Quyen Tran of the travel blog G’day Taiwan contributed to the reporting.
Wide, open roads; vast, sunny landscapes; and amazing produce and food. This is the imagery most hopeful Taiwanese youths see Australia. This giant island that can fit Taiwan’s entire land mass in the length of its coast line is without question, one of the most popular destinations for Taiwanese to travel, work and live.
Taiwan boasts these attractions too, but for most Australians, Taiwan as an ideal destination has been overlooked. And for a particular group of Australians, it’s time to change that.
Australia boasts a vibrant multicultural society, and among its diverse communities are the Taiwanese Australians. Taiwanese have immigrated to Australia over a long history, though it was not until 1976 that Australia counted Taiwanese immigrants separately from those of China. Thanks to a booming economy, and the loosening of political control in Taiwan’s post-martial law era, the two islands encouraged international trade and investment. Australia saw a massive surge of migrants from Taiwan in the late eighties and early nineties. Today, some 47,000 Australians identify as being Taiwanese-born, of which more than half are under the age of 35.
As a relatively young community, more and more Taiwanese Australians are recognising the importance of their heritage, and are taking part in sharing Taiwan’s rich culture to the wider Australian community.
This Saturday, September 16, the 6th annual Sydney Taiwan Festival will be held in the suburban area of Chatswood, showcasing the diverse, energetic, and fun sides to Taiwanese culture.
We spoke with this year’s organizers Roger Huang and Minna Hsu, as well as one of the co-founders of the festival, Frank Wang, about the festival and what it means for Taiwanese Australians.
Roger Huang and Frank Wang have two rather different experiences as Taiwanese Australians, and are almost like book-ends for the Taiwanese Australian community. Huang only relocated to Sydney earlier this year, and teaches at Macquarie University and University of New South Wales; before this he worked in politics and academia in Taiwan and Hong Kong. In contrast, Wang immigrated to Australia almost three decades ago in 1989 on an investment visa, as part of the earliest wave of immigrants from Taiwan.
According to Wang, before he arrived there were already immigrant communities of Chinese descent in Australia, specifically people originally from Guangdong, Fujian, Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. The late 1980s also saw the beginning of new waves of immigrants from China, and eventually “Chinese” became the second largest ethnic group in Australia.
But immigrants from Taiwan didn’t neatly blend into the Chinese label. In the 1980s, Taiwanese immigrants were usually investors seeking business opportunities, and they found it difficult to fit in with the older Chinese Australian communities at the time. Subsequently, a distinct identity started developing back in Taiwan in the 1990s, and later immigrants brought with them a newfound sense of pride in Taiwan’s wealth of diversity, as well as the civic accomplishments that Taiwan’s society had achieved.
According to Minna Hsu, in Sydney and other major Australian cities there are now quite a number of Taiwanese eateries and restaurants popping up. Furthermore, the majority of Taiwanese Australians are professionals, and some have run and won elected official positions in local councils. These achievements collectively reinforces their Taiwanese heritage and a desire to be recognised by the general Australian populace as being different to China.
Needless to say, a festival focusing on Taiwan and celebrating Taiwan was in order. In 2011, the first Taiwan Festival was held in Darling Harbour, and in 2013 a non-profit organization was created to run future festivals. Huang says:
“The Festival is a way for Taiwanese Australians and Taiwanese expatriates to promote our heritage and background in multicultural Australia. We believe the Taiwanese community is also an important community in Australia and that although we may share some of the general ‘Chinese’ culture, we have our own distinct identity and culture that is also influenced by many traditions unique to Taiwan’s historical experience, as well as being a democratic, multi-ethnic nation has a very different political and historical experience to that of the People’s Republic of China.”
The Sydney Taiwan Festivals in the past have featured traditional temple dances, the puppet theater art-form pòo-tē-hì (布袋戲), dresses from various indigenous Austronesian peoples in Taiwan, and of course, good food—lots of it.
Through the festival, the organizers hope to raise awareness of the uniqueness of Taiwan within the Australian society. It’s a long road. Traditionally the Taiwanese identity was subsumed within the larger Chinese label; the PRC deliberately blocks Taiwan from asserting an international voice; and the narrative of contemporary Taiwanese and Taiwanese Australians are only beginning to be written.
But Taiwan and Australia, Huang’s ancestral and adopted home, have a lot in common. Huang says again:
“I would also add that there are far more similarities between Australia and Taiwan as immigration and settler island nations that shares democratic multicultural values. Both countries also have a checkered history between ‘mainstream’ society and the indigenous population. Moreover, both of us are Asia Pacific nations, with a complicated relationship with China.
In other words, we can and should learn more from one another.”
The Sydney Taiwan Festival will be on today and tomorrow (September 16 and 17, 2017), at Victoria Avenue in Chatswood, on Sydney’s north shore.
(Feature photo of Sydney Taiwan Festival, provided by Sydney Taiwan Festival)
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