Society

Strait to work

At least 300,000 Taiwanese live and work in Shanghai

Scott Lin represents a new breed of Taiwanese professional. Earlier this year, the 35 year-old lawyer relocated to Shanghai from Taipei to continue working in his specialist field – intellectual property law.

He’s not alone. Around 300,000 Taiwanese now live and work in Shanghai (there are also huge Taiwanese populations in Guangdong and Fujian). A survey in Taiwan found 54% interested by job opportunities across the Strait.

Lin’s transfer wasn’t motivated by a pay rise (he is earning the same as he did in Taipei), but rather by the chance to take on a greater responsibility within his firm. And he’s in Shanghai for the long-haul: “I brought all my favourite kitchenware with me. And I’m not going back easily without accomplishing something here first,” he told CommonWealth magazine, as he unpacked in his new apartment.

A decade ago, the Taiwanese in China were usually employed in manufacturing. Now they are working in a wider range of industries, with an increasing number of younger professionals coming to China to escape an economy that has been stagnating for most of the last decade.

Glitzy Shanghai is the number one destination. “It used to be that when (Taiwanese) professionals wanted international experience, they would think of the United States first, with Hong Kong or Tokyo at the top of the list in Asia,” says Chun Hao Liu, a branch manager at Cathay United Bank.

“But today Shanghai is a big stage with lots of opportunities, and when you add the factor of a common language, it’s naturally become the top choice.”

Shanghai is especially attractive to Taiwan’s female professionals. In 2002, the Taiwanese Professional Women’s Society was established in the city with around twenty members. Since then it has become a permanent organisation with 400 regular members.

The Taiwanese are best-suited to take advantage of the opportunities in the mainland. Companies like Yum! Brands made early inroads into the Chinese fast food market with the help of Taiwanese executives, for example. Shared linguistic and cultural backgrounds help.

The fit, nevertheless, is not perfect. Mandarin offers one example, as it is used somewhat differently on both sides of the Strait. Not only do the Taiwanese still employ traditional characters, compared to the simplified characters used in China, there is also a divergent vocabulary for both sides. Different words are used for phrases as common as a “good morning” greeting and even the supposedly iconic panda gets different treatment. In mainland China they’re called xiong mao (bear cats). But in Taiwan, they’re mao xiong (cat bears).

Making linguistic adjustments is not the only cost Taiwanese face when they relocate. According to ECA International’s 2010 Cost of Living Survey, Shanghai and Beijing are the seventh and eighth most expensive cities in Asia to live in, compared to Taipei and Kaohsiung, which took twelfth and fifteenth places respectively.


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