The Magazine

One Nation, Two Passports

Taiwan edges closer to independence.

Oct 20, 2003, Vol. 9, No. 06 • By DAVID DEVOSS
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Foreign investors routinely choose China over Taiwan because of lower labor costs, government stability, and the absence of environmental regulation. China received more than $56 billion in direct foreign investment last year while Taiwan attracted only $3.3 billion. The country hopes an increase in tourism will boost the economy, but attracting foreign money will be difficult since little English is spoken outside tourist hotels. For the present, Taipei has all of the traffic but little of the excitement found along Shanghai's Nanjing Road or the central district of Hong Kong.

Despite these dismal economic trends, Taiwan paused last week to celebrate its October 10 Independence Day. The elaborate "Double Ten" parade down Chungching Road attracts thousands of spectators. But perhaps the most notable feature of any Taiwanese crowd is its sexual imbalance. Men generally appear to outnumber women by 2 to 1; this stems from the fact that the rural areas of Taiwan are running short of girls.

On both sides of the Taiwan Strait there's a preference for male heirs. Mainland Chinese call it the "Little King Syndrome." Praise and presents are lavished on boys, while female births often end in infanticide. On Taiwan, abortions have skewed the island's demographics to the point that only two girls are born for every three boys.

An obvious consequence is that when the little king passes puberty, he discovers that the girl he liked in high school has gone to USC, probably never to return, while those who remain are being snapped up by other men.

To ease the gender gap, Taiwanese men import brides from the mainland. Unfortunately, these women are outnumbered by those smuggled into the country illegally, who, in exchange for $10,000, can legalize their status with marriages of convenience, then head for the brothels to earn real money. These bogus nuptials are difficult to detect since many Taiwanese men hop between marriages until they find a woman who can bear them a son.

Believing many of the mainland brides to be spies, the government plans to extend from 8 to 11 years the amount of time a woman must live in Taiwan before she receives permanent residency and permission to work. This has enraged legal brides stuck in the sticks who entered the country only to discover their new husbands were elderly peasants. Unable to distinguish between working girls and disillusioned wives, the government has declared all Chinese spouses to be security risks. Unfortunately, this is the only issue on which Taiwan's political parties agree.

David DeVoss is a senior correspondent with the East-West News Service in Los Angeles.