Taiwan takes pride in its quality of life

As China overtook Japan as the second largest economy in the world in 2010, Taiwan was not focused on competing with China, but more on creating a higher quality of life for its citizens. Nowadays few people in Taiwan are bothered with comparing the island’s economy, military power and infrastructure building with China. By taking advantage of the island’s “soft power” – a notion pioneered by American scholar Joseph Nye of Harvard University – most Taiwanese people are focused on rebuilding the national sense of self-confidence that came with Taiwan’s “economic miracle” in the 1970s.

As the old saying goes “Someone knows little how lucky he is for being born into a rich family,” Taiwanese people are increasingly unaware that they already have a remarkably wonderful way of life. In its June issue, Global View monthly published a 400-page special edition listing the 100 promising achievements by Taiwanese people. Nine of those achievements are highlighted in the following article.

The best health service in the world

Taiwan’s health service is one of the best in the world, according to Nobel Laureate Economist Paul Krugman.

In 2009, Taiwan’s life expectancy surpassed that of the United States. Li Fei-peng, superintendent of Taiwan Medical University Hospital, said that American life expectancy was 78.2 years, while in Taiwan it was 78.97. Taiwan’s medical expenses account for 6.6 percent of GDP, while in the US these expenses account for 14.6 percent of GDP. Taiwan’s medical system is both exceptionally good and affordable. 

In Taiwan, there are 8.56 clinics for every 10,000 people, although not as many as in Japan, Taiwan’s physician density is much higher than Japan’s. In 2009, there were about 200,000 doctors in Taiwan, an average of 23.56 doctors per 10,000 people, while there were 21.2 doctors per 10,000 in Japan, 21.4 in Britain, and 26.7 in the US. These figures show that Taiwan is on a par with other developed nations.

The most reliable Metro system

For Taipei residents, taking mass transportation is a part of daily life. But for foreign visitors, the Taipei Metro is a marvel. The highly regarded system ranked first in five straight years (2004-2008) in terms of reliability, according to a study by the Railway Technology Strategy Centre of Imperial College and data gathered by Nova/CoMET. Since the Taipei Metro joined the Nova International Railway Benchmarking Group and the Community of Metros in 2002, none of the other 27 members has won so many championships for reliability since Nova’s establishment in 1997.

In 2010, the system, which was established in 1996, consisted of 94 stations and 63 miles of track, carrying an average of over 1.5 million passengers per day. Its annual revenue was over NT$500 million (US$16.7 million) last year.

Easy access to convenience stores

The density of convenience stores has reached 99.9 percent in Taiwan with only 200,000 people out of Taiwan’s 23 million people unable to find a convenience store within 3 miles of their home.

The stores provide the widest range of services, more so than other countries. Inside the stores, you can pay tuition fees, parking fees, gas bills, taxes, cable TV bills and insurance premiums. Recently, new services mean that you can even use credit cards to buy tickets for local buses, airlines or high speed trains.    

Taiwan is also home to a large number of department and discount stores. Compared with an average of one department store per 300,000 people in Tokyo, one per 280,000 in Shanghai, one per 150,000 in New York, Taipei has one per 87,000 – giving it the highest density in the world.

Fifth in the world for higher education admission

There are 163 colleges and universities in Taiwan. Besides having ample schools, the island’s students also perform well in the rankings. In the 2010-2011, “Global Competitiveness Report” published by the World Economic Forum, Taiwan was ranked 5th for its higher education admission rate, 13th overall in terms of performance and, 11th in the category of higher education and training performance.

According to the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the average length of schooling for Taiwan’s population over six years old is 16.11 years, while in Australia it is 20.63 years, in Finland 17.07 years, in Britain 16.13, in France 16.15 and in the US 15.85.

Growing popularity of charity activities

Less than two months after Japan’s destructive earthquake and tsunami in March, Taiwan has donated almost NT$6 billion (US$200 million) to the disaster relief funds for Japan. With only a population of 23 million, Taiwan was the world’s top donor to Japan’s disaster.

According to a Ministry of the Interior report compiled in 2008, total charity donations by all Taiwanese people reached NT$42.6 billion (US$1.4 billion). On average, every Taiwanese person donates NT$1,891 (US$63) a year. In an island of 36,000 square kms, Taiwan has over 40,000 non-profit organizations.

Blood donations are one of the easiest basic measurements of charity services. In 1991, Taiwanese donors accounted for five percent of the population, and the quantity of blood donated without financial gain reached one million bags (250 milliliter per bag). This total has since reached a record high of 7.9 percent (2.509 million bags).

According to the Asian Pacific Blood Network, Taiwan’s blood donation rate is the highest in Asia, with an average of 25.2 kiloliters per thousand people a year, equaling that of the United States.

Highest gender equality in Asia

This is an important year in Taiwan, not merely because it is the centennial anniversary of the founding of the republic, but this is also the first year that Taiwan will have female presidential candidates – Tsai Ing-wen and Ellen Huang.

In terms of gender equality, Taiwan enjoys the highest ranking in Asia. According to the Directorate General of Budget, Accounting and Statistics in January 2011, the gap between men and women in Taiwan is ranked No. 4 globally, only behind the Netherlands, Denmark, and Sweden. In Asia, Taiwan is followed by Singapore (11th), Japan (13th) and South Korea (21st).

The ranking is based on DGBAS’s gender inequality index (GII) of the United Nations Development Program, which includes maternal mortality, adolescent fertility, parliamentary representation, educational attainment (secondary level and above) and labor force participation. Among these indexes, Taiwan’s female legislator participation is 30.4 percent, ranking sixth in the world, behind that of Sweden, the Netherlands, and Norway, but close to Germany’s 31.1 percent, and taking the top spot in Asia and the Pacific.

Of Taiwan’s 340,000 civil service workers, in 2000 there were 22 times as many men than women occupying senior grade posts. By 2010, this figure was a mere 3 times as many.

58 percent of garbage recycled or reused

On a global scale, Taiwan’s recycling and garbage reduction is exceptional, outperforming the US and Japan. According to the Environmental Protection Administration (EPA), every year Taiwan recycles 4.5 billion PET bottles, 1.5 million metric tons of paper, 2,500 metric tons of batteries, and 200,000 metric tons of aluminum cans.

In the early1990s, the amount of garbage continued to increase as Taiwan’s economy grew and living standards improved. The amount of garbage collected reached a record high in 1998 with an annual volume of almost 9 million metric tons.

Taiwan started a new era of recycling when the revised “Act of Disposal Management” was passed in 1997, which imposed a recycling fee on electronic appliance manufacturers, established an independent recycling management fund, and provided subsidies for recycling businesses.

The first combined recycling system and factory of “Four plus One” (televisions, washing machines, refrigerators, air conditioners plus computer information products) was established in Taiwan. The garbage recycling rate is remarkably high at 48.8 percent. The battery recycling rate is even higher at 53.5 percent, far ahead of the target rate of 45 percent set up by the European Union for 2016.

Taiwan has adopted the most advanced policy of garbage disposal in the world. Discount stores do not offer plastic bags to customers and every family has to buy special plastic bags for garbage disposal. Also, starting from July 2008, the EPA began to clamp down on the use of disposable chopsticks at convenience stores.

Today, the amount of garbage generated per person has dropped to 1.06 pounds from a high of 2.51 pounds in 1998. This is a reduction of up to 58 percent.

Eslite Bookstore – the landmark of Chinese culture

Eslite is not just a bookstore, it is a representation of Taiwan’s core lifestyle and culture. With a population of only 23 million, last year, over 100 million people visited Eslite Bookstore. It was named the best bookstore in Asia by TIME magazine in 2004.

Lin Hwai-min, founder and artistic director of the Cloud Gate Dance Company also said, “I am most nostalgic of Eslite when abroad.” Lung Ying-tai, a well-known Taiwanese writer, attributed Eslite’s success not only to the management skills of the bookstore owner, but to the diversified open society and community.

In addition to selling books, music and DVDs, the bookstore sponsors over 4,500 cultural events, and invited over 400 lecturers to provide 2,000 seminars last year. It also has 170,000 fee paying members.

Established in 1989, the Eslite Bookstore was operating for 15 years in the red before showing a profit in 2005. Today, there are 39 branches in Taiwan with plans to expand to Hong Kong, and Suzhou and Hangzhou, coastal cities of China.

Taiwan behind 80% of Chinese pop music

It is a well established fact that any singer or composer who wishes to hit it big in the Chinese music world must first be successful in Taiwan before continuing on to China and the other Chinese speaking countries. If he or she fails in Taiwan, it will be difficult to get a foot hold in the Chinese pop music world.

After the lifting of martial law in 1987, all styles of music flourished in Taiwan. It was a phenomenon attributed to the island’s democratic and nurturing environment.

With improved cross-strait relations, many of Taiwan’s talented music producers might cross the strait to make music DVDs for Chinese singers, but they are all fully aware that it is very difficult for those Chinese pop singers to enter Taiwan’s entertainment market. Still, it is almost certain that Taiwanese singers will be popular in China. Currently, 80 percent of Chinese music in the world is made in Taiwan.

In his New Year address to the nation, President Ma Ying-jeou urged the government and the public to “develop Taiwan into a respectable and admirable modern nation.” With only a small fraction of the world’s population and land, Taiwan is not able to compete with superpowers for news coverage or to play an important role in international organizations. But with developed soft power, Taiwan can win a respectable place for itself in the world.

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