For a country whose existence even the United Nations reuses to acknowledge officially, Taiwan is doing extremely well - and showing it too. Within the space of a few years, the island off the China coast has transformed itself from an Asian Cinderella into one of the famous Four Tigers in a boom story which is one of the most remarkable legends of the postwar area. The architect of the scheme, the Republic of China's Taipei based government, continues marking time against the day when it can abandon its temporary asylum and once more take possession of what it sees as its mainland inheritance. To the People's Republic across the water in Beijing, however, Taiwan is just renegade province; and with both governments uncompromising on the "Two Chinas" issue and Beijing's sheer numbers outweighing the opposition, until a solution is found most of the world will carry on trading with a country it is obliged to ignore diplomatically.
Cleft by fertile valleys and with its western territory a broad coastal plain, the rugged volcanic mountains clad with dense forests of camphor, cedar, rattan and oak are a treasure-trove of mineral resources and precious stones. Visitors venturing beyond the confines of the capital to ancient Tainan or the beaches of Taiwan, the "Terraced Bay", will understand why the Ilha Formosa, the "Beautiful Island" straddling the Tropic of Cancer exerted an almost magical attraction from earliest times on mainland adventurers and refugees, not to mention marauding pirates. Latest among the waves of arrivals were the nationalists of 'Generalissimo' Chiang Kai-shek, whose 'conservative revolutionary' framework for government, based on Dr Sun Yat-sen's Three Principles of the Peoples nationalism, democracy and economics at the heart of Taiwan's success.
Within a couple of decades, a modern industrial society has been superimposed upon the traditional agrarian lifestyle. Apart from ensuring that the densely populated island is virtually self-sufficient in food, Taiwan's farmers also produce fresh and frozen fruit and vegetables for the markets of the Far East, and luxury items from canned asparagus to escargots for the world's gourmets. The proverbial diligence of the Chinese emigres has earned Taiwan a place amongst the world's Top Twenty exporters and the largest foreign-exchange reserves in the world. Textiles and clothing, electronic items and machinery, toys and sporting goods - Taiwan's products reach all comers of the globe, including a neat line of the best designer copies, from Gucci to computer software. The capital, Taipei, is hard on the heels of Tokyo, Hong Kong and
Singapore in its headlong rush into the twentieth century.
And yet, for all its superficial modernity, Taiwan today remains a microcosm of traditional Chinese culture. The age-old legacy of values and lifestyles is jealousy preserved: ancient rites and festivals fusing Buddhist, Taoist and animist elements are celebrated in the countless temples. The patriarchal structure of family life, filial piety and the precepts of Confucianism - li, 'propriety' and ren, 'kindness' - still govern daily intercourse. Tai-chi and traditional medicine, calligraphy and Chinese painting flourish alongside sensationalist Kung0fu films and karaoke ars. Taiwan is also a bastion of all forms of Chinese cuisine, the national preoccupation with food flowering in the restaurants of Taipei into a cornucopia of the best the Middle Kingdon has to offer.
* The Sights and Attractions in Taipei
* Place to Stay and Hangout in Taipei