Erenlai - Displaying items by tag: gender
Tuesday, 18 February 2014 00:00

Cross Cultural Romance and Nationalism in Taiwan


The term Xicanmei [lit. Little sister who eats Western food], refers to women, born and bred in Taiwan, who have a preference for partners from Europe and America in terms of sexual relationships and dating.

I'm not denying that this phenomenon exists, however, I'd like to take it to a deeper level. Why, for instance, haven't we come up with terms such as Xicandi for younger men, or Xicanjie for older women or Xicange for older men? We shouldn't limit our gaze to younger Taiwanese women, we can widen it to other groups, there are lots of people who want to date foreigners, whether it be young women or young men and they don't necessarily have to be young either, maybe they're older, or maybe they're gay.

The reason that there is this focus on young women goes back to manipulation by the media, what the media have created is the image of a Taiwanese girl who is more open, who lives a little more unrestrained life. There are also implied stereotypes surrounding the foreign men with whom they form relationships.

When faced with this kind of manipulation by the media we should touch upon a certain issue and that is nationalism. The reflections on the issue they make, such as asking why Taiwanese women don't love Taiwanese men, basically puts private relationships into a nationalistic light, wherein the private relationship no longer belongs just to you, it belongs to your country, belongs to this or that community or group, so, you have to view your own relationship through the eyes of others.

So a big part of the reason we talk about Xicanmei and nationalism is because of media manipulation, however, if we look at those people who refer to themselves as Xicanmei, as we do come across people on the internet who refer to themselves as Xicanmei or they say that they're dating a foreigner, that they're engaging sexual relations with women or men, we can discover two things. The first is that a lot of it seems to be simply for dramatic effect, in the story they tell to validate themselves, they'll say, I liked dating foreigners from when I was young and which parts of the body is stimulated during intimate contact with the foreigners they dated, what nationalities they've been with – German, American, Italian or French – and how many people they've been with. They can often list them at will, every one. A woman might say she's been with 6 handsome men or pretty girls, for example, where each event happened, in what bars, or in what villas. I think that the Xicanmei phenomenon, first of all is a media construction that was later fleshed out by internet users, but we don't really know if their experiences are real, maybe they are. I've seen some blog posts online, and my feeling after reading a few of them is that, the idea of Xicanmei was a media creation, and this was interpreted in two ways by internet users. The first interpretation was to dramatize it, as I just mentioned. The second was to eroticize contact with foreigners. Why is it that we only ever talk about sexual contact? Can't we talk about negative aspects, like misunderstandings thrown up by language barriers and cultural differences? Or how these differences can be resolved, and friendship can be formed?

Xicanmei are representative of a phenomenon in Taiwan. When we talk about Taiwanese people making friends with foreigners, we always view it through a lens of eroticism. We should broaden the way that we see the interaction between Taiwanese and foreigners, for example, we can talk about business people from America or Europe who come to Taiwan to work for multinationals, those who come to Taiwan to learn the language or on exchange programs, or those who meet their Taiwanese partner abroad, whether it be their wife or their husband, and subsequently comes to live in Taiwan. This will give us a chance to reflect on the idea of Xicanmei, and maybe approach the issue from a different angle.

I did research into cross cultural weddings and romance between Taiwanese and French people, and what I discovered was that they're not as great as we make them out to be. Feelings start to develop between a foreigner and a Taiwanese man or woman, and perhaps the Taiwanese person will marry the foreigner, but I wanted to research how they make the relationship work once they are in a stable relationship. That's why I think that we shouldn't see relationships between Taiwanese and foreigners as one-night-stands or as short term sexual intimacy; but rather, we should look more deeply at how they negotiate longer term relationships and friendships.

The terminology used to suggest these relationships, with an image of girls who eat 'Western food' being used to represent Asian girls who date Western guys or the image of girls who eat 'Chinese food' being used to represent Asian girls who date Asian boys employs food as a metaphor for a country or a culture.

In Taiwan Western food is used to refer to food and drink habits that don't come from Taiwan's indigenous food culture itself, and through these food and drink activities, Taiwanese people come into contact with the world outside, so the idea of Western food can be interpreted as referring to this, and of course the idea of Xicanmei exists in other countries too. Abroad there are several terms for people who like Asians, by saying they like Chinese food, or rice. In Asia and the US, if someone is said to like Chinese food, or rice, it can mean in some contexts that they particularly like Asian men or women, and that they like to date Asian men or women. So the concept behind the term Xicanmei – literally 'Western food girls,' is not unique to Taiwan.

As to whether the idea of 'Western food' in reference to sexuality has any relation to nationalism, I would like to give a bit of background on Taiwanese politics in the past decade or so. We all know that, from 2000, when Chen Shuibian got into power, Taiwan's academic and political circles have been looking to take part in academic and political movements to build up Taiwanese nationalism. The political movement aimed at broadcasting the name "Taiwan" to the world, that is to say, not a desinification exactly, but just that the word "China" wouldn't be brought up as often in rhetoric. They tried their best to use the name "Taiwan" in all arenas, like food and drink, culture, or in terms of politics and diplomacy. You can see that even our passports, Taiwanese people's passports, emphasize the name Taiwan. In this context, over the last ten years or more, there's been a growing atmosphere in Taiwanese politics, so that the time has come where we can talk about Taiwanese nationalism. Of course, academic circles have also had a contribution, particularly in research in the social sciences. A common term that often comes up is national identity, in other words, if you mention anything to do with Taiwanese history, sociology or anthropology, I can guarantee, that the words "national identity" will appear very frequently. So why is this? It was the fruit of this atmosphere, this political climate, which formed under the name Taiwanese nationalism. After this nationalism arose, a binary opposition was produced as a result, that is Taiwan was posed against foreign countries. This kind of contrast is often oversimplified. The first simplification is of Taiwan itself, Taiwan is not just Taipei, it also comprises Taizhong, Gaoxiong, aboriginal cultures, Hoklo and Hakka. The other simplification was the idea of foreigners, "the West" so to speak, which is not just made up of the US. Even when talking about the US, there was a tendency to overlook the diverse range of communities there, the urban rural divide being just one example. A lot of "the West" would actually include Europe too, but in this kind of political climate, things often get simplified, in order to make Taiwanese nationalism seem more profound, or more influential, we simplify it to "Taiwan" and ignore the diversity of communities therein. If viewed through this lens, the implications of the term Xicanmei takes on a clearer image.

As to why we praise foreigners who eat food Taiwanese people don't normally expect them to eat. I have to say this has already been discussed a lot in anthropology. In anthropology, if an outsider, when eating with the tribe, doesn't like their food, this is of great significance, it's not just practical, but metaphorical too. The practical meaning is, that you accept someone else's invitation, and that you should put a bit of effort into accepting the kindness of other people, because other people have given you something, so you can't refuse it, that's the first thing.

The second aspect is, the metaphorical layer of meaning, and that is why food and drink affect such a large range of transactions. You accept other people's food, and you eat it, when you eat other people's food, it signifies that your body is taking the good will into your bloodstream; it's a symbol in anthropology. What's it is really saying, is that when you eat food that others offer you, it's a way of accepting something they've made an effort to prepare for you, to accept their good will. When they see that you've eaten what they offered you, they'll think that you're accepting their good will, and that will signify that you're a person that they can interact with successfully.

And if we go back to the Taiwanese media, and why they put so much effort into reporting when foreigners eat Taiwanese foods that they don't necessarily like, stinky tofu for example, or Taiwanese black pudding, or chicken feet, or any of the innards of pigs and chickens, it's because the media want to say, "Look! This foreigner is willing to try something that's not part of their food culture," and they'll interpret this as the foreigner making an effort to understand Taiwanese culture - not just paying lip service mind, but actually eating it.


Hot dog stand picture by byronv2.

Interview translated from the Chinese by Conor Stuart with further editing by Daniel Pagan Murphy.

Also refer to eRenlai past Focus on Women and Nationalism, featuring this interview with several women and one men about the expression "xicanmei".


Thursday, 19 May 2011 00:00

Standing Proudly Despite the Chair

Vincent Huang, a campaigner for gay rights took time to explain his experience in the Gay Movement and what bearing his disability has on his role within it and on his outlook on life in general.

Photography and Filming by Pinti Zheng, Editing and Subtitling Conor Stuart

Monday, 30 April 2012 14:33

Betelnuts without Betelnut Girls

In the Zhonghe district of New Taipei City, just before the Xiu Lang Bridge on the road to Xindian, at 21 Jingping Road is the Amis Betelnut Stall, run by Mrs Yang and her family - three Amis aboriginal women. Mrs Yang's daughter, who studies at the English Department of Soo Chow University, takes the morning shift from 5am until 10am; afterwards Mrs Yang's niece works from 10am until 10pm, and then Mrs Yang works from 10pm until 1 in the morning, when they close.

Written in large Chinese characters on the shop sign is 'yi-mu-zi', the Chinese transliteration of e'moc, the Amis language name for a spice derived from a cinnamon seeds. Only regular customers or industry insiders know what these characters mean given that they're a transliteration of an Amis language word. The betelnut is another name for
areca nut; it gets this name because it is often chewed wrapped in betel leaves sealed with slaked lime. The traditional Amis betelnut includes a grain of e'moc amongst the betel leaves, this is very rare to see in Taipei. Mrs Yang says the slaked lime they use comes from sea shells, and therefore doesn't contain the chemical additives that many other Taiwanese betelnuts contain, which means that older aboriginal people won't have problems with their teeth that can be caused by normal betelnuts.

"We were able to bring up two children thanks to this shop." Mrs Yang tells us. Unlike the infamous "betelnut girls" who dress up provocatively and that are so often reported in domestic and foreign media, the betelnut stalls around here are all small family businesses. Although Yang's betelnut stall is run exclusively by women, it's aura is not one of lewd eroticism. There are two kinds of betelnut stall, one is the kind with neon lights, for which "betelnut girls" are the main attraction, the other kind is the more simple traditional betelnut stalls. Mrs Yang continued, "Here you don't need betelnut girls, in reality there are so many betelnut stores here that even if you do hire a Betelnut girl it's not much use, what sells here is the unique flavour."

Mrs Yang is a devout Catholic, in the display window of the stall you can even see pictures of Jesus. She told us that at Easter she came to mass at the Sacred Heart of Jesus Church in the Tien Educational Centre. When we arrived, the girl minding the shop took out some chairs and asked us to sit, as this is a gathering place for the aboriginal community of the city, whenever they get off work they normally come for a drink and a chat.

"My finger wrapped betelnut until I developed a work-related strain in it." Mrs Yang says as she points at her finger. Her niece wraps all the betelnuts now, because of repetitive strain of wrapping, so her finger has swollen. Every day the stall wraps 2000 betelnuts, this kind of work isn't as easy as it looks. To keep customers they have to open every day, "If we don't open, customers will go elsewhere and get used to going there, so we'll lose all our business.

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Text by Zijie Yang, translated by Conor Stuart, photos by Witold Chudy

Wednesday, 19 October 2011 16:39

A Virtual Game that I Play for Real!

By Ni Ming, edited by Chen Yujun(Raining), translated from the Chinese original by Conor Stuart, artwork by Arvid Torres

I don't think I would survive without online games. I've enjoyed playing all kinds of computer games since I was little. In first year of university, all the guys in my class were playing ‘World of Warcraft’, so I decided to start playing it too. At one point I was playing for 8-10 hours a day, which would normally give me a headache and make me feel a little queasy because of the 3D gameplay. I had to sprint to the toilet all of a sudden.

The world of online games is like a microcosm of society. One needs to invest a lot of time and money in it. There are even people who arrange to go online every day at a certain time like punching a time-clock. As each team is made up of different characters with different classes, someone will be in charge of inflicting as much DPS (Damage per second) as possible, others heal, and others still tank, so if you are missing a team member it is impossible to continue with a quest. For the most part I undertake quests, play PvP (player vs player), or purely wandering around inside this other dimension made up of a fusion of technology and beauty. At times, when playing instances with randomly selected strangers as team members, I would be on the verge of tears from the pressure, although I also had good experiences. As the more challenging parts of the game need cooperation and communication between team members, if you make a mistake it can lead to the death of the whole team, so when you make a mistake it is hard to avoid feeling frustrated, that you have let everyone else down.

However, not everyone's attitude to the online game is the same, not everyone takes it as seriously as others. As well as this, due to controls set in place by the CCP on the mainland, if mainlanders want to play the latest version of World of Warcraft they have to find a way to use the servers for Taiwan and Hong-Kong, which means the servers are overburdened. Differences in culture, habits, and ways of talking inevitably cause friction between players. For example, one time when our team were in the middle of a game, one member of the team suddenly stopped responding, I was stunned, after a quite a long while someone said, "He runs a store, he's with a customer...". Everyone commits a lot of time and money to play, but this guy just abandoned the game without even a word to his team members! It leaves you speechless. As well as this kind of thing, there are quite a lot of strongly worded political arguments conducted between Mainland Chinese and Taiwanese players, which destroy the experience of the game for many people, leading some of the game's older devotees to stop playing altogether. Although the simulated world of the game is not so far from the real world in terms of how people interact, in the game gender is not important except in appearance, it all depends on the skill and style of the player, this makes the game's reality different from real life. Although it is not easy to tell a player's real gender, in the world of the game, girls often play male characters and male players often play as pretty girls, which is pretty interesting (although because male players are the majority, when people come across a female character they will often assume that the player is male).

On the whole, the current World of Warcraft is very diverse, although this diversity comes hand and hand with the problems mentioned above. People still organize player get-togethers, arrange to meet in the real world and make friends but the game lacks the sense of community that it once had. This is also true of the internet in general, due to changes in society, it has become less and less safe, and it is impossible to go back to simpler times. My experience of online gaming has influenced my value system, because it is real experience, even if it occurs in a simulated world, it is still an extension of the real world.


Thursday, 05 May 2011 17:27


My teacher gave me some tickets to see this performance, by the Tainaner Theatre Troupe. I'd been to the theatre in the Xinyi branch of Eslite before to see a play inspired by the songs of Chen Qizhen, a Taiwanese singer (膚色の時光 Once, upon hearing the skin tone). I remembered so clearly having been there before because the stage is slightly unusual, in that it is a round stage that divides the audience into two sections at either side of the stage, which means they enter through two separate doors. The last play I'd seen staged here had been interesting technically but weak in terms of plot. This play was similarly weak plot-wise - think a school production of Back to the Future fused with the cheese factor of popular Taiwanese TV dramas (Meteor GardenThe Devil Beside You). The story dealt with several connected love stories gone wrong. The death of the female protagonist's mother halts her wedding to a closeted gay man, and her mother comes back through time via a magic doorknob acquired in Tibet from an antique seller (who was portrayed with possibly the weakest piece of acting in the whole play). This sets off a series of events which changes the lives of the protagonists (in Sliding Doors fashion), so that they get the chance to "Re/turn" to the scene of their unresolved regrets and "amend" them. The female protagonist is, through this supernatural interference, reunited with her lost love, and the gay man is accepted by his best friend as a teenager (again thanks to the magic doorknob) so gets the confidence to come out early in life and so avoids the pitfalls of soliciting rent boys and using (God help us all) marijuana (there is an amusing scene where there is a major police bust over one joint).

The major problems with the play was not the acting, which was convincing, but rather the whole concept upon which the play was structured, certain elements of which seemed to be lifted right out of Taiwanese popular culture and films. The obsession with making the play "international" without incorporating any international actors was also a problem for the play. It pandered to the Taiwanese obsession with European and Japanese culture, in that a lot of the play was set in London - where the male lead Charles had apparently grown up with an American accent; there was also a Taiwanese actress playing a Japanese dancer, two very Taiwanese sounding Americans as well as a Taiwanese playing a British postman. Only the latter was vaguely funny, with deliberate use of British English terms designed specifically to make the audience laugh, and none of them sounded natural in english. The director and writer Cai Bozhang (蔡柏璋), though a good singer, was a little self-indulgent as he sang in Taiwanese inflected English through most of the play. My companion for the evening, one of my classmates, pointed out something that I think speaks true of my experience of the contemporary Taiwanese Theatre: that because the writers of a lot of the plays produced nowadays also act as director and actors, the scripts that they write are not really the focus of their work, and do not stand alone as literary works. Rather, the event and the production takes first place. The result is the rather paltry, soap-operaesque dialogue seen in this production. It was a pity that the talents of the actors wasn't put to a better use, more worthy of the stage, otherwise the only role of theatre in Taiwan would seem to be to give a live experience of soap operas.

If we are to take the piece seriously as a piece of theatre, the other thing I was not comfortable with was the moralistic pedagogy of the production, and its assertion that there is "right" path in life that we are diverted from, which seems a rather simplistic and egotistical exercise in self-affirmation by the director (people who don't follow my liberal ideology are following the wrong path). Any deeper exploration of the idea of regret and "fixing the past" is absent, sexuality too, receives quite a superficial treatment in the play. There are two major gay stereotypes in action within the play. The director plays the role of the "gay best friend" of the protagonist. She describes him as her "妺妺" (little sister) whom we "might think is a little unusual". There is, however nothing unusual to a Western viewer about this kind of character: the emasculated, non-predatory inocuous gay male referred to by terms usually reserved for females (think of a slightly updated version of Are You Being Served's Mr Humphries, or a character lightly based on Taiwanese celebrity Cai Kangyong (蔡康永). His "one true love", Peter, (pause - wipe off the vomit - continue) is dead, so his sexuality is essentially safely removed from the present for the audience. The closeted gay fiance's reversion to type after coming out also suggests that his previous masculinity was but a ruse, and at the end of the play he is shoe-horned into the "gay best friend" role as evidence of his acceptance of his sexuality. The other two representations of gay men, are also stereotypes, the predatory older man who chases the closeted gay man when he is a high school student, and the rent boy, whose brazen sexuality and drug-use lead him to arrest, which can be seen as divine justice within the play. As opposed to representing sexuality in a more diverse way, the production instead polarises the representation of alternative sexual and gender roles.

To sum up, the play is easy watching, its ending is predictable and safe. This is the territory of liberal morality and its pedagogical unfolding is suitably bland. None of which is what motivates me to go to the theatre, why pay 600NT or more to see a low-budget, albeit live, rehash of a feel-good movie. The night I went the production overran by about 40 minutes, so expect to be impatiently looking at your watch while you watch the happy-ending play out at length to the crooning wails of the directors singing.

Don't expect much and you'll have a long but vaguely entertaining night. 2/5

Performance attended: Friday 15th April 2011, 7.30pm. Poster taken from the play's blog, which can be viewed here.


Friday, 15 October 2010 18:24

The master at home

A recent survey conducted by the Research development and Evaluation Commission in Taiwan gave some ‘positive’ results regarding the progress of gender equality in Taiwanese society: for example, approximately 86% of respondents said that men and women should share equal responsibilities at work and at home while 80% “disagreed with the idea that men should be the master at home and women should obey them”.

To what extent are these opinions reflected by reality? Actually, the 2010 figures published by the Service of Accounting and Statistics of the Executive Yuan are not so bad: they show improvement in the decreasing of inequalities between men and women in the work environment in terms of salary difference as an example or even unemployment rate. But in 2009 there were also 1.5 more women working in a part-time job than men and only 17% of the parental leave allowances were taken by men.

So how much real improvement do these figures really show? In a context of economic recession, it doesn’t seem so surprising that the majority of people would think men and women can do the same amount of work. In the West, women only obtained the right to vote after having shown how necessary and efficient they were to keep the society and the economy functioning in the absence of the men (out on the front line). It is often in times of crisis that a society is pushed to find solutions and adapt. But shouldn’t we be looking for more preventive solutions than just patchwork?

Furthermore, polls are interesting themselves in the terminology they use. I was actually more surprised by the questions than the results, as the way the questions were asked are quite indicative of how conservative Taiwanese society still is in 2010:

In regards to traditional perception of social roles, 80% of the people surveyed disagreed with the “men should be the leader in the home, and women should try their best to obey their husbands” concept. Moreover, 68% of the interviewees disagreed with the “to carry on the bloodline, one must give birth to a son” tradition, and roughly 60% of them disagreed with the notion of “it is men’s responsibility to bring in income, and women should stay home to take care of the family.” Concerning the idea of “calling both sides of grandparents as ‘grandparents’ in the future,” 50% of the respondents approved while 44% of them disapproved.

Here is the survey in Chinese
The Report on Women and Men in R.O.C. (Facts and Figures)

(Photo: C.P.)

Wednesday, 30 June 2010 21:12

In Bed with Rock in Hose

Ladies and Gentlemen, here is Rock in Hose!!

The burlesque dance troupe was formed in 2009 in Taiwan. Please meet Alita d'Bone and Trixie Treatz from Canada, Kitty N. Heat and Amor Galore from the U.S., Duke Vita and Onyx from South Africa.

Thursday, 18 March 2010 18:57

Be back by midnight: Equality in Taiwan's higher education?

Nina Chen is a student at Taiwan's third (and Taipei's first) gender studies graduate institute. She lets us know about gender discrimination in Taiwanese universities and in society in general.

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