversy this February. One mainland girl had a very insightful remark on Taiwan’s media – “yes, there’s a lot of [media] freedom, but what do they do with it?” I was disappointed in that the DPP, while courteous, refused to speak on record, and I find it strange. I do think it is encouraging and beneficial to have mainland students studying on campuses on Taiwan, though I definitely didn’t cheerlead in my article.
Of course, this being Taiwan, this policy wasn’t allowed without a fight, literally at times with opposition DPPers actually getting rowdy to try and prevent the relevant bills from being passed in the legislature. Anyways, this first year passed by without much incident, and a more positive outcome seems to be on the horizon such as this very recent news might attest, as the authorities are considering easing restrictions on health insurance and employment. The DPP actually seems to have become more receptive to the mainland students as at least one DPP legislator has come out to support allowing mainland students to have national health insurance coverage. Still, I’m sure that whatever easing occurs will still be slight and gradual, with wholesale changes not very likely. There are still a lot of folks in Taiwan who are worried or frightened by the thought of mainlanders on Taiwan, so any major change by the government will be met with anger. On the other hand, the policy hasn’t been too successful in terms of numbers because 928 is a paltry amount.
This was my second article for the magazine. My first Taiwan Review article was on full degree programs taught in English in Taiwan universities which was published in 2011.